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Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Dozens feared dead in Caspian sinking
Map of Caspian Sea
A ship carrying dozens of people has capsized in the Caspian Sea, say officials in Azerbaijan.

The Mercury II was sailing from Aktau in Kazakhstan to the Azeri capital, Baku, with 51 people on board, said a statement from its owners, the Caspar shipping company.

Eight people were reported to have been rescued, after a major operation was launched from Azerbaijan.

The vessel's exact location was unclear, but Russia's Interfax news agency said it went under between 70 kilometres (43 miles) and 100 km (62 miles) from Baku.

Storms

Reports said stormy conditions were hampering rescue attempts, and it was feared many of those on board had perished.

The company said 43 of those on board were crew members, and eight were passengers.

The vessel's captain had broadcast a distress signal at 0900 local time, (0400 GMT), but radio contact was then lost.

Rescuers who have reached the ship's last known position have found no trace of it, said reports.

Oil cargo

The vessel is believed to be carrying around 2,000 tonnes of oil.

Five ships and five helicopters were reported to have joined the rescue effort.

The President of Azerbaijan, Geidar Aliev, convened an emergency meeting with top officials, and set up a commission to investigate the cause of the tragedy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Christian Lowe, Agent France Press correspondent
"We won't know for some time what the exact cause of this was"
See also:

18 Sep 02 | Europe
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