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Official: Rescuers reach stranded Russian ship

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[January 23, 2010]  MOSCOW (AP) -- Rescuers evacuated 11 people by helicopter Saturday morning from a Russian cargo vessel stranded in icy waters off the coast of eastern Russia, an official said.

HardwareRussian officials say the evacuees have been flown on a privately owned helicopter to the town of Nogliki on nearby Sakhalin Island, which lies to the north of Japan.

The Smolninsky refrigerated ship was battered by heavy winds Friday, freezing it over and causing the vessel to list dangerously to its port side in the Sea of Okhotsk, which separates Russia's Kamchatka peninsula from the mainland.

The Sakhalin rescue center's spokesman, Nikolai Ivanov, said the Smolninsky still has 20 crew members on board and is making slow progress to safer waters closer to the shore, some 55 kilometers (34 miles) away, in the hope of saving the vessel.

The Smolninsky collects fresh fish from local boats and delivers the catch to local ports, cleaning, processing and canning much of the produce en route.

Ivanov said he had no information about whether the evacuees were fisheries workers or crew members.

An icebreaking ship belonging to the Sakhalin Energy company is sailing in the vicinity of the Smolninsky to ensure the safety of the crew.

Storms in the area where the ship was stranded have subsided, allowing additional ships to be sent in aid of the Smolninsky. A tugboat is expected to reach the ship by the evening.

The Emergency Service says it has also flown an Mi-8 helicopter to Sakhalin Island from the Russian mainland to bolster the rescue support operation.

[Associated Press; By PETER LEONARD]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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