Freighter capsizes off western Norway; 2 dead

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

OSLO, Norway -- A large freighter with 30 people aboard capsized near the western Norwegian port of Bergen on Monday, with rescuers working into the bitterly cold night to free some of them by cutting a hole through the overturned hull. Two people were killed. Birgit Sildnes, a spokeswoman for the Rescue Coordination Center for Southern Norway, said two were reported dead, 12 had been pulled from the ship or rescued from the icy water, and 16 were missing. The ship had a crew of 29 people, plus a Norwegian ship's pilot, aboard when it capsized.

The 544-foot Norwegian-owned freighter MS Rocknes sent out a distress call before it capsized about 200 yards off the western island of Bjoroey at about 4:30 p.m. Rescue ships and small boats were able to respond quickly because one of Norway's naval bases was nearby with ample rescue equipment.

Rescue vessels towed the ship to shallow waters and cut a hole in the hull, which Sildnes said allowed three crew to be pulled out nearly seven hours after it capsized.

"All of them were conscious, and talking," said Trygve Hillestad, a police spokesman at the scene.

Rescuers hoped to enter the ship to search for the rest of missing crew during the night, although they were welding the first hole shut to prevent water from entering.

Sildnes said 15 different ships were on the scene. Other rescuers said the capsized ship had been stabilized on the seabed, and that parts of it were dry with air pockets.

"There is hectic activity on the hull to get into the ship but it takes time," said the rescue center's chief spokesman Bang-Andersen.

Witnesses said they saw crew standing on the ship's deck when it capsized, making it impossible to immediately say how many might be inside the ship and how many had fallen into the cold water.

Darkness and the extremely slippery surface of the ship's hull, which was covered by patches of ice, complicated the rescue effort.

Cecelia Wathne, also of the rescue center, said the crew included 24 Filipinos, three citizens of the Netherlands, two Norwegians and one German.

Atle Jebsen, of the Bergen-based ship's owner Jebsen Management, said the freighter, built in 2001, was a bulk carrier that had been loaded with stone bound for Germany.

Bjoroey is about 200 miles west of the capital, Oslo. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

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