Russia said there was little hope of finding any more people alive on Monday after an overloaded tourist boat sank in the Volga River, killing as many as 128 people in Russia’s worst river accident in three decades.
Eighty people were rescued on Sunday after the Bulgaria, a double-decked river cruiser built in 1955, sank 3 km (2 miles) from shore in a broad stretch of the river in Tatarstan. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Dmitry Medvedev that little hoped remained of finding survivors.
As many as 60 of the passengers may have been children, Russian media reported, and survivors said some 30 children had gathered in a room near the stern of the ship to play just minutes before it sank.
“Practically no children made it out,” survivor Natalya Makarova said on state television. She said she had lost her grip on her 10-year-old daughter as they struggled to escape. “We were all buried alive in the boat like in a metal coffin,” Makarova said, who escaped through a window. (Reuters) “I practically crawled up from the bottom. My 10-year-old child was with me. I held onto her as long as possible,” Ms. Makarova said. (New York Times)
Russian television showed footage of survivors shaking with grief, yelling or staring hollowly at the port in Kazan where they were taken. In one, a woman yells, “My granddaughter, she was only 5 years old.” (New York Times)
Sania Zakirova waited on shore at the Syukeyevo for news of her missing grandson and pregnant daughter-in-law. “No one is telling us anything. Are they alive or dead?” she screamed, wiping back tears. Her son, who survived, “was struck by a big wave that carried his son straight out of his hands,” the Kazan resident told reporters. (Reuters)
Another relative told regional official Grigory Rapota: “You cannot bring the children back! But find their bodies. I don’t want money from you, I want to take them into my hands and bury them in peace.” (Reuters)
“It happened very fast. Hatches and windows were knocked out,” said Vladimir Shirybyryv, a friend of both survivors and missing people who was waiting at the river port in Kazan for word. Based on a surviving friend’s account, he said: “Everyone who survived was covered with fuel oil.” (CBC)
“It just tipped to the right, flipped over and sank,” Nikolai Chernov, one of the survivors, told Russian television. “That was it,” he said. “There was no warning, nothing.” (New York Times)
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. (CBC)
The name of the captain, Mr. Ostrovsky, was not among the list of rescued, and neither were the names of his wife and children, Life News reported.
Cruises on the Volga, which cuts through the heart of Russia hundreds of kilometres east of Moscow and drains into the Caspian Sea, are popular among Russians and foreigners. The Volga River is crowded with boats in the summertime, including oil tankers and barges. Last year, a riverboat collided with a barge laden with sand north of Moscow. All the passengers were rescued.
Mikhail Korbanov, the editor of Russia’s Transport magazine, said the sinking was the most deadly river accident since the Alexander Suvorov crashed into a railroad bridge on the Volga in 1983, killing at least 176 people.
Medvedev said the sinking would not have happened if safety rules had been observed. “According to the information we have today, the vessel was in poor condition,” Medvedev told a hastily convened meeting of senior ministers at his Gorki residence outside Moscow. “The number of old rust tubs which we have sailing is exorbitant.” (Reuters) Seeking to deflect possible criticism of the authorities ahead of the March presidential election, he called for a “total examination” of passenger transport vehicles in Russia. Prime Minister Vladmir Putin sent his condolences and a day of mourning was declared in Russia on Tuesday.
The regional Emergencies Ministry said they had raised 55 bodies to the surface, five of whom were children, but divers said they had seen more bodies trapped in the restaurant cabin of the Bulgaria, a 78-metre craft the ministry said was designed for up to 140 passengers. The boat, which was built in Communist Czechoslovakia, had 208 people on board including 25 unregistered passengers, Shoigu said. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General said the Bulgaria was overloaded, had no license to carry passengers and a problem with its left engine.
“In case of an accident these ships sink within minutes,” Dmitri Voropayev, head of the Samara Travel company, told RIA Novosti. (CBC)
The Federal Investigative Committee said it had confiscated documents from the company that owned the boat. Spokesman Vladimir Markin said investigators were looking into why the boat was listing to the right when it set out.
Russia has a history of disasters and deadly accidents stemming from lax implementation of safety rules, from fires to plane crashes and mining disasters. In other Russian news, at least five people were killed and 30 injured when a Russian plane made an emergency landing on a Siberian river after an engine caught fire on Monday.