RIGA - Evidence has been uncovered indicating that the Cypriot ship Vladimir was directly involved in the catastrophe of Latvia's fishing boat Astrida that led to the death of six crew members.
In addition to reports by crew members, there are abrasions on the ship's hull indicating the Vladimir struck the Astrida off the Swedish coast.
Latvia's Maritime Administrat-ion chief investigator of naval accidents, Stanislavs Cakss, who examined the Cypriot ship in the port of Baltimore in the United States last week, told reporters that an item used for protecting the Vladimir's hull was the main evidence.
That item bears traces of the paint color on the Astrida.
Several abrasions of paint, especially one white scrape on one side, indicate a collision with the Astrida.
Cakss said the captain of the Vladimir was trying to prove the scrape originated from the anchor scraping the ship's side, but independent U.S. experts found a scrape by anchor would have been deeper, at a different angle and in different direction.
The Vladimir's crew, composed of Ukrainian sailors, told Latvian experts they had felt an unusual vibration during the night of the possible collision, but neither they nor the ship's captain were willing to admit a collision had occurred.
Cakss, showing the journalists photographs shot aboard the Vladimir during the June 6 - 7 examination, said there were many objects aboard the ship hindering the scope of vision. Moreover, the radar possibly did not spot the Astrida.
He said each ship needed to have four pairs of protectors on the sides, but the Vladimir did not have half of them, and one protector was found at the site of the Astrida's wreckage.
Latvia's Maritime Administrat-ion director Ansis Zeltins stressed that the administration's task was to assess causes of the Astrida's catastrophe in a professional manner.
Although the prosecutor's office and police in the western Latvian city of Liepaja have opened a criminal case, further investigation will have to involve Ukrainian authorities as well since the Vladimir's crew is from Ukraine.
Zeltins said it was unclear yet if the evidence obtained was suitable to be used in court. He added that for the time being there was no need to detain the suspected ship, which has now headed for Charleston, Virginia.
The Astrida, with a crew of six people aboard, was reported missing on May 11 when the ship was due to return to Liepaja port. The next day the ship's wreck was spotted by Sweden's coast guard at a depth of some 30 meters off Sweden's coast.
The bodies of four of Astrida's crewmembers were found a few days later, and remains of its captain were found in the sea, thought it hasn't been officially identified yet.
One of Astrida's crewmembers is still considered missing.
Law enforcement authorities, meanwhile, opened a criminal case regarding the accident over violation of naval transport safety and movement regulations, punishable under the Latvian law with three to 15 years in jail.