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Sailors killed after explosion near Crimea

January 21, 2019

Two vessels, one of them an oil tanker, caught on fire after the deadly explosion in the Kerch Strait. Several sailors remain missing. The narrow waterway is a source of particular tension between Russia and Ukraine.

Ship on fire in the Kerch Strait
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/KerchFM/TASS

At least 10 sailors were killed and 14 had to be rescued after two ships went up in flames near the Crimean Peninsula on Monday, Russian officials said. Another 10 people remain missing, according to a Russian naval official quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The blaze was unleashed by an explosion that occurred in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, off the southern coast of Crimea.

Russian news agencies quoting the federal maritime agency said that the two vessels, the Maestro and the Candy, one of which was an oil tanker, were anchored at the time of the incident. The sailors were from India and Turkey, and the cargo ships were both flying Tanzanian flags.

Preliminary information suggested that the fire could have been started when one vessel began transporting fuel to the other. Russia has opened an inquiry into the incident.

Sore spot for Russia and Ukraine

The situation in the Kerch Strait is particularly tense since the long-simmering tensions between Moscow and Kyiv over Russia's annexation of Crimea boiled over in the Sea of Azov in November, with Russia implementing a partial blockade.

Taking the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov is the only way to reach two of Ukraine's biggest ports, Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ships are often made to wait weeks before they can pass through the Kerch Strait, and Ukraine has complained that crews are often harassed by Russian authorities.

es,dj/se (AP, dpa)