Ukrainian tugboat to be raised today

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am

Salvage workers were to raise a sunken Ukrainian tugboat this morning after a four-day delay caused by Tropical Storm Neoguri and damaged cables.

Neftegaz-67 would resurface at 5am or 6am, said Oksana Mamokha, an engineer from Chornomornaftogaz, the Ukrainian oil and gas company that owns the tugboat. The Marine Department confirmed the early morning operation.

Divers yesterday checked cables for the lifting operation, but Ms Mamokha said it was not clear how long it would take.

Neftegaz-67 sank upside down near Tuen Mun last month after colliding with a mainland-registered cargo ship. Seven crew members escaped but 18 were trapped on board. Only three bodies have been recovered, the rest are believed to be in the tugboat.

Asia's largest floating derrick, the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau's Hua Tian Long, has been preparing to lift the tugboat.

The lift was rescheduled from Wednesday to Thursday after the tropical storm halted preparations last weekend.

Weather conditions were perfect on Thursday, according to the Ukrainian Transportation and Communication Ministry. However, during pre-lift tests, divers found that two of six cables that had been attached to turn and lift the tugboat had been damaged.

Workers cut the damaged cables and yesterday attached two more.

On Monday, Guangzhou Salvage and Chornomornaftogaz workers spent three hours raising the tugboat off the seabed and flipping it underwater. Divers then assessed whether it was safe to raise it, the Ukrainian ministry said.

On Tuesday they covered pipes to prevent fuel leaks and spent Wednesday attaching the cables.

The department has cordoned off a large area around the site, on a busy deep-sea channel east of Siu Mo To island. Only vessels directly involved with the salvage operation will have access to the area.