Police investigators from the National Fraud Squad greeted the crew of Zim Asia on Sunday as the Israeli container ship, suspected of colliding with a fishing boat off the coast of Japan
last month and causing the deaths of seven fisherman, docked at the Haifa Port.
Captain Moshe Ben-David and four members of his crew, whom police suspect were responsible for the collision and for failing to report it or offer the overturned fishing boat assistance, were arrested Sunday morning and taken to the Fraud Squad's headquarters in Bat Yam
for further questioning. Ben-David had arrived in Israel
several days ago to participate in the Transportation Ministry's probe but was only arrested on Sunday after the boat docked in Haifa.
Signifying the importance that the police assigned the investigation, head of the Fraud Squad - Lt.-Cmdr. Miri Golan
- showed up at the port to participate in the arrests and the initial questioning. Police investigators boarded the boat and searched it for evidence and clues that might shed light on why the crew failed to report the collision or offer assistance to the damaged boat. One Japanese fisherman survived the accident.
Police simultaneously raided Zim offices in Haifa and Ben-David's home. By Sunday night, police had released Ben-David under restrictions.
The remands of two foreign Zim workers were extended Sunday night. First officer Pilastro Zdrevko of Yugoslavia and lookout Lachev Galin from Bulgaria
were to remain in custody until October 30.
After disembarking from the ship, Golan said police were receiving full cooperation from the Transportation Ministry and that the State Prosecutor's Office had instructed them to launch the investigation. Police said the charges against the Zim employees included causing death by negligence, violation of maritime law by failing to offer assistance to the Japanese fishing boat following the collision and failure to report the accident.
The probe also included sending an Israeli investigator to Hong Kong
Ben-David's attorney Gad Neshitz dismissed the allegations against his client claiming the captain was asleep during the collision and was not updated about it until the ship was already far away.
"There are not yet clear findings that prove the Zim boat collided with the fishing boat to begin with," Neshitz said. "The captain has not taken responsibility and the incident took place at night when he was asleep."
The 4,000-ton Zim Asia merchant ship hit the Japanese fishing boat on the open sea - outside of Japan's territorial waters - on September 28. The Japanese coast guard charged the Zim ship with a "hit and run," citing that the Zim Asia's prow was broken and bore traces of paint from the Japanese boat. Zim at first denied the incident.
Later, however, the shipping company apologized for the accident and senior officials flew to Japan to meet with the victims' families and discuss compensation. At the beginning of the month, Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit instructed his ministry to send a special investigator to Hong Kong
to check whether the Israeli ship was involved in the collision.
The police will also look into allegations, reported in the Japanese media, that the Zim crew ignored warnings from its radar system that it was approaching the fishing vessel. Media outlets in Japan reported two weeks ago that Zim CEO Doron Godar had admitted to Japanese officials that close to the time of the collision the vessel's alarm had gone off but that the crew failed to react.