At least 14 sailors were killed when two ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members caught fire in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea on Monday, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. A spokesperson at the Novorossiysk maritime rescue center said 12 people were rescued while six remain missing.
“I cannot say anything about the cause of the fire,” said Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov. “We currently have information about 14 dead sailors, which was included in a report Crimea’s emergencies minister presented to me at nine in the morning. Other sailors have not been delivered to hospitals yet. Kerch hospitals are expecting to receive them, they will get medical assistance.”
The maritime resuce centre spokesperson said the fire on the ships continues to rage and will not be extinguished until the gas runs out. He said the rescued crew members have not yet been brought to shore due to bad weather conditions.
One of the ships – Candy – had 17 crew members, including eight Indians and nine Turks. The other – Maestro – had 15 crew, including seven Turks, seven Indians and a Libyan intern. It is not known how many Indians died in the incident.
“Presumably, an explosion occurred on one of the vessels,” an unidentified spokesperson of the Russian Maritime Agency said, according to PTI. “Then the fire spread to the other vessel. A rescue tug is en route.” There were no chances of finding survivors in the fire, the spokesperson added.
Both ships were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other a tanker.
Meanwhile, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government was in touch with Russian authorities and was trying to get more information on the Indians affected in the incident, PTI reported.
The Kerch Strait is of strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine. It is an important lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea. For Russia, it is the closest point of access to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.