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100 Feared Dead in Volga Ship Sinking


Divers have begun recovering the bodies of around 100 people who drowned after an overcrowded cruise boat sank on July 10 on Russia's Volga River.

State officials said on July 11, one day after an overloaded Russian cruise boat sank in the Volga River, that there was virtually no hope of finding more survivors.

Sergei Shoigu, the head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the "Bulgaria" was carrying 208 people when it sank in choppy waters close to Tatarstan's capital, Kazan.

More than 100 people are believed to have drowned, including up to 50 children -- many of whom had gathered in one room of the ship for a party just minutes before the vessel began to sink.

Some 80 passengers were rescued by a passing boat after more than an hour in the water.

The Interfax news agency quoted emergency officials as saying that more than 40 bodies had been retrieved and brought to the surface.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for a thorough investigation into the incident and declared July 12 a national day of mourning. "I would like to express my condolences to all the families of those who died," he said.

Officials said the underwater search would end after nightfall on July 11, and that the ship would be raised by July 15.

Emergency workers confirmed that 12 bodies had been recovered from the vessel. Eighty passengers were rescued, but close to 90 other people are still missing and believed dead.

The "Bulgaria" hadn't been inspected for years and was loaded far over capacity (file photo).
A rescue worker in the riverside village of Syukeyevo in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, some 750 kilometers east of Moscow, told the Reuters news agency that recovery efforts along the shoreline had been fruitless.

"We couldn't find anything along the shore -- nothing and nobody to see or to hear," he said. "Nothing but silence and waves rolling in, there's nobody there."

Recovery efforts have been complicated by the fact that the two-deck vessel sank in about 20 meters of water, and at a point nearly 3 kilometers from the nearest shoreline.

The cause of the accident is unclear. The ship's operators said the vessel sank as a result of a storm and high waves.

But the Czechoslovak-built vessel was more than a half-century old. A representative from the Prague Steamboat Corporation told a Czech newspaper that boats built as long ago as 1938 were still operating safely in the Czech Republic.

But Russian officials say the "Bulgaria" had not undergone any serious reconstructive work since 1980, and that it was not licensed to carry passengers. Other officials have suggested the ship was carrying nearly twice its legal capacity.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russia's tourism union as saying the ship, which went down near Syukeyevo after leaving its home port in Kazan, had not been inspected for years.

Vladimir Markin, the chairman of the Russian government investigation into the accident, said the ship was seen clearly leaning to one side even at its point of departure.

"It's already been clearly established that at the time of its depature from the port of Kazan, the ship was already leaning to the right, and it's possible that this technical problem was the reason for the accident," Markin said. "But we are currently still investigating other possible causes as well."

Injured from the "Bulgaria," wrapped in blankets, come ashore in the river port of Kazan on July 10.
But officials with the company that operated the vessel said the "Bulgaria" had been properly maintained and operated and that the ship sank as a result of a storm and high waves.

A full passenger list has been posted on the website of the Tatar Emergency Situations Ministry mchs.tatarstan.ru. The vast majority of the passengers were listed as being from Kazan.

'No One Helped'

Television footage showed exhausted survivors being embraced by family members, many sobbing with relief or despair over other relatives whose fate was still unknown.

Survivors recalled harrowing scenes of climbing through windows to reach the upper deck of the "Bulgaria" as the vessel began to sink. Some described attempts to hold onto small children, only to have them pulled out of their arms as water rushed through the boat.

One survivor told Reuters that several nearby ships passed by without stopping to help those on board the "Bulgaria."

"Two ships moved past without stopping at all. We waved and waved," one survivor said. "A blue-and-white Volganeft cargo ship with high sides passed by without stopping, then a barge, and only this boat stopped. No one else."

The Volga, Europe's longest river, is a popular tourist destination, particularly in the summer.

The current head of the OSCE, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, said he was "shocked and saddened" by news of the disaster.

with agency reports

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