Ferry Fire, Sinking Kills At Least 14

Monday, January 29, 2001
The Ukrainian coastguard found 14 corpses and 32 survivors marooned for two days in lifeboats and rafts in the Black Sea after a storm engulfed a small ferry. Five people were missing.

Two survivors told Reuters that the ferry, carrying mostly shuttle traders taking Turkish goods for sale at Ukrainian markets, sank on Friday. They spent two days shivering aboard an overcrowded life raft which itself was gradually sinking. Sea temperatures at this time of year are around six degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit).

The 790-ton Pamyat Mercuria (Memory of Mercury) had been carrying 49 Ukrainians and two Russians from Istanbul to Yevpatoria in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. "The boat listed over to the right, and the crew tried to save it, but it was clear pretty quickly that it was listing further and we would capsize," said the ship's 30-year-old doctor, Igor Grant. "We were on a life raft, sitting in a circle on its rim -- fighting for two days to stop it sinking," he said from his hospital bed in the port of Sevastopol. "There was one death." Third mate Vitaly Bondar, 29, said the 36-year-old Polish-built vessel went down in less than 10 minutes. "There were women among the passengers. Everyone jumped in the water to swim for the raft," he said. "There wasn't any panic, but we were on a raft designed for 10. At the beginning there were 24 of us, but one passenger had been in the water too long and died quickly. We had to throw him in the sea." "As an old vessel of small tonnage it should have skirted around the Western shores of the Black Sea, but instead took a shorter direct route across the sea."

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