MOSCOW (AFP) – Up to 20 people were presumed dead off Russia-annexed Crimea in the Black Sea after a fire engulfed two ships sailing under the Tanzanian flag, authorities said yesterday.
The fire broke out when one vessel was transferring fuel to the other on Monday, driving both crews to jump overboard.
Russian authorities rescued 12 people and recovered 10 bodies, Alexei Kravchenko, spokesman for Russia’s Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport, told AFP.
The other 10 people were missing and most likely dead, he said.
“There is no hope of finding them alive,” Kravchenko said. “It is no longer a rescue operation.”
Three of those missing sank into the water “before rescue workers’ eyes” without life jackets, he said.
The ships, the Kandy and the Maestro, had crews from India and Turkey.
The Kandy had a 17-strong crew, while the Maestro carried 15.
Kravchenko said that as of yesterday morning the fire was continuing. “There’s an endless amount of fuel there,” he said.
India said it was in touch with the Russian authorities.
“Our embassy in Moscow is in constant touch with the concerned Russian agencies to get more information on Indian nationals affected in the incident and to extend necessary assistance,” the Indian Foreign Ministry said.
The accident occurred close to the Kerch Strait, a flashpoint in tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
In November, Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Kerch Strait as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea.
The confrontation was the first open military clash between Kiev and Moscow since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine.