In the late hours of January 21st, at least 11 sailors were killed after two tankers caught fire and an explosion was also witnessed near the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea.
The Russian Federal Agency of Maritime and River Transportation (Rosmorrechflot) clarified the number of victims, since various outlets give differing accounts. The department said that there were 32 people on the two ships. 12 were saved, 11 died and 9 were unaccounted for.
The two ships, named Kandy and Maestro were sailing under a Tanzanian flag and their crew comprised of mostly Turkish and Indian citizens.
According to preliminary information, the fire occurred during the transfer of fuel from one ship to the other.
Victims from two burning tankers in the Black Sea cannot be delivered to the port of Crimea due to bad weather, Sergey Olefirenko, director of the Crimean Republican Disaster Medicine Center, told RIA Novosti.
“People have not yet arrived. They are scattered around the ships. They must now begathered, and then delivered to the port of Kerch. But there the weather conditions are complicated. We waited all night, ambulances are waiting in the port,” Olefirenko said.
According to him, it is expected that the vessel with the victims will arrive at the port of Kerch around 8 AM local time on January 22nd.
In the morning of January 22nd, Rosmorrechflot’s press service said that the rescuers have lost hope of finding the missing sailors alive.
“As of six o’clock in the morning, the operation was transferred from rescue to search,” the representative said.
According to him, the fire has not yet been eliminated. Rosmorrechflot clarified that the incident occurred outside the Russian territorial waters -15 miles south of Cape Taquil.
“These are neutral or international waters. […] But these are open waters for international shipping,” a spokesman was cited by RIA Novosti.
An expert commented claiming that the reason for the incident was due to the poor state of the two tankers, Sea News Bulletin editor and expert on maritime law Mikhail Voitenko told RIA Novosti.
Initial reports claimed that the fire was caused during a fuel transfer from ship to ship.
“Rather, all of it combined – with a violation of safety (led to the fire), And the state of the vessels. Both were constructed in 1990-1992. The low qualifications of the sailors also played a role, experienced, skilled sailors do not work on such vessels. I believe the shipowner is one and the same, although there are different registered offshore companies, but both are in Anguilla,” Voitenko said.
According to him, shortly before the fire started both tankers were “disguised.”
“Both ships stopped their AIS (automatic identification system in shipping), Which makes it possible to say that the tankers worked in the “gray zone”, with illegal schemes of transportation and transshipment of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). They were recorded for large time intervals off the coast of Istanbul and Temryuk,” Voitenko added.
A Crimean emergency services spokesperson said that more than 4,700 tons of LPG were on the tankers when the fire erupted. Sputnik also reported that there was no oil spill and environmental damage was avoided as a result of the incident.