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More than 50 die as Russian Cruise Ship Sinks in Volga River

Jul 11, 2011

russia: tourist boat sinbksThe death toll rose to 50 but officials said it was likely to climb further as divers continued the grim task of removing the dead from an overloaded Volga River cruise ship that sank in a storm Sunday afternoon. Dozens remained missing and presumed dead in Russia's worst marine accident in 25 years.

President Dmitry Medvedev declared Tuesday a national day of mourning and ordered officials to check the safety of Russia's aging fleet of cruise ships. "It's already clear that this disaster couldn't have happened if safety regulations were followed and inspections were conducted," a somber-looking Mr. Medvedev told ... Dozens survive, rescuers search for nearly 100 missing after a tourist boat, believed to have been carrying 182 people, sinks in Russia.  Video courtesy of Reuters.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared to have tears in his eyes as he spoke of the disaster at a separate meeting with economists shown on state television.
Officials said 208 people among them many families with young children were on the two-deck Bulgaria. The vessel was built for no more than about 120, investigators said, and didn't have the proper permits to sail. Twenty-five of the passengers weren't on the official manifest, officials said. "We still need to figure out how they got there," Sergei Shoigu, minister of emergency situations, told Mr. Medvedev.

About 80 people were reported rescued, most by a passing ferry. Investigators said the half-century-old Bulgaria went to the bottom in just a few minutes after being swamped by a large wave as the crew tried to maneuver in a sudden thunderstorm storm on the huge Kuibyshev Reservoir on the Volga. Terrified passengers and crew managed to get only a few inflatable rafts off before the ship sank.

"The ship was just sailing along and then suddenly turned over," survivor Nikolai Chernov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid. His wife and five-year-old grandson were feared dead.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia's Investigative Committee, arrived Monday at the scene to supervise the probe. Officials said the Czech-built Bulgaria was listing four degrees to the starboard and its port engine was inoperative when it left port for the return voyage from Bolgar to Kazan Sunday morning.
Prosecutors cited "numerous violations" on the part of operators, including the lack of the necessary license. Officials said its last major renovation was conducted in 1980.

Regulators stopped at least one cruise ship of similar design to the Bulgaria for inspection Monday, news agencies reported. But local news agencies quoted the Bulgaria's operator as saying it had been in working order.

"The ship was in good condition," Svetlana Imyakina, director of the Agrorechtur company that rented the ship, told the Interfax news agency Monday. "They wound up in a storm and the holds were flooded."

Waves remained as high as two meters Monday at the accident site, complicating the rescue efforts on the wide river. The wreck was about 2.5 km from shore. Divers worked to remove bodies from the ship, which lay in 18 meters of water, focusing on the restaurant and main hall where children had gathered for a party just before the ship sank. Rescuers combed nearby islands for any who might have survived.

"Divers are working in shifts and will continue around the clock," said Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan Region, where the accident took place. "I promise that measures will be taken against the ship owners who allowed the Bulgaria out on the water," he told relatives of the passengers. "It's shocking that the ship sank in such a short time." He also promised to investigate two passing ships that survivors said didn't stop to help.

Relatives and survivors stood vigil in the rain on the shore Monday, news reports said, as divers brought bodies up from the wreck.
Officials said the accident was the worst in Russian marine history since 1986, when a passenger ship struck a freighter and sank off Novorossiisk in the Black Sea, killing at least 423.