Police find all but one bodies of tug crew

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2008, 12:00am

Police last night located the bodies of all but one of 15 missing crew members from the sunken tugboat Neftegaz-67.

They recovered 13 bodies and located another in the tugboat's hull but could not reach it. The remaining body was believed to be located elsewhere on the boat, an officer at the scene said. The Neftegaz-67, owned by Ukrainian oil and gas company Chornomornaftogaz, sank last month after a collision with a cargo ship off Tuen Mun.

Six of the 24 Ukrainian crew members escaped alive and divers found three bodies last month. The tugboat was raised on Sunday, allowing police to renew their search for the missing crew.

The bodies were taken to Kwai Chung Mortuary but had not been identified, a police spokesman said.

Chornomornaftogaz planned to send for the families of the victims to identify the bodies, company press consultant Maxim Nikolaenko said from Chernomorskoye in Ukraine. 'At the beginning, we wanted to bring the bodies back here for identification procedures, but the Chinese government has decided on this course.'

Flying the families to Hong Kong would be 'complicated' and it was unclear when they would arrive, he said. Ukrainian ambassador to Beijing Serhiy Kamyshev, who arrived in Hong Kong yesterday, declined to comment.

Last night, workers for the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau, which the Ukrainian company has contracted for the salvage operation, were assessing whether they could mend the tugboat. Guangzhou Salvage's deputy head He Weizhang has said workers might have to remove the Neftegaz-67 by ship if a two-by-three-metre gash sustained during the collision could not be mended.

Guangzhou Salvage sent Asia's largest floating derrick, the Hua Tian Long with a 4,000-tonne crane, from its port of registry in Guangzhou to conduct the salvage operation. On Sunday, it raised the tugboat in an operation that lasted about 12 hours.

Ukraine began an investigation into the crash in March, which is continuing.

Investigators are expected to enter the tugboat after it has regained buoyancy and all water has been pumped out.