A Russian navy aircraft spotted a raft carrying people in the icy seas off Russia's far eastern coast on Monday, raising slim hopes of finding survivors after a drilling rig sank with 67 people on board.

It was not clear whether anyone on the raft was alive.

Aircraft from the Pacific fleet have found a raft. There are people on it, said a spokesman for the owner of the rig, Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka (AMNGR), a unit of state-owned Zarubezhneft.

Asked whether any of the people were alive, he said by telephone: It is impossible to say. Have you ever been on an aircraft? You cannot see from that height.

Of the 67 people on the rig when it sank on Sunday, 14 were saved by vessels accompanying the rig. But 6-metre (20-ft) high waves and air temperatures of minus 7 degrees Celsius (19 Fahrenheit) hindered rescue efforts.

Rescuers say 16 dead bodies have been found.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Ludmila Danilova in Moscow, Editing by Tinothy Heritage)