Russian officials say that four crew-members are dead and 49 are missing Sunday following the capsizing of an oil platform in the frigid waters off the coast of Siberia. Workers were in the process of transporting the massive rig, Kolskaya, to towards the island of Sakhalin, north of Japan, where it was to be installed for a deep-water drilling operation. Although no major environmental damage from an oil leak is expected from the non-operational rig, the incident highlights the troubling risks to human life resulting from the pursuit of increasingly difficult-to-reach sources of oil.
The Huffington Post reports that the vessel with carrying the rig and 67 crew-members collapsed in rough waters while crossing the Sea of Okhotsk, 120 miles from Sakhalin. Passing boats managed to pull 14 people alive from the near-freezing ocean, while at least four were found dead. Rescue workers are scrambling to aid the remaining 49 crew-members that remain missing, aware that their chances of survival at sea slim.
The jack-up rig, which has three support legs that can be extended to the ocean floor while its hull floats on the surface, was heading from Kamchatka to Sakhalin when it overturned in stormy conditions with a swell of up to 6 metres.
"(President) Dmitry Medvedev has ordered all necessary assistance be provided to the victims of the drilling platform accident and has ordered a probe into the circumstances of the loss of the platform," the Kremlin said. The Emergencies Ministry said it would work through Sunday night.
As production from on-shore oil reserves in Siberia have slowed, Russia has gradually begun to expand operations to off-shore sites, like near Sakhalin. Some have speculated insufficient regulations have make the already risk-wrought projects even riskier for those working on and transporting oil platforms.
"This disaster should highlight the high risks of offshore projects," says World Wildlife Fund energy official, Alexei Knizhnikov. "It's very difficult to conduct efficient rescue operations, whether it's rescuing people or dealing with oil spills, in the weather and conditions of the Arctic."