PEKING -- The U.S. oil drilling ship Glomar Java Sea sank near its drill site last week in the stormy South China Sea, officials confirmed today. All 81 crew members, including 42 Americans, were missing and feared drowned.
The sunken wreckage of the ship, missing since last Tuesday, was identified by Chinese ships using special sonar, said a spokesman for the rig's owner, Global Marine Inc., in Houston.
The week-old search for survivors, still hampered by foul weather, continued without result today. Of the 81 people aboard, 42 were Americans, four British geologists, one an Australian and the rest Chinese.
'We found nothing today,' said a spokesman for the Western Pacific Search and Rescue Center on Okinawa, off southern Japan. 'It's still raining and visibility is poor. For now we will continue the search, but I don't know for how long.' Two of the Americans aboard the ships were identified by their families as John Lawrence, 38, of Odessa, Texas, and Bernard Patrick Cates, 39, of Midland, Texas, a sub-sea engineer.
The parents of Lawrence said he was on the ship's bridge and was the last person to communicate with officials on shore. The parents said Lawrence reported the ship was beginning to list.
The 400-foot Glomar Java Sea, on lease to the Atlantic Richfield Company of Los Angeles, went down off the south China coast last week in the middle of Tropical Storm Lex.
Chinese search vessels located the wreckage last Friday in 300 feet of water but were unable to identify it. In Houston, Global Vice President Dick Vermeer said the identity was finally confirmed by a Chinese ship using special 'side-scan' sonar.
'They have definitely confirmed the fact that our drill ship, the Glomar Java Sea, has been sunk at the drill site,' Vermeer said.
In Peking, oil company officials said another vessel equipped with divers, cameras and sophisticated sonar gear was heading towards the drill site south of Hainan Island, about 40 miles from Vietnamese waters, and was expected to arrive late Thursday.
The divers' first task will be to determine how many of the 81 aboard went down with the ship. They will also try to discover why the Glomar Java Sea became the first ship of its kind to succumb to a storm.
Built to ride out hurricanes, the drill ship had already weathered fiercer storms than Lex since it arrived in the South China Sea last January.
'We don't know why it sank and won't know until the divers can inspect the ship,' an Atlantic Richfield official said.
Taking part in the search for survivors were more than a dozen Chinese ships, three Vietnamese ships and three U.S. Navy P-3 Orion search planes from Okinawa.
The search recovered only 10 life preservers and two fenders from the missing ship, which had been drilling in an area 200 miles off the Vietnamese coast since January.
The Vietnamese sent out vessels to search their own nearby waters after refusing to allow Chinese ships to enter them, diplomatic sources said.
Officials said there was still a 'possibility' that one of the Glomar Java Sea's lifeboats could have been blown into Vietnamese waters, but they added the Vietnamese have not reported finding anything.