Russian ship tragedy kills at least 58, 80 missing

13:45, July 12, 2011      

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The Russian Emergencies Ministry confirmed Monday night that at least 58 people, including 5 children and 39 women, had died in Sunday's ship sinking tragedy in the Volga River.

Emergency officials cautioned that the death toll might rise further as rescuers were salvaging more bodies from the shipwreck and that some 80 people that were missing had small chances of survival.

Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Dmitry Medvedev at a Monday meeting that there might be 208 people aboard the ship.

"We questioned all the witnesses who traveled on that ship. It appeared that the ship was carrying 208 people," Shoigu said, adding that "25 passengers were not registered and we still need to find out how they got on."

Previous information from the Emergencies Ministry said that there were 185 people aboard, among whom 80 were rescued and some 100 others were missing. The survivors were all rescued by a passing ship named "Arabella."

Earlier on Monday, the regional emergencies center said that bodies of some 50 children had been found in a music room of the double-decker ship "Bulgaria."

A survivor said on Sunday that there were lots of children aboard the ship, adding that "prior to the tragedy they were taken to the children's room on the second deck."

According to a survivor, two other vessels passed by the scene after Bulgaria's sinking without stopping to save any people.

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said Monday that the captains of the two passing vessels will get "maximum punishment."

"We know the ships and the captains' names. They are being questioned in the cities where they are presently located. We will use all legal measures in order to give them the maximum punishment," Levitin said.

Also on Monday, Medvedev declared Tuesday a day of national mourning and ordered nationwide transport safety checks.

"We should carry out a total examination of all passenger transport," the president said.

"Civil ships, including cruise ships, certainly have a long operating life, longer than that of planes, but still, according to information that we have today, this vessel's state was unsatisfactory," Medvedev said.

The president and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have paid their condolence to the victims and their families.

The 56-year-old ship sank at 1:58 p.m. Moscow time (0958 GMT) Sunday near the village of Syukeyevo in the Kansko-Ustinovsky district of the southwestern Russian republic of Tatarstan.

According to the Russian Transport Ministry, the ship was not allowed to transport passengers and the shipowner did not acquire a license for the voyage.

Meanwhile, the Investigation Committee (IC) in Moscow said one of the cruise ship's engines was in bad shape before it sank into the longest river in Europe.

"Initial investigative procedures showed that the vessel had a left engine defect but went on the voyage nevertheless," the IC was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"It also appeared that the vessel tilted to the right when it departed," the IC said, adding that "open portholes on the lower deck could be another reason why river water poured inside."

Moreover, local emergencies authorities said Monday that the heavily-loaded cruise ship had passed its capacity limit of 120.

Earlier, the Russian Tourism Industry Union said the ship was not renovated like other cruise ships used for voyages down the Volga river.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that two citizens of Belarus were aboard the ship when it sank.

One of the two had been rescued while the other was still missing, the ministry's press service told local media.

Source: Xinhua
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