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Criminal Probe Launched Into Second Deadly Russian River Accident In Weeks

Retrieval Effort For Sunken Moscow Riverboat
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WATCH: Workers try to retrieve the sunken pleasure cruiser, the "Swallow," on August 1, one day after the sinking killed nine people. (AP video)

MOSCOW -- Investigators have launched a criminal probe into flouted safety regulations after a private pleasure boat sank on the Moscow River early on July 31 killing nine passengers, including the captain.

The “Swallow” pleasure boat collided with a cargo barge as 16 passengers celebrated a birthday party. Six people were saved from the river and one swam to shore by himself.

The head of Moscow’s Interregional Investigation Committee for Transport, Oleg Tushmanov, has indicated that the authorities are keeping an open mind as to what caused the accident.

“Three scenarios are being examined," he said. "The failure of one or the other vessels -- that is to say, an equipment malfunction. There is then the so-called human factor -- that is to say, an infringement of the regulations for river transport by the captain of the barge or the boat. Or else there was a technical failure.”

The boat is thought to have been overcrowded, while the accident may have taken place in a poorly lit section of the river.

'Cavalier' Attitude To Safety

The accident comes just three weeks after Russia's worst post-Soviet riverboat accident -- when 122 people died aboard a tourist boat that sank on July 10 on the Volga River in the Russian republic of Tatarstan.

This latest accident again brings scrutiny to bear on Russia’s civilian transport industry, which has been criticized for ailing infrastructure, poor servicing, and a cavalier attitude to safety checks.

A statement from the Russian Investigation Committee says the boat was licensed to carry no more than 12 passengers, while the boat’s deceased captain had been reprimanded for flouting safety precautions in the past.

“In the framework of the investigation, it has already become clear that the deceased captain Gennady Zinger had previously been brought to administrative responsibility for infringing safety regulations for using this vessel," Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told reporters on July 31. "Once [this was] for exceeding the limit of passengers, but there were also a series of other violations.”

'Boat Was Sailing Erratically'

President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a criminal investigation into the accident on the Volga River on July 10. The investigation has revealed widespread negligence. Medvedev also demanded that nationwide checks be carried out on public transport vehicles.

Passengers on the "Swallow" were celebrating a Turkish national’s birthday. The collision took place near the Luzhniki football stadium in southern Moscow where many local tourist cruises pass. But local reports say that the midnight river accident took place at a point in the Moscow River where lighting is poor.

It is thought this could have played a role in the disaster if noise from the birthday celebrations on board were so loud that a warning from the approaching cargo ship was inaudible.

Some witnesses have said that the boat was sailing erratically and even circled the barge before it collided. Survivors have since been quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying that Captain Zinger was “sober.”