HONG KONG — Eighteen Ukrainian sailors were trapped underwater Sunday in their capsized tugboat after it collided with a cargo ship in Hong Kong waters, a marine official said.
Roger Tupper, director of the Hong Kong Marine Department, said the sailors were trapped in the ship's hull and could still be alive if they found an air pocket inside the vessel. However, he said rescue divers knocked on the boat and did not hear the sailors signal back.
Divers made nine attempts to rescue the trapped sailors but were hindered by strong currents and poor visibility, the Hong Kong government said.
Rescuers were trying to move the 264-foot-long Ukrainian boat — which was upside down at a depth of 115 feet — to a shallower spot to ease rescue efforts, Tupper said.
"We have to get the vessel to shallow water to enable divers to have a better environment to operate," he said. "That does take time. That's very unfortunate."
The Ukrainian tugboat Neftegaz, which had been traveling from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to an oil field south of Hong Kong, collided with the Chinese-registered cargo ship Yao Hai late Saturday off Hong Kong's outlying island of Lantau, Tupper said.
He said six Ukrainians and a Chinese citizen were rescued from the tugboat.
Tupper said the cause of the accident was not known, and weather conditions were "reasonable" when it occurred. Neither vessel was overloaded, he said.
All 25 crew members aboard the Chinese cargo ship were rescued, Tupper said.