Navy denies negligence in rescue attempt

  • 2008-12-10
  • By Kristina Pauksens

STAYING AFLOAT: Latvian naval vessels "Varonis " and "Virsaitis" have been instrumental in the search for the ship and survivors.

RIGA - The Latvian Defense Ministry has denied accusations of negligence on the part of the Naval Force in the attempted rescue of fishermen during a serious storm on Dec. 2, three nautical miles off the coast of Liepaja.
The six crew members of the Beverina 's all men from Kurzeme in their 40s and early 50s 's have yet to be found, and it is widely believed that they perished in the storm.
According to Captain Normunds Stafeckis, National Armed Forces (NAF) spokesman, there is little chance that these fishermen could still be alive.

"The water temperature was very cold... humans can stay in the water [at this temperature] approximately 2 or 3 hours, and not more 's alive. It's sad but it's true," he said.
The Maritime Administration Investigators have launched a probe of the accident, while the State Police have launched a criminal procedure. There has been some controversy as to whether the Naval Force acted appropriately in their attempts to save the unlucky sailors.
A Latvian navy ship was close enough to watch the distressed fishermen's vessel as it sank to the bottom of the sea.

The navy has denied that they behaved in a criminal or negligent way. According to Captain Stafeckis, "our naval ship did everything [they could] to rescue them."
However, local media has questioned how the naval force could have been so nearby, offering evacuation to the crew of the distressed ship, and yet failed to save the crew.
Stafeckis explained that "there was a storm with 3 to 5 meter [high waves] of water," which made it difficult 's and extremely dangerous 's to approach the small ship. 
"Our ship, which is five times bigger than a civilian ship, was not able to come very close 's they could only use radio communications and visual contact," he said. He was unable to specify the exact distance between the two ships.

Stafeckis further explained that the naval rescue team offered assistance to the distressed sailors prior to the ships' sinking, but that "they refused it several times and our ship, Virsaitis, finally [told them] that the rescue helicopter would be there in 1.5 hours.  But the ship didn't send any SOS or other distress signal, and so no rescue operation was started."
Finally, the military ship saw that the civilian ship was sinking, and started to operate "according to procedures." 
Stafeckis emphasized that the Navy has to follow regulations in order to prevent their own ship from sinking. The fishermen's ship sank in only about 2 to 3 minutes.

Body Hunt
An underwater investigation took place after the storm cleared up, but the bodies of the fishermen have yet to be found. "For two days, scuba divers were diving and didn't find any [bodies] in the ship, or around the ship.  They don't have any idea where the fishermen are now," said Stafeckis
The rescue team's divers discovered that the crew of the Beverina had released their life float, but that the weight of the sinking ship had pressed it to the bottom of the sea, rendering it useless.
Personal belongings of the missing fishermen were also found washed up on shore.
It is still to be determined whether the crew was carrying a larger cargo than they were permitted to in accordance with safety regulations.

Investigators have discovered that a loose cargo of scrap metal may have been responsible for the shipwreck. Beverina was registered as a fishing boat, but investigators say the boat was probably engaged in searching for and collecting scrap metal that had been dumped on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. This has been confirmed by the fact that large amounts of metal cables were found in the hold of the sunken ship.
The poaching of scrap metal from the bottom of the sea is an extremely dangerous practice. It is essential that metals are securely fastened inside the boat, so that they do not roll around when the ship is rocked by waves, destabilizing the boat.

The State Environment Service naval and territorial waters department deputy director, Felikss Klagiss, told the Baltic News Service that Beverina has been caught poaching four times in Latvian waters and once in Polish waters this year. The illegal loot also included large amounts of cod. The environment authority has imposed fines on the ship, but they have not been paid yet.

Beverina has been officially engaged in fishing for the past six months.
Investigations surrounding the sinking of the Beverina, and the actions the Latvian Navy took to save its crew will continue in the coming weeks.