21 JAN 2019
According to Russia’s transport ministry, at least 11 crewmembers were killed Monday when two vessels caught fire near the Kerch Strait, the contested waterway connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov.
The Russian Maritime and River Transport Agency (Rosmorrechflot) said that the two ships were involved in a cargo transfer at the time of the casualty. One of the two vessels exploded, and the fire then spread to the second ship. 14 crewmembers escaped by jumping over the side and were rescued from the water. Six more are still officially listed as missing, including three whose bodies have been sighted but not recovered from the water.
The ships have been identified as the LPG tanker Venice and the LPG tanker Maestro, both Tanzanian-flagged and both owned by firms at the same post office box number in Anguilla. AIS data confirms that both vessels were operating in the Black Sea region within the past month.
The 1990-built Maestro’s last PSC inspection found 13 deficiencies, according to her Equasis record: In October, Russian inspectors noted concerns regarding corrosion of her bulkheads and decks.
Traffic through Kerch Strait was not affected by the casualty, according to officials in Russian-occupied Crimea. There have been no indications that the incident is related to ongoing geopolitical tensions in the area.
In recent months, the Kerch Strait has been a flashpoint in the simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On November 25, Russian forces fired on and seized two Ukrainian gunboats and one tug after the Ukrainian vessels tried to pass under the Kerch Strait Bridge. The Russian authorities detained 24 Ukrainian sailors in connection with the seizure, and several have been charged with “breaching Russia’s borders,” according to state media. Three sailors sustained “soft tissue injuries” and received treatment in Russian-occupied Crimea.