Bulgaria’s Maritime Administration declined to deny on October 13 that it suspected that the engine room of the Vera Su, the cargo vessel stranded on the country’s Black Sea coast since September 20, had been deliberately flooded, Bulgarian National Radio reported.
The allegation comes after, the day before, National Investigation Service officials said that they suspected that the ship’s logs had been tampered with, and on Sunday, caretaker Transport Minister Hristo Alexiev alleged that the owner of the vessel deliberately was allowing it to sink, to claim insurance money.
Bulgarian National Radio quoted Captain Valentin Enchev of the Maritime Administration as saying that the shipowner had not yet declared Vera Su a sunken property.
According to Enchev, the legal status of the vessel was expected to be settled on October 14.
If it is declared lost, a tender may be initiated for the salvage rights.
Enchev said that it was likely that the shipowner would take action to rescue the vessel, but such an operation cannot be attempted until April, given the weather.
The Bulgarian state would be allowed to intervene directly if the ship posed a threat to the environment and water.
The Maritime Administration said that there was no leakage of the Vera Su’s cargo, which consists of urea fertiliser, in concentrations that would pollute the marine environment and that would affect the flora and fauna in the area.
BNR said that the Maritime Administration did not deny that its theories about the flooding of the ship included a suspicion that this was done deliberately.
Captain Ventsislav Ivanov said that 80 per cent of the water entered through a heavy door at the stern, leading to the engine room, which had not been properly closed. Such a door should be closed properly in bad weather, he said.
While the crew were still aboard the vessel, there was no flooding, but things changed after they were evacuated to the shore, Ivanov said.
It was also believed that water had come from a tap, part of a system for fire extinguishing and cooling the engines, that had not been fully closed. But this could not lead to the amount of water in the engine room at the moment, he said.
It was also possible for water to enter via a partition between the engine room and ballast tanks, which was also compromised.
The Maritime Administration has a plan to remove the cargo, but first the National Investigation Service must provide formal confirmation that the cargo does not constitute physical evidence. Further, it must also be clear from the shipowner that he has abandoned the ship and cargo. As long as they are his, nothing can be done, the briefing was told.
Earlier, Bulgarian prosecutors pressed criminal charges under the Penal Code against the captain and second mate of the Vera Su regarding the grounding of the vessel, and endangering human life and the environment. A guilty verdict could result in five to 15 years in prison.
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