updated 4/13/2007 8:07:15 AM ET 2007-04-13T12:07:15

A coast guard helicopter and navy divers scoured the frigid North Sea on Friday for signs of five crewmen missing after their Norwegian oil rig support vessel capsized off northern Scotland.

Three people were confirmed dead after Thursday’s accident, the coast guard said. Seven other crew members were rescued and were being treated at a hospital in the Shetland Islands.

The Bourbon Dolphin capsized in calm seas west of the islands, off Scotland’s northern tip, while performing a routine anchor-handling operation on a rig.

All the crew members were Norwegian. Britain’s Press Association news agency reported that a 15-year-old boy, aboard the vessel on a work-experience placing with his father, was among the missing.

The coast guard said the five missing crew members may have been trapped in the hull of the upturned vessel, which was operating at the Transocean Rather rig when it capsized.

Slim chances
Authorities said there was only a slim chance they had survived.

Michael Coull, duty watch manager at Aberdeen Coastguard, said there might be an air pocket under the overturned vessel, “and if the remainder of the crew were in a watertight compartment, then there’s a possibility that they could still be alive.”

“However, the chances are extremely slim and it’s highly unlikely that that’s the case,” he said.

Jim Sinclair, watch manager at Shetland Coastguard, said navy divers were at the scene and preparing to search inside the upturned vessel, but that the search and rescue operation had become a search and recovery operation.

The ship capsized at about 5 p.m. (11 a.m. ET) Thursday and remained on the surface of the calm ocean in clear weather about 75 nautical miles west of the Shetland islands, coast guard spokesman Mark Clark said.

The ship is owned by Bourbon Offshore Norway AS. After the accident, 72 nonessential staff were evacuated from the oil rig, which is operated for Chevron Corp. by offshore drilling company Transocean.

Bourbon Offshore Norway said it had chartered a plane to take relatives of the crew, along with Norwegian police, company officials and religious ministers, to Shetland on Friday.

Norwegian authorities planned to set up a commission to investigate how the accident happened. The 237-foot Bourbon Dolphin was a new vessel, delivered in October, and was performing a routine operation in calm conditions.

Bourbon Offshore Norway said the boat had not sent a distress signal before it capsized.

Oystein Hovdkinn, Norway’s consul general in Scotland, said the accident was “a terrible tragedy which is difficult to understand.”

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