Bulgaria Marks 2 Years of Ohrid Lake Drowning Tragedy
Bulgaria marks Monday two years since the tragic incident in which 15 Bulgarians drowned in Macedonia's Ohrid Lake on the Ilinden tour boat.
The incident happened on September 5th, 2009, when the boat, with 55 Bulgarian passengers on board, on its way to the St. Naum monastery, overturned and sank in the waters of the lake.
On July 5, 2011, exactly 22 months after the Ohrid Lake tragedy, the court in Ohrid sentenced Macedonian Sotir Filevski, captain of the Ilinden ship, and Croatian Branko Baic, representative of the German company Lloyd, which issued the necessary certificate ensuring Ilinden can be used to transport tourists, to one year behind bars. The Ohrid Court resumed the case in February after it obtained official rights to try in Baic's absence.
The accident with the Ilinden boat was caused by a torn steel rope, according to the conclusions of engineering experts.The steel rope in the left side of the outdated ship Ilinden ripped shortly after the more than 50 Bulgarian tourists boarded it, which led the vessel to overturn.
The ensuing panic led 12 tourists to go to the right part of the overcrowded ship, which accelerated its sinking, the engineering experts say. The ship was allowed to take up to 43 passengers on board.
The Bulgarian organizer of the ill-fated trip to Ohrid a year ago, Boryana Georgieva, has already been sentenced for carrying out business activities in violation of the Tourism Act. She was sentenced to pay a fine of BGN 4 500, and was banned from commercial activity for 2 years.
The Ilinden vessel was produced in 1924 in Regensburg, Germany, as a military boat later refashioned into a tourist ship. Its last technical check had been carried out by Lloyd in May 2009.
The families of the drowned tourists will receive EUR 4 500 for each fatality from the insurance company. Regardless of that they are asking additional compensations from the Macedonian Transport Ministry, the head of the navigation office of the Ohrid Lake and the two defendants. A separate claim will be launched against German company Lloyd for certifying the Ilinden ship as safe.
The victims' families' lawyer, Valdimir Vladimirov, who is requesting the case to be tried all over again, believes that the ship captain Sotir Filevski was well aware how many Bulgarian tourists boarded the vessel, and that their number was higher than what was allowed. The lawyer is further convinced that the inspections of the Ilinden that Croatian national Banko Baic carried out in 2007, 2008, and 2009 could not have been real because each inspection took only a day, while it should have technically lasted longer.
Another major issue the Bulgarian attorney sees with the Ilinden trial is the function of two additional panoramic decks that were added to the Ilinden ship, and which were presumably unsafe.
On the day of the 2-year anniversary of the tragedy, Vladimirov told the Bulgarian National Radio, BNR, he saw three different versions in the case's outcome: the trial to conclude very quickly after the magistrates rule there have been serious violations of the law and return it with instructions to the Ohrid Court; the Prosecutor's Office to increase the number of defendants, based on the conclusions of the higher instance, and the case to referred to a second instance – the Appellate Court in the Macedonian town of Bitolj.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Initiative Committee "September 5th," Kancho Georgiev, told BNR the memorial for the Macedonian people who helped in the rescue effort, mounted by Bulgaria, has been robbed and destroyed several times.
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