As crew members threw on life jackets and jumped into rafts, a pipe-laying barge caught in hurricane-stirred seas sank off the Gulf coast, killing an American and two others. Planes and tugboats scoured the water Monday night for 23 missing people.
There were reports of survivors clinging to remains of the sunken boat.
“There is evidence that most of the people missing could still be alive,” said Octavio Best, acting port captain of Ciudad del Carmen.
Even as the U.S. National Weather Service downgraded Roxanne to a tropical storm late Monday, heavy seas and high winds continued to frustrate attempts to rescue people by helicopter.
The barge - working on contract for the Pemex state oil monopoly and carrying 248 people - sank about 7:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m. PDT) Sunday. Two offshore supply boats and two construction tugs quickly pulled 222 people from the water but had to leave as Hurricane Roxanne approached, the Coast Guard said in a statement Monday from New Orleans.
The 219 people pulled alive from the waters were aboard the Sara Maria, about 300 yards offshore from Ciudad del Carmen. Doctors, food and supplies were sent to the boat for the survivors, but conditions made it difficult for the boat to dock.
“They had 30-foot (waves) last night in the Bay of Campeche, so that’s pretty rough,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Adam Wine said by telephone.
About 30 Americans had been on the barge, but it was not immediately clear if they were among the missing.
Campeche state authorities identified the dead American as Jim Vines.
He was believed to be an oil worker, but no age or hometown was immediately available.
All crew members donned life jackets with strobe lights or boarded life rafts before the vessel went down, said James Stewart, a spokesman for barge owner CCC Fabricaciones y Construcciones.