Rescue workers were last night searching for 49 men in freezing, remote waters off Russia's east coast after their oil-drilling platform capsized and sank.
By nightfall, four men had been confirmed dead and 14 others had been plucked from the icy waters by the ship that had been towing the Kolskaya platform. But the search for the remaining men was hampered by freezing temperatures, a driving blizzard and strong winds.
Dmitry Dmitriyenko, governor of the Murmansk region in Russia's north-west, urged friends and families not to lose hope last night, but admitted the chance of the men surviving in the 1C water was approaching zero.
"This is a terrible disaster, which took the crew unawares," he said. "But there is still a chance."
The Emergencies Ministry said that 67 people had been aboard the platform as it was being towed about 200km off the coast of Sakhalin, a large island just north of Japan.
The Transportation Ministry said the platform started sinking after a strong wave broke some of its equipment and the portholes in the crew's dining room.
One 16ft wave washed away its lifeboats, leaving the crew with no escape, and several hours later it sank, officials said.