Barge Sinking Kills at Least 16; Men Trapped in Underwater Chamber
Aug. 15, 1991
HONG KONG (AP) _ A derrick barge carrying nearly 200 people capsized in typoon-whipped waters Thursday, claiming at least 16 lives and trapping four other men in a diving chamber, officials and Radio Hong Kong reported.
At least 168 survivors were pulled from the sea off southern China in an air-and-sea rescue effort complicated by huge waves and poor visibility, the radio reported Friday. Eight additional men were missing, it said.
Earlier reports spoke of 195 people on the barge, but Radio Hong Kong's figures totaled 196 people aboard.
The Singapore-owned barge was lashed by 75-mph winds and 25-foot waves from Typhoon Fred before going down.
Rescuers feared the worst for the four men in the diving chamber. At 6 a.m. Friday the oxygen supply in the chamber was believed to have run out, according to members of the barge's crew. But an hour later, efforts to rescue them continued, Radio Hong Kong reported.
The diving chamber was attached to the barge, which was floating just below the surface of the South China Sea, he said.
Two specially trained divers from Singapore were called in an attempt to free the men, said Trevor Berry, spokesman for the Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Center.
The barge was working on an oil exploration project with China about 65 miles east of Hong Kong, which had been battered by the typhoon since Wednesday.
Brenda Lee, an information officer at the Hong Kong Marine Department, said it was not immediately clear if the typhoon was the only cause of the sinking.
Radio Hong Kong quoted one crew member as saying the ship tried to outrun the typhoon, but the report was not immediately confirmed by other survivors.
''I woke up to shouts around 8:30 a.m. saying the barge was going to flip,'' said Willard R. Miller Jr., 31, of Houston, the barge's tower operator. ''I put on my life jacket and 30 minutes later we were all in the water.''
''It started getting real rough last night and there were 14-foot waves around midnight,'' he said. ''The CDs on the side of my bed fell on my face and I thought things were just not right.''
Miller said he spotted a shark while floating for 3 1/2 hours with other oil workers before being rescued. He said the shark did not attack the men.
People in the water helped each other survive, he said. ''Communications is the main thing, continue talking.''
''I got a momma and a couple of sisters in Texas, I got a fiancee in Singapore and I'm gonna make it one way or the other,'' said Miller.
Another survivor, Kevin Banks, 44, of Norfolk, England, described the experience as ''the worst possible nightmare coming true.''
The rescue effort, which continued through the night, included a small flotilla and British military and Chinese helicopters.
Some of the survivors were taken to China and Singapore, and at least six were aboard a Russian ship. The tugboat Typhoon arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday night with another 84 survivors.
The government said most of those rescued were suffering from shock but were not seriously injured.
The government said there were 195 oil workers on the Panamanian-registered vessel, the Derrick Barge 29, owned by McDermott (South East Asia) Pte. Ltd. of Singapore. McDermott's parent company is based in New Orleans.
''We do not know why the barge sank,'' said Ms. Lee.
Rescuers said most of the oil workers had donned life jackets before the barge went down. The sea in the area was warm and raised hopes that some of the missing crew members were alive.