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Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
Hopes fade for Caspian ship victims
Map of Caspian Sea
Forty-three people are feared to have died after a ship capsized during a storm in the Caspian sea on Tuesday morning.

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

Relatives wait for news
Anxious relatives are waiting for news
Only nine people were rescued, one of whom later died in hospital, according to Azeri officials.

Rescue efforts are being hampered by high winds and driving rain, but Vice Prime Minister Abid Sharifov said five vessels were searching through the night for survivors.

Seven rescue helicopters would begin work at daylight, he said.

Winds and waves

Frantic relatives have gathered outside the Caspar office and the hospital to which the rescued people were taken, desperately seeking information.

"My brother works on the ferry as a senior mechanic. I have no information at all and there is nobody who can help me. They do not know anything," said Bugar Guseinov.

Aidyn Bashirov, president of the Caspar shipping company, said 43 of those on board were crew members, and eight were passengers.

Mr Bashirov said the boat got caught in a storm in which winds of up to 65 mph (105 km/h) whipped the sea into 6 metre (20 foot) waves.

He said the heavy seas caused oil containers onboard the ship, estimated to weigh about 60 tonnes, to shift to one side, and the boat to sink.

It is unclear whether any of the oil aboard the ship has leaked in the accident.

The President of Azerbaijan, Geidar Aliev, has set up a commission to investigate the cause of the tragedy.

The sinking is the second sea disaster to hit Azerbaijan's shipping industry this year.

In July, six men died after their Azerbaijani tanker ship exploded in the Turkmenistan port of Turkmenbashi.

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

18 Sep 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Jun 02 | Europe
21 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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