Rescuers say the bodies of roughly 70 victims, among them dozens of children, remain trapped in the “Bulgaria” cruise ship that sank Sunday in the Volga River near Kazan. So far 58 bodies have been recovered, including those of five children.
The bodies of 20 victims of the tragedy have already been identified, including that of an 11-year-old girl, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
About 80 passengers and crew members have been rescued so far. The rescuers are now focusing more on recovering bodies from the sunken ship, rather than searching for survivors.
The Emergencies Ministry announced there were 205 people aboard the ship.
“According to our specialists there is almost no chance of finding any more survivors,” said the Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova. “Still, both banks and the ship will be checked.”
“Divers are sweeping the bottom of the river,” Andrianova added. “The boat is being searched by sectors and decks to examine it closer. But there is very bad visibility. The waves are quite high. This is also making the work difficult.”
Officials from the Emergencies Ministry said the ship is fully filled with water and there are no air pockets.
At least 52 of the passengers were under 18 years of age and most of them had reportedly assembled in the music room for an event at the moment of the accident.
The divers said they cannot reach that room to remove the children’s bodies due to underwater currents. It will be possible to recover the bodies when two ships sent from two cities along the Volga River, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod, arrive at the scene of the accident and lift the sunken ship to the surface.
The Emergencies Ministry announced that efforts to lift the “Bulgaria” to the surface are expected to begin in a couple of hours. The effort will be developed by the same body that was responsible for lifting the sunken submarine “Kursk.” Special equipment for raising the vessel will also be brought to the scene.
Helicopters and motorboats are also at the scene searching for bodies and possible survivors. The recovery operation involves over 500 people, including 101 divers and 119 pieces of special equipment. The search for survivors continued throughout the night.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, a Russian IL-76 emergency plane with an extra team of rescuers will fly to Tatarstan from Krasnodar late on Tuesday to the scene of the tragedy.
President Medvedev has announced a national day of mourning to take place on Tuesday for the victims of the tragedy. He has also ordered thorough maintenance inspections of all vessels that transport passengers in Russia.
“I want the Prosecutor General’s Office to check compliance with the applicable regulations of the owners of the vessel, the state officials that certified the vessel as suitable for cruising and generally everyone related to the organization of this cruise, especially considering the fact that there were so many children onboard the ship,” he said.
Medvedev also set up a special state investigation commission, headed by the Russian Transport Minister.
“Results of this investigation should be summed up, and not only in relation to this specific catastrophe but also in relation to all vessels of this class and other classes as well. The number of decrepit vessels cruising along our waters is enormous,” Medvedev added.
Experts name several possible causes behind the “Bulgaria” sinking on the Volga River, including the cruise ship’s poor condition, overcrowding, stormy weather, port officials’ oversight and decisions made by the ship’s captain.
A criminal case has been launched over the tragedy.
The Bulgaria was on a weekend tour from Kazan to Bolgar and sank on its way back to the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. The vessel sank at 2pm on Sunday, at a depth of 20 meters, about three kilometers away from the shore.
The survivors said that the ship sank very quickly, within a few minutes. This resulted in chaos and panic on board, and many people did not have time to put life jackets on.
“When the ship jerked and tilted, many passengers started to panic,” Lifenews tabloid quoted one of the survivors, 24-year-old Ruslan. “They fled, tried to escape to the upper deck and jumped into the river.”
Allegedly, though, most people could not escape from the sinking ship because the emergency doors were locked. “One of the doors was locked, another was sealed,” Ruslan said.
The divers say many portholes on the ship are broken. Apparently some passengers tried to escape the sinking vessel by breaking through the portholes, as they could not escape through the doors.
However, as the Volga River is very wide and the water may be quite cold even in the summer, not all of those who managed to get out of the ship survived, as they had to stay in the water for almost two hours crying for help.
The speed with which the accident happened and the failure of some safety measures caused many families to be torn apart.
After speaking to the relatives of the passengers at the scene of the shipwreck a representative of Tatarstan’s Ministry of Health, Airat Farakhov, said all of the victims are in need of psychological help.
The survivors are still on the banks of the river waiting for news and hoping for their relatives and friends to be rescued.
The ministry stressed that the recovery operation will continue until the last body is raised to the surface.