Shipwreck investigated in the Bay of Tallinn

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - A ship with a Lithuanian crew that mysteriously sunk in the
Bay of Tallinn earlier last month is now being investigated by a
commission under the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

One man died in the sinking; the remaining six escaped. Before the
launching of the commission, the Finnish government donated the use
of a specialized robot to take pictures of the shipwreck 56 meters
below the surface in an attempt to locate the body of the missing
crewmember and determine the cause of the accident. But both the body
of Nikolai Stolyarov and the reasons for the sinking have so far
eluded human experts and the robot camera's eye.

Weather conditions were good, with few waves and very good
visibility, on June 6 at 3:43 p.m. - the time of the sinking. And the
ship, "Zenitas," carrying Lithuanians but under the Honduran flag,
was found to have no visible signs of damage.

The ship was loaded with flint ore at Tallinn's Paljassaare Port and
headed off for Rotterdam, the Netherlands but capsized and went
under just six miles into its journey, according to Tiit Tuhkla, head
of the Environmental Inspectorate's technical bureau.

Tuhkla speculated that the cargo may have been unevenly distributed
to the top of the ship. At a sharp turn, the heavy cargo may have
fallen to the empty bottom, causing Zenitas to shake and capsize.
Stolyarov's body may be wedged underneath the fallen cargo, he said.

"It is the seafarer's problem that there are no little mistakes.
Every little mistake may cause a chain reaction, and the result is
catastrophe," said Tuhkla, a former sea captain.

Another cause for concern is the 30 tons of diesel fuel still in the
vessel, which lies in a shipping lane. However, Tuhkla said that
because it is "light fuel oil," and there are no known leaks in the
ship, environmental risks remain low. The flint ore cargo also poses
no danger to the environment, he said.

No further investigations are scheduled at sea because of their heavy
pricetags and a lack of necessary equipment. Tuhkla said that he
hoped the Finnish government would donate more time and expertise at
some point to find the body at last and remove the fuel. Meanwhile,
the six-member government commission, headed by Estonian Maritime
Academy vice rector Anatoli Alop, is just beginning its
investigation. The final report is due October 1, said Ministry of
Transport and Communications spokesman Kuldar Vaarsi. The 960-ton,
55-meter-long Zenitas is owned by the American manager of the Savera
Sea Line company. Its home port was San Lorenzo, Honduras.