As many as eight crewmembers of the Soviet-era cargo ship Geroi Arsenala remain missing after she capsized in a storm off Crimea early on Wednesday. Two of her crew were rescued by Crimean SAR personnel and the bodies of two more were recovered from the water, according to Ukrainian media; Russian outlet Sputnik issued a competing account suggesting that five have been rescued and seven remain missing.
RIA reports that eight ships, a helicopter and 140 personnel are engaged in a continuing search effort. Gale-force winds persisted in the region Wednesday morning, accompanied by steep short-period waves; the poor conditions have complicated the search but are expected to improve throughout the day.
On Tuesday night, the Arsenala was transiting the Kerch Strait – the narrow waterway between the Crimean Peninsula and Russia – on a voyage from Azov to Turkey. At 0300 hours on Wednesday morning, her crew transmitted a distress signal. Russian emergency management officials told Sputnik that the vessel disappeared off the radar shortly thereafter.
The cause of the sinking is not yet known. Pollution has not been reported, but she may have had as much as 30 tons of fuel and other petroleum products on board.
Russian media referred to Crimean SAR authorities as Russian agencies, consistent with Russia’s assertion of sovereignty over the peninsula, which it annexed in 2014. The United States has imposed punitive economic sanctions on Russia over its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, primarily targeted at investments in the Russian oil and gas industry.
The 1980-built Geroi Arsenala was owned and operated by a Turkish firm. Her classification, from the non-IACS Dromon Bureau of Shipping, has been suspended because of an overdue survey. The past three years of the Arselana’s PSC inspection records show persistent deficiencies, including problems with her oil record book, lifeboats, freeboard marks, water/weathertightness of flush deck hatches, and the condition of her holds. She has not been detained since 1999.