A Russian trawler went down in freezing waters off the eastern coast of Russia with 132 crew on board. Rescue workers confirmed 56 dead. Investigators are still piecing together what caused the ship to sink.
According to USA Today, the trawler — called Dalniy Vostok, which is Russian for “Far East” — sank in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula roughly 150 miles south of the city of Magadan at about 4:15 a.m.
Emergency services rescued 63 people, 15 others are still missing. BBC News reports that the water was about 32 degrees Fahrenheit and survival at that freezing temperature in the water is possible for about 20 minutes. Many of those rescued suffered from injuries and needed immediate care. Twenty-six ships are involved in the rescue mission so far.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry also says an Mi-8 helicopter loaded with medicine and doctors has been helping to treat the crew in the area. The minister has set up a hotline for the families of the crew members as well.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause.
BBC News reports that weather conditions were harsh when the ship sank. There was snow, wind, and high waves reaching 10 feet (three meters) tall.
A spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee claims that most probable cause is a collision with an unknown object. Some speculate the Russian trawler hit an iceberg since the engine room was damaged and flooded. The ship went down in just 15 minutes.
Still, other officials believe the trawler went down because it was attempting to lift a heavy dragnet. The Washington Post reports the trawler was attempting to lift a 100-ton dragnet without enough fuel in the engine room to counter the weight.
Emergencies Commission chairman Sergey Khabarov claimed the data supports that theory, according to USA Today.
“According to preliminary data, there was keeling over as a result of lifting the trawl with fish to the deck and then the vessel turned on its side.”
Authorities have also opened a criminal investigation to determine if negligence was a factor, or if the ship’s crew ignored safety rules like overloading the trawler with cargo. The captain died in the sinking.
The Russian trawler did not manage to send out an emergency signal before sinking, and the remaining 15 people unaccounted for are believed to have been trapped in the ship’s hold as it went down.
The 132-person crew had 78 Russians, 42 Burmese, and 12 others from different countries.
[Image via Russian Emergency Situations Ministry]