Tuesday, January 20, 2004

OSLO (AP) — Rescuers called off a search yesterday for 15 Filipino crew members of a freighter that capsized a day earlier in a shallow, icy Norwegian inlet, bringing the toll of those feared dead to 18.

Three bodies were found after the MS Rocknes overturned Monday, and 12 crew members were rescued.

“The rescue is called off. There is no hope of finding survivors in the water,” rescue leader Trygve Sveen told the Associated Press by telephone from the Rescue Coordination Center.

Salvage specialists pumped air inside the hull to keep it from sinking. It could be as late as tomorrow before searchers enter the ship.

The freighter capsized in a narrow inlet between the island of Bjoroey and Norway’s western coast, less than 200 yards from land, after it put out a distress call. The 30 crew members included 24 Filipinos, three Dutch, two Norwegians and one German.

The last three survivors were pulled through a hole cut in the ship’s bottom Monday night after being trapped for seven hours. Rescuers had communicated by passing notes to those trapped inside, and one Filipino crewman pleaded for urgent action.

On a scrap of battered paper, he had written in large blue letters, “Ok. But pls make fast,” adding that his shipmates were “dieing.”

As the hours passed, “the notes got more and more dramatic,” said Leif Linde of the Bergen Fire Department. “In the end, we just had to cut through the hull.”

Searchers heard no noises overnight that would indicate survivors inside the hull, the Norwegian Rescue Coordination Center said.

The 544-foot freighter, which was loaded with rock and headed for Emden, Germany, capsized in calm weather.

The cause of the accident was unknown, but surviving crew members told the Bergens Tidende newspaper’s Internet edition that the ship had hit bottom or a shoal shortly before capsizing, possibly damaging the hull.

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