Ukrainian Shipwreck May Have Been Result of Fuel Smuggling

Police suspect the ship was smuggling diesel fuel; five surviving sailors released from Haifa hospital.

Police suspect that the ship that sank over the weekend on its way to the Haifa Port was smuggling diesel fuel from Cyprus to Israel, and that structural changes altering the ship for this purpose led to the disaster.

The five surviving sailors from the sunken ship, the Sala II, were released Sunday from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Toward evening, the body of another sailors was found. The search for the rest of the missing crew continues.

"I didn't believe I would survive until the next day. It was terribly cold and four of my friends froze to death before my eyes," said Andrei Kras, who spent 18 hours in the water buoyed only by a life jacket. "At first I stood on the bridge, until it sank. Then we jumped into the water. We held on to each other the whole time and we believed someone would come to save us."

After dark, "suddenly we saw the helicopters."

A police official said on Sunday that over the past few weeks, police were investigating suspicions that the ship had been smuggling diesel fuel to sell at unofficial gas stations in Israel.

About six weeks ago, a fishing vessel was apprehended in the nearby Kishon port with 150,000 pounds of smuggled diesel fuel, and its six crew members were arrested.

"If the ship hadn't sunk, we were going to raid it right after it anchored in the Kishon port and interrogate its crew," a police officer told Haaretz. He said the high price of fuel was behind the increase in smuggling.

The ship was in poor condition even before the structural changes, which made it take on water, the officer said.

An individual familiar with marine matters said that now that the ship was at the bottom of the sea, it would be very difficult to prove that it was carrying contraband fuel unless a crew member confessed.