20th sailor's body found in wreckage 1 still missing

3 probes under way

December 24, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Divers found the body of another U.S. sailor yesterday in the wreckage of a ferry that sank Saturday in the port of Haifa, raising the accident's death toll to 20, with another sailor missing.

Three investigations were under way to determine why the boat sank while it was carrying about 100 sailors from shore to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. The ferry, the Tovia, sank in about 60 feet of water after waves whipped by high winds crashed onto its stern, when it was within sight of the carrier.

Israeli police, Israel's transportation ministry and the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet all ruled out sabotage but continued to try to determine how the loading of the boat might have interacted with water and weather conditions.

A Haifa port official, director Shaul Raziel, said a wave apparently hit the vessel when sailors were gathered in the stern and the boat had stopped, reducing its stability.

"According to the information we have at the moment, it was a combination of events," Mr. Raziel said on Army Radio. "Movement of people in one direction and a sudden wave as they were waiting for a second boat to finish transferring its passengers onto the mother ship."

A spokesman for the company that owns the boat, Ha'ogen, maintained that the boat was not overloaded, a statement so far accepted by port officials.

"A ship like this doesn't sink because of a big wave," Miki Shoham, a spokesman for Ha'ogen, told the newspaper Yediot Achronot. "It is a very stable ship. It will sink only because of loss of balance. I tend to accept the theory that a large number of the passengers were on one side of the ship when a big wave hit and the ship lost balance."

It remained unclear whether any of the sailors heading back to the carrier were intoxicated, and thus hampered in attempts to escape from the ferry. Several of the survivors acknowledged that, as Navy regulations allow, they had been drinking during shore leave.

Vice Adm. William Owens, commander of the 6th Fleet, attended a memorial service held aboard the Saratoga and was joined by the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Arens. The carrier arrived in Haifa Thursday after being on duty in the Red Sea, where it is scheduled to return.

A Navy spokesman said bodies from the Tuvia were being flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and would arrive there today.

Accounts provided by Israeli divers appeared to support statements by survivors that the 57-foot ferry sank within seconds and with little or no warning that anything was amiss. Divers who explored the wreckage said the boat showed no obvious structural damage. They found all but two of the victims trapped inside.

The Tovia was hired by the Navy on a regular basis to take to shore crews from warships anchoring in Haifa, a regular port of call for the 6th Fleet.

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