Moscow releases details of ship disaster

A Soviet official said Sept. 2 that 79 people were dead and another 319 missing after a shipping disaster in the Black Sea Aug. 31. The 17,500-ton passenger liner Admiral Nakhimov was carrying more than 1,200 people when it was rammed by a Soviet freighter carrying grain. The accident was one of the worst in Soviet maritime history.

Leonid Nedyak, deputy merchant marine minister, said Sept. 2 that 836 people had been rescued soon after the accident. Most were found clinging to rafts that floated free when the cruise ship sank, he added.

Of the 319 people missing, most probably were trapped in the ship when it went down, Mr. Nedyak said at a hastily arranged press conference.

The cruise ship left Novorossiysk the evening of Aug. 31 for a holiday cruise to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. All its 888 passengers were Soviet tourists, mostly from the Ukraine.

The liner was underway for just 45 minutes when it was hit in its mid-section by the Soviet carrier Pyotr Vasev -- which, according to reports in the official media, had ignored repeated warnings that it was approaching dangerously close.

``The blow struck between the engine room and the boiler room, and practically speaking, it ripped the ship open,'' Nedyak said. The Admiral Nakhimov sank within 15 minutes but the Pyotr Vasev stayed afloat and suffered no losses, he said.

Pravda, in a brief front page item Sept. 3, reported that a commission headed by Geidar Aliev, a member of the ruling Politburo, had been formed to investigate the accident. The paper said divers were working on the cruise ship, which lay on its right side 155 feet below the surface.

Hinting at human error, Deputy Minister Nedyak noted that the state prosecutor's office was also involved in the inquiry.

In describing the accident, he said that weather conditions had been good, and that the Admiral Nakhimov ``was not a new ship, but a good one in working condition.''

According to Lloyd's Registry of Ships, the 575-foot cruise ship was built in Germany in 1925 as a steam-powered vessel and was later refitted with diesel engines.

In 1944, it was converted to a Red Cross ship and used to carry German refugees fleeing the Soviet army. The ship reportedly struck a Soviet mine in 1945, and sank near the Baltic port of Swinemunde.

It was raised by the Soviets in 1949 and rebuilt.

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