Chinese officials have said that chances were slim of finding any more survivors from an engineering vessel that broke up and sank during a typhoon on July 2nd while it was operating as a support vessel for offshore wind farms near Hong Kong. In a press briefing late on July 4th local time the search and rescue coordinator said that four workers from the vessel had been rescued and that 12 bodies had been recovered. However, up to 14 additional persons remained unaccounted. The SAR teams were expanding the search area, he said.
Details about the vessel, including its real name, have been sketchy – named variously as the Hua Jing 001, the Fu Jing 001 and the Fujing 001. Local reporters asked the coordinator why the vessel had not been recalled from the site as the storm approached. The Fu Jing 001 was possibly an older vessel converted to support the wind farms. It was reported to be about 200 metres long and fitted with one or more cranes. It was operating near the offshore wind farms in Guangdong Province in southern China.
Officials said the vessel had moved to a safe anchorage off Yangjiang city in Guangdong province to ride out the approaching storm, but that early on Saturday it dragged its anchors and then broke the anchor chains. Winds at the time were approaching 70 mph, with waves of three to four metres. The anchorage was approximately 18 nautical miles offshore from Guangdong.
The storm then intensified before hitting land late on Saturday. Officials have said that the vessel was near the centre of typhoon Chaba as it approached land.
An initial distress signal was received at around 03:50 local time Saturday morning July 2nd from about 180nm southwest of Hong Kong.
A few hours later the vessel broke into two pieces and began sinking. Rescue aircraft and patrol boats were assisted by private fishing vessels. Crewmembers reportedly had been ordered into their lifejackets. However, survivors hoisted from the deck on Saturday said that colleagues had been washed overboard and were attempting to cling to the rails of the sinking ship.
Chinese officials said that 38 ships had been involved in the search efforts, with additional support from the Chinese Navy.
The Hong Kong Government Flying Service, which is leading the search efforts, said that it had dispatched its entire fleet of aircraft and that the search area had been extended to about 700 nm/sq. Bodies have been recovered up to 50nm from the site where the vessel sunk.
Search conditions at the site were complex and difficult. The high winds made it hard to estimate the flight times and fuel capacity of the helicopters. The large number of offshore wind turbines in the area was making it difficult for the helicopters and planes to get close to the surface during their search efforts.