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Japan: Soviets Not Cooperating In Probe Of Fatal Ship Fire

May 18, 1988

OSAKA, Japan (AP) _ Japanese police complained that Soviet officials refuse to cooperate with investigators looking into a fire aboard a docked Soviet liner Wednesday that killed at least 11 passengers.

In Moscow, the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia said that besides the 11 confirmed dead, one person was missing and not likely to be found alive.

The fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. aboard the 4,870-ton Priamurye, and smoke and flames trapped most of the victims as they slept in their cabins on the lowest of three passenger decks.

Izvestia said the blaze may have started in a passenger cabin on the lower deck, but that the cause had not been established. Japanese police said earlier that the fire was discovered in an area above the engine room.

The official Soviet news agency Tass said in a brief dispatch about the fire that some of the injured Soviets were in critical condition.

Japan’s Kyodo News Service said police were investigating careless smoking or an engine-room problem as possible causes of the fire.

Norimasa Watanabe, chief of the Guard Rescue Department of the Maritime Safety Agency in Osaka, told The Associated Press he suspected the cause would be careless smoking or faulty wiring, but that he wouldn’t know until he had a chance to examine the ship on Thursday.

Police said the victims were all Soviet citizens who were on a goodwill visit to Japan sponsored by the Communist Youth League. It took 18 hours to extinguish the blaze, and the ship was left blackened and listing at the Osaka docks.

Yoshihide Yasuda, spokesman for Osaka Prefectural Police, said police wanted to question the Soviets about the blaze, but Soviet consular officials refused to sign papers permitting it.

″They think it’s not important to check what happened, and they even think it’s strange that we want to investigate,″ Yasuda told a news conference.

Yasada said the fire department and the Maritime Safety Agency would launch a formal investigation Thursday.

Yasuda said a second Soviet ship was arriving at this port in western Japan on Friday to take home survivors from the 295 passengers and 129 crew members aboard the Priamurye. He said it would not be possible to keep them from leaving.

In 1982, police were unable to complete investigation of a fire on a Soviet ship in the port of Yokohama for the same reason, Yasuda said. No one was killed in the 1982 fire.

Yasuda said officials planned to question the ship’s captain, Aleksandr Yerastov, 10 passengers who witnessed the blaze and 15 crew members employed as security personnel.

Yasuda said police and firefighters had been through the gutted ship in a preliminary probe, but the Soviets had asked them not to enter the engine room.

The 406-foot-long Priamurye had sailed from Vladivostok on May 7 and had stopped in Otaru, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and in Tokyo before arriving in Osaka Tuesday.

Yasuda said 15 people remained hospitalized with burns and smoke inhalation, and 20 others were treated and released.

Survivors were taken first to a junior high school gymnasium near the port and then to hotels.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry offered condolences to Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Soloviev. Soloviev said he thanked Japan for its help.

Izvestia said that among the passengers were large delegations from the Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Moldavia, as well as from Moscow.