9 dead, more than 90 missing in Volga boat sinking

July 11, 2011 - 5:59 AM
APTOPIX Russia Boat Sinks

A relative embraces a survivor upon the arrival of the Arabella riverboat with dozens of survivors of a shipwreck in Kazan, on Sunday, July 10, 2011, on the Volga River, in central Russia. A woman drowned and some 100 remain missing after the double-decker passenger boat sank in the middle of the river some 3 kilometers (2 miles) away from the nearest bank, in the Tatarstan region, about 450 miles (750 kilometers) east of Moscow. (AP Photo/Roman Kruchinin)

MOSCOW (AP) — Rescuers scoured the wide waters of a Volga River reservoir on Monday, searching with dimming hopes for survivors after an aged, overloaded cruise ship sank amid wind and rain. Nine people were confirmed dead, but more than 90 remained missing.

Exactly how many people were aboard the two-deck Bulgaria when it set off for a cruise on Sunday remains unclear but it was certain to be carrying more than its licensed maximum. Officials say anywhere from 185 to 196 people were aboard the ship that should have carried no more than 120.

The cause of the disaster has not been determined. Igor Panishin of the regional Emergencies Ministry was quoted by the state news agency RIA Novosti as saying survivors reported the ship was leaning to starboard as it made a turn and a wave washed over the deck. It sank within about eight minutes, he said.

The ship sank about three kilometers (two miles) from shore in about 20 meters (65 feet) of water, officials said.

National Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Smirnikh on Monday said nine people are confirmed dead and 80 have been rescued. A ministry list of the rescued shows all were Russians; it was unclear if any foreigners were aboard.

River cruise boats such as the Bulgaria are highly popular among Russian holiday-makers, conducting cruises ranging from a couple of days to two weeks.

Many children were aboard the boat, and Russian news reports cite survivors as saying about 50 children had gathered in the ship's entertainment hall shortly before it sank Sunday afternoon.

One survivor told the national news channel Vesti 24 that other ships refused to come to their aid.

"Two ships did not stop, although we waved our hands," said the man in his 40s, who stood on the shore amid weeping passengers, some of them wrapped in towels and blankets. He held another man, who was weeping desperately.

Emergency teams and divers from neighboring regions rushed to the site of the tragedy, 450 miles (750 kilometers) east of Moscow.

The Volga, Europe's longest river, is up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide in places. The river is a popular tourist destination, especially in summer months.

The Bulgaria was built in 1955 in Czechoslovakia and belongs to a local tourism company. It was traveling from the town of Bulgar to the regional capital, Kazan.

A tourism expert said the lack of partitions inside the Bulgaria made it vulnerable to breaches.

"In case of an accident these ships sink within minutes," Dmitri Voropayev, head of the Samara Travel company, told RIA Novosti.

Russia's Union of Tourism Industry said the ship had not been inspected or retrofitted for years, according to the Interfax news agency.