Russian scuba divers find shipwrecked Polymetal gold cargo

MOSCOW Wed Nov 7, 2012 3:49am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian scuba divers have found a sunken cargo ship loaded with 700 tons of gold ore owned by Polymetal International Plc shipwrecked off Russia's Far East coast, the transport ministry said on Wednesday.

The dry-cargo freighter Amurskaya, whose cargo was worth an estimated $230,000, went missing early last month in the Okhotsk sea - one of the main routes for Russia to Asian markets.

The vessel, built in 1972, had a nine-member crew on board, but no bodies have been found in the wreckage, rescue workers said.

"Scuba divers investigated the sunken object - it is the Amurskaya freighter," the Transport Ministry cited state lifeguard services as saying in a statement. "We plan to continue work by penetrating inside the vessel."

The ship, operated by a company based in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, left the Kiran Sea terminal on October 28 carrying ore from Polymetal's Avlayakan mine to be deliver at its Hakanja processing plant.

At current gold prices, the 700 tons of gold ore is worth about $230,000, analyst Sergey Donskoy at Societe Generale said. Each ton of ore out of the Avlayakan mine contains about 6 grammas of gold.

The shipwrecked freighter was discovered on the sea bed at a depth of 25 meters (82 feet), where experts say it sunk after its cargo was displaced in roiling, high seas - swiftly capsizing the vessel.

"A ladder, the lack of people on the bridge, the open door to the room below the bridge deck and the lack of lifeboats on board confirms with a high likelihood that the crew attempted an emergency evacuation," the ministry statement said.

The director of the ship's operator is being investigated on charges of negligence for having sent the vessel out in bad weather and overloading it with gold ore.

(Reporting By Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Alison Birrane)

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