3. The Explosion on the Vaskapu Ship

Summary

On September 2nd 1903, in the Black sea not far away from the Bulgarian city of Burgas, the Austrian river-sea ship Vaskapu, sailing on the Danube from Budapest through Galatz and Varna for Istanbul, explodes. The blast is visible from more than 10 nautical miles (18,5 km). The fire lasts for more than twenty-four hours before the eyes of the inhabitants of the town of Pomorie. 28 people are dead – 17 from the 51 passengers on board and 11 members of the crew, including the captain and his two mates.

The initial version that the steam-boilers of the ship have exploded is soon refuted. The testimonies of the survivors lead to the conclusion that the explosion was deliberate. The investigation never finds the reasons for it, or the bombers.

Only 25 years later, in his memoirs written in jail, a man on death row – Anton Prudkin – confesses to have been a part of this plot. The explosion on the ship, however, was not meant to happen. The time-mechanism bombs were transported to Istanbul, the then-capital of the Ottoman Empire, in relation with the uprising of the Macedonian Bulgarians against the Turkish in July and August 1903. It seems that the couriers themselves had made a mistake, since they had both died in their cabin in the blast.

Prudkin is one of the greatest terrorists in Bulgarian history. Russian by descent and anarchist by conviction, he participated in several conspiracies, and was consecutively sentenced to death and life imprisonment twice in his lifetime. He was executed as a Soviet spy in Bulgaria in 1942.