Two ships have caught fire while moving through the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from mainland Russia, after one of them was apparently rocked by an explosion. At least 11 sailors have died, Russian Maritime Agency said.
One vessel was “allegedly struck by a blast,” which caused the fire that then spilled over to another ship, an official with the Russian Maritime and River Transport Agency said.
Clouds of black smoke can be seen billowing over a vessel engulfed by a blaze on YouTube footage, which shows the scene of the incident. Another ship can be seen floating nearby.
Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels. At least 11 people died in the incident and 12 have so far been rescued from the sea. Eight sailors are still listed as missing.
The crews of the affected ships included Turkish and Indian nationals, the emergency services said, adding that there were no Russian sailors. Turkey confirmed that 16 of its citizens were aboard the affected vessels.
Between eight and ten ships have been sent to the rescue and are picking up the sailors, the emergency services said. The explosion might have been caused by a safety rules violation during the fuel transfer, according to some reports.
Both vessels were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and another one was a tanker. The fire broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other.
Maritime traffic was not affected by the incident and navigation through the Kerch Strait is still open, the director of the Crimean Sea Ports said.