Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Scores feared dead in river tragedy

Rescue boats seek passengers from a tourist boat that sank on the Volga River in central Russia (AP)
A relative and a survivor embrace each other after a boat sank on the Volga River, in central Russia (AP)
Families and friends await the arrival of the Arabella carrying dozens of survivors of a boat that sank on Russia's Volga river (AP)

More than 100 people, many of them children, were feared drowned after an overloaded Russian cruise ship sank on the Volga river.

At least 13 people were confirmed dead, but hopes for the remainder were fading as rescuers failed to find any more survivors.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 208 people were believed to have been on the Bulgaria when it sank on Sunday afternoon - nearly 75% more than the 120 the boat was licensed to carry.

The ministry said 80 survivors were rescued, all of them Russian; it was unclear whether any foreigners were aboard. River cruise boats such as the Bulgaria are highly popular among Russian holidaymakers.

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 two miles from shore in about 65 feet of water.

Many children were aboard the boat, and survivors said about 50 had gathered in the ship's entertainment hall shortly before it sank.

"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 Volga river port in Kazan for word. Based on a surviving friend's account, he said: "Everyone who survived was covered with fuel oil."

Emergency teams and divers from neighbouring regions rushed to the site of the tragedy, 450 miles east of Moscow.

The Volga, Europe's longest river, is up to 19 miles wide in places and is a popular tourist destination, especially in summer.

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

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