Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered large-scale safety checks of all passenger transport after two fatal transport accidents in Russia in as many days.
A cruise ship sank on the Volga River on Sunday killing at least 24 people and left more than 100 missing. An airliner ditched on a river in Siberia on Monday killing five people and injuring 30.
“We should carry out total examination of all passenger transport,” Medvedev said at a meeting with government officials to discuss Sunday’s tragedy at his Gorki residence near Moscow.
Only 80 were rescued of more than 200 people on board the cruise ship Bulgaria, which sank in the Volga River in the republic of Tatarstan on Sunday afternoon. Investigators discovered that the ship, built in 1955, had a list to starboard and its engine was broken when it left port, and was heavily overloaded with passengers.
The Russian Transport Ministry said on Sunday the vessel had passed a regular technical inspection on June 15 and was certified for further use. A criminal case has been launched into the ship’s sinking on charges of violating safety violations.
The number of worn-out ships in Russia is “out-of-limit,” Medvedev 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,” he said, urging investigators to find out why the damaged ship was in operation.
Owners of all worn-out ships throughout the country should either carry out major refit of their vessels or stop operating them, the president said.
Lawmakers urge decisive steps
Sunday’s tragedy, as well as a recent series of deadly accidents involving aircraft, prompted criticism from Russian lawmakers who urged the government on Monday to take decisive steps to improve transport safety.
Sergei Shishkaryov, who heads the transport committee in the Russian parliament’s lower house, said amendments to Russian laws were necessary that would ban companies from operating worn-out vehicles and increase the punishment for violating transport safety regulations.
Sunday’s tragedy on the Volga River, as well as Monday’s ditching of an Antonov An-24 and the deadly crash of a Tupolev Tu-134 plane in Russia’s Karelia in late June are “systematic occurrences,” Shishkaryov told journalists.
Ivan Melnikov, the State Duma vice speaker and Russian Communist Party first deputy head, blamed frequent transport accidents on transport operators’ “acquisitiveness” combined with “systematic corruption problems” in Russia.
“Those are not individual shortcomings, but flaws of the ‘Russian-style market’,” he said.
Rustam Minnikhanov, the leader of the Tatarstan republic, ordered checks on Monday on the state of all passenger ships in the republic within a week, while Russian Emergencies Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev ordered local authorities to check the permits of all companies organizing cruises in Tatarstan.
On Monday, the ditching of an Antonov An-24 plane left five people dead and at least 26 injured. The Soviet-designed aircraft, which had 36 people on board, ditched in the Ob River in Siberia’s Tomsk region after a fire broke out in its port engine. Police have launched a criminal investigation into the breach of air transport operation and flight safety rules.
In late June, 47 were killed when a Tu-134 plane crashed while landing in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Russia’s Karelia republic. Russian safety experts have all but ruled out technical failure as a possible cause of the crash and think pilot error was the most likely cause of the tragedy.
Medvedev has instructed the government to look into the possibility of early retirement of all An-24s and Tu-134s, which entered service in the late 1950s and 1960s respectively.