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Sunken Russian boat was overloaded, in need of repairs

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A Russian riverboat was overloaded and in need of repairs when it sank in the Volga River with 208 people on board, officials said Monday as the toll rose to 58 confirmed dead.

The riverboat Bulgaria, which sank Sunday about two miles from shore, was not licensed to carry passengers, had not undergone major repairs in 30 years and was operating without its left engine, said Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor general’s office.

Volga region transport prosecutor Sergei Belov said fuel for the left engine had been pumped to the boat’s right side, which resulted in the boat listing 4 degrees. In addition, the 56-year-old double-decker pleasure cruiser was carrying about 50 passengers more than it was built to handle, Belov said.

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Officials said Sunday that 188 people were aboard the Bulgaria when it went down quickly in a thunderstorm. But during a Kremlin meeting Monday led by President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s emergency minister said it now appeared that 208 people were on the boat.

Eighty people were saved, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said. Divers recovered the bodies of 58 people, including five children. The remaining passengers were still missing.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that after examining the ship that there is practically no hope of finding anybody alive there,” Shoigu said.

Medvedev called for a national day of mourning Tuesday even as dozens of divers continued to pull bodies from the boat, which sank in 60 feet of water not far from Kazan, a regional capital.

“The number of old, shabby boats that float [in our country] is beyond measure,” Medvedev said in televised remarks. “And now it happened with most horrible consequences.”

The president ordered that all such passenger boats undergo repairs or be taken out of service.

Russia’s fleet of passenger vessels “is of course very old, and although the state owns just a portion of these boats it doesn’t mean that the state should avoid controlling them,” Medvedev said.

A 2010 report by the federal Sea and River Fleet Agency said that Russia’s 1,100 passenger transport vessels were aging and that many should be “written off en masse.” It said that “tourist cruise boats were in a particularly bad state.”

“The Volga tragedy tells us about the inability of the authorities to control the situation in all spheres of the country, including the shipbuilding industry, which is all but very dead,” lawmaker Anton Belyakov said in an interview. “I am sure they will find the captain, who also sank with the boat, and the shipping company guilty of the accident and all will be forgotten until a new tragedy.”

Nikolay Laptev, a businessman from Kazan who was aboard a riverboat that helped rescue dozens of oil-coated, shivering survivors Sunday, said they told horror stories about how the boat sank in three minutes without warning and how many of them lost loved ones.

“We decided to never set our feet on a riverboat in Russia again,” he said in the telephone interview.

sergei.loiko@latimes.com


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