Search and rescue underway for crew of capsized barge

SINGAPORE - Filled with about 600 tonnes of sand after dredging from the seabed seven nautical miles (about 13km) north of Horsburgh Lighthouse, Mongolian-flagged barge Guo Liang 677, is believed to have been on its way back when it met with a mishap.

An uneven loading of the sand on the 50m-long barge is believed to have caused the vessel to capsize suddenly.

The sand is believed to have been for a reclamation project in Danga Bay, Johor.

The incident happened at about 1pm on Wednesday and left the vessel's 10-member crew, all Chinese nationals, stranded in Singapore waters, said a spokesman for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

Two of the crew members have since been rescued.

A search-and-rescue operation is going on for the remaining eight, said the MPA in a press statement on Thursday.

The spokesman said that the Chinese Embassy in Singapore has been kept informed.

The barge is believed to be owned by a company called Guo Liang.

The New Paper understands that one crew member was saved minutes after the vessel capsized.

He was found floating in the waters and rescued by the Police Coast Guard.

He did not require any medical attention, said MPA.

Another man was rescued two hours later by the crew on board a sister vessel of Guo Liang. A hole is believed to have been cut in the keel of the vessel using a blowtorch to reach him. MPA said on Thursday: "The other crew member rescued on Thursday by a vessel in the vicinity was reported to have been brought to Malaysia."

Since the mishap, two Super Puma helicopters and a Fokker-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force, three patrol vessels from the Republic of Singapore Navy, two Police Coast Guard patrol crafts, divers and two diving support vessels from Resolve Salvage & Fire (Asia), and 14 passing commercial vessels have been involved in the operations.

Stormy weather

A source told TNP that those deployed to the accident site are waiting for instructions to salvage the wreck amid choppy waves and stormy weather.

When contacted, Captain Anuj Sahai, the managing director of Resolve Salvage & Fire (Asia), the salvage company on site, declined to comment.

"At this time, we are very busy and won't be able to comment. We will release an update when we have the details," he said.

General manager of West Squadron Marine Services, Mr Sunil K. Balakrishnan, 48, said the difficulty of salvaging a wreck depends mainly on three factors.

"Firstly, the water depth has to be considered. But because the water depth in this case is about 30m, it shouldn't be too much of a problem," he said.

The second factor is the size of the wreck.

"It's about 50m long, so it has to be cut up into pieces to be salvaged."

The third factor is the sea condition.

Mr Sunil also said that before the wreck can be salvaged, any bodies that are found inside must be removed first.

"It's standard practice to help the families find closure," he said.

The search continues on Friday.

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