MOSCOW -- The navigator of a Soviet luxury liner that struck submerged rocks off the New Zealand coast and sank last Feburary was sentenced to four years in prison for negligence, the Soviet Union said Saturday.
The government-run newspaper Izvestia said the captain of the Soviet cruise ship, the 20,000-ton Mikhail Lermontov, was dismissed and transferred 'to work on the coast.'
Izvestia said navigator Sergei Stepanishchev was convicted of negligence by a Leningrad City Court and sentenced to four years in jail with labor and a fine of the equivalent of $30,000.
It said Stepanishchev was to pay the money to the Baltic Sea Shipping Co., owner of the ship, but that the sentence was conditionally suspended provided he works and pays the fine through wage deductions.
The newspaper did not say when the trial took place.
The newspaper estimated the loss resulting from the Feb. 16 sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov, the pride of the Soviet passenger liner fleet, at about $23 million. The government decided to leave the vessel on the sea floor off New Zealand and replace it with a new ship.
At the time of the wreck, a New Zealander was at the helm and he took what Izvestia termed 'an incomprehensible decision' to pilot the ship through the treacherous waters of the Marlborough, 25 miles northwest of Wellington.
The liner hit submerged rocks while Stepanishchev was the senior Soviet sailor on the bridge and began taking on water. It sank in 100 feet of water five hours later.
'Stepanishchev, who was responsible for steering the ship in the absence of the captain on the navigation bridge, did not cancel the pilot's order,' the newspaper said.
A New Zealand government inquiry found the pilot, Don Jamieson, was responsible for the sinking. The inquiry praised the Soviet captain for saving the lives of all but one of the 750 passengers and crew on board. A Soviet engineer was believed drowned.
It said the liner was moving at full speed in bad weather when it struck the submerged rocks. After the ship ran aground, Soviet captain Vladislav Vorobyov reassumed command and refused to abandon ship.