18 feared lost with Lithuanian ship

  • 2000-06-29
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS - With the report of a Lithuanian cargo ship lost in stormy Pacific waters with 18 crewmembers aboard, Lithuania may have experienced its worst maritime disaster.

On June 28, the U.S. Coast Guard called off the search despite urging >from Lithuania's prime minister, Andrius Kubilius, and families of the crew that the search continue.

The Lithuanian media has been abounding with news that the 110-meter refrigeration ship Linkuva has been lost at sea for more than a week. So far, all that's been found are a couple of lifeboats and an oar that were most likely torn off the ship during a fierce Pacific hurricane.

The Linkuva, based in the Port of Klaipeda, was heading from the Guatemala area to Long Beach, California, near Los Angeles, when the Pacific hurricane Carlotta, packing winds of a reported 240 kilometers per hour, struck. The ship was bound for Canada to pick up more cargo after taking on gasoline at Long Beach.

The last transmission from the ship was June 21. When the hurricane struck, the ship lost power in its main engine, and its communications equipment suffered damage, according to the last transmission from Linkuva's captain, Anatoly Bobrov.

At this time, the ship was reportedly 220 kilometers west-southwest >from the Mexican port of Acapulco. However, Lithuanian dailies report, the ship could have drifted up to 250 kilometers from that point after 24 hours of hurricane conditions.

By June 27, two orange lifeboats bearing Linkuva identification had been pulled out of the water. No sign of the ship or its crew were reported. An oar inscribed with "Linkuva" was also recovered.

The lifeboats, reports said, were severely damaged, but did not bear signs that they had been used by the crew. No life jackets were found.

"Because of very strong winds and very strong waves, the lifeboats were apparently thrown out of the motor vessel Linkuva," Vaclovas Stankevicius, vice-president of Klaipedos Transporto Laivyno, the ship's owner and operator, said.

By press time, several nearly fruitless searches had been conducted by United States and Mexican coast guards, using helicopters, C-130 planes, and boats. Stankevicius reported that the respective coast guards had not received a mayday call from the ship's automatic transmitter either.

US Coast Guard official Michael Hicks, based at the San Francisco Marine Search and Rescue Center, told reporters that the Linkuva was the only ship that experienced problems in this hurricane.

This could be one of the worst sea disasters in Lithuanian marittime history.

"This is first time in my life I've seen such a disaster," Stankevicius, a former long-time captain of the ship, said.

Arvydas Normantas, emergency services head for the Klaipeda Port Harbormasters Office, concurred.

"The Linkuva is maybe the first ship that's had problems at sea in two or three years," Normantas said.