ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland -- Searchers recovered the bodies of 18 of 84 men killed in one of the worst oil rig disasters in history, officials said Tuesday, amid questions about the sunken $50 million rig's saftey.
Virtually no hope remained that any of the 84 men of the U.S.-Canada drilling team survived when the Ocean Ranger collapsed Monday under 50-foot waves. All three torpedo-shaped lifeboats from the rig have been found.
Rescue officials said they 'heard through Mobil's communications that oil supply boats have now picked up a total of 18 bodies,' but one official said the report 'has to be considered unconfirmed.'
President of Mobil Oil Canada Ltd. William Mason, whose firm operated the 35-story rig -- the largest of its type in the world -- told a news conference Monday night rescuers 'certainly cannot hold out much hope for survivors.'
Mobil said a 'provisional breakdown' indicated the rig was manned by 52 Newfoundlanders, 16 other Canadians, 15 Americans and one British citizen.
A spokesman for U.S.-owned Ocean Drilling and Exploration Co, which leased the rig to Mobil, said it was designed to withstand 110-foot waves.
In Boston, a Coast Guard spokesman said the Ocean Ranger was overdue for a safety inspection by two months.
Chief Petty Officer Richard Grigg said that although the rig was operating off Canadian waters it was registered in the United States and was required to undergo inspection every 2 years. The Ocean Ranger was last inspected in Dec. 1979, he said.
The Coast Guard headquarters in Washington had ordered an inspection of the rig that was to have begun Tuesday, Grigg said. An officer from the Coast Guard's Providence R.I. Marine Inspection Office was in St. John's to help investigate the accident.
It was one of the worst oil rig disasters in history. On March 27, 1980, 123 workers died when an oil platform collapsed in the North Sea. Seventy crewmen were killed when a rig toppled into China's Bo Hai Gulf Nov. 25, 1979.
Only 65 miles from where the Ocean Ranger went down, a Russian freighter carrying 37 men sank Tuesday. Five men were rescued, rescue workers said, 21 were confirmed dead and the others were missing.
The Ocean Ranger began to list dangerously during a vicious winter storm Monday morning. It toppled over within minutes after the crew radioed it was abandoning the $50 million semi-submersible rig.
In the nation's capital of Ottawa, opposition members of Parliament said the Canadian government knew of problems with the Ocean Ranger and demanded to see a report from a safety inspection two weeks ago.
Government officials said it would not be released until it was studied in a full investigation.