Ships with Indian crew catch fire on Black Sea; 14 dead
At least 14 sailors were killed and six others missing when two Tanzanian-flagged fuel ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Russia from Crimea.
At least 14 sailors were killed and six others missing when two Tanzanian-flagged fuel ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Russia from Crimea, Russian rescue officials said on Tuesday.
While the identities of those killed and missing are not known, officials at the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) in Mumbai said 15 Indians have survived the accident. One of the vessels was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other was a tanker. The fire broke out as the two were transferring fuel from one to other.
One of the ships, the Candy, had a 17-member crew - nine Turkish citizens and eight Indian nationals. The other one, the Maestro, had seven Indian nationals, seven Turkish citizens and an intern from Libya, Russian news agency Tass quoted maritime officials as saying.
A senior DGS official told PTI that dozens of vessels were looking for survivors in the vicinity of the accident site. “Some of our sailors have contacted their families back home about making it, while a few have been rescued after they jumped out of the blazing ships,” the official said.
Fourteen people were killed in the accident, Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov told reporters on Tuesday. “I cannot say anything about the cause of the fire. We currently have information about 14 dead sailors. Other sailors have not reached hospitals yet. Kerch hospitals are expecting to receive them, they will get medical assistance,” he said.
As many as 12 people have been rescued, while six are still missing. Search and rescue efforts are underway.
“Presumably, an explosion occurred (on one of the vessels). Then the fire spread to another vessel. A rescue tug is en route,” said a spokesman for the Russian Maritime Agency.
Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels.
There were no chances to find survivors in the fire, the spokesperson said. “As of 6am, the status of the operation has been reclassified to search from rescue because there is no hope to find survivors,” the spokesperson said. The fire has not been extinguished. “The blaze is ongoing,” he said. Severe weather conditions at sea have prevented rescue ships from taking victims to the shore for medical treatment, the report added.
In New Delhi, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India is in touch with Russian authorities. Kumar said the Indian embassy in Moscow was in constant touch with the concerned Russian agencies to get more information on Indian nationals affected in the incident and to extend necessary assistance. “We have been informed that two ships caught fire while moving through the Kerch Strait after one of them was apparently rocked by an explosion on 21 January,” he said.
The Kerch Strait is a key waterway that holds strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine. It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea. It is also the closest point of access for Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. A Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait opened in May last year.