At least one person died when a pleasure ship with 188 onboard, the “Bulgaria,” sunk in the Volga River near the Russian city of Kazan. More than 100 people are still missing.
There were 150 passengers, 22 crew members and 16 other staff on board, Ria Novosti news agency reports.
One woman has been killed.
According to the list published on the website of the local department of the ministry, there are 76 rescued passengers and crew members.
One of the rescued is injured and has been moved to a hospital in the nearby town.
Other rescued have been transferred to Kazan on a three-deck vessel, “Arabella”.
“Rescue teams left for the scene as soon as reports came in. The first to be rescued were those survivors who were taken onboard by a passing ship, which has now docked in Kazan. Some passengers reportedly managed to swim toward nearby islands, which are now being searched. One woman is confirmed to have died, while another man has been hospitalized with injuries. Seventy-seven passengers have been rescued,” said Tatarstan Emergencies Minister Marat Rakhmatullin.
The Emergencies Ministry said the ship sank at a depth of 20 meters about three kilometers away from the coast.
“One woman was killed. Her body was lifted from the water,” Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Crisis Management Center of the Republic of Tatarstan.
Helicopters and motorboats are at the scene, searching for other passengers. Rescuers are searching the coast too. The rescue operation involves more than 80 people and 22 units of special equipment.
Meanwhile, Interfax news agency reports that more than 300 local police are taking part in the rescue operation, as well as Interior Ministry and Emergencies Ministry helicopters.
Despite the onset of darkness, rescue divers will work on the site where the “Bulgaria” sank throughout the night, a source in the Emergencies Ministry stated.
“Many children died” – survivor
One of the rescued passengers from the “Bulgaria” says many children may have become victims of the tragedy.
According to the man, a group of about 30 youngsters gathered in the children’s room on the second deck for games just a few minutes before the accident.
“I am afraid that many of them died,” he said.
The survivor believes the old age of the ship is the main reason it sank.
“At some point, it fell on its right side, turned upside-down in just three minutes, and went down to the bottom,” he said. “There was a thunderstorm and heavy rain at that moment. There are very many casualties.”
The unnamed man lost his wife and grandson in the tragedy.
Psychologists are currently working with the survivors of the “Bulgaria” tragedy. Many of those who drowned were close relatives of other passengers, as Volga River cruises are a popular family vacation both among Russians and foreign tourists.
Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minnikhanov has cut short his vacation over the accident and is returning to Kazan to personally head the emergency operation center.
The Republic’s Minister of Health, Airat Farrahov, is at the scene. The republic’s hospitals are preparing to receive victims.
The head of Tatarstan’s presidential press service, Andrey Kuzmin, said that “the situation is being kept under control”.
An Emergencies Ministry’s IL-76 helicopter has arrived in Kazan. Aboard the helicopter there are psychologists, rescuers and divers from the “Leader” center and the “Tsentrospas” detachment.
The Russian Ministry of Transport set up a crisis center that is looking into the cause of the disaster. A group of investigators and criminal law experts from the Russian Investigation Committee have flown from Moscow to Tatarstan to help look into the accident.
Operational error is currently considered the likeliest cause of the accident, a source in the investigation told Itar-Tass.
“According to a preliminary investigation, the vessel could have sunk because it was too old,” the source said. “Overloading is also not excluded [as a reason]. There’s no information that the cruiser collided with something.”
A criminal case has been initiated over what caused the accident.
The two-deck “Bulgaria” belonged to a travel company “Agrorechtur”. The vessel was built in 1955.
According to the director of “Argorechtur”, the “Bulgaria” was in good repair.
“All the repairs were made, it was accepted into the registry, everything was OK,” Svetlana Imyakina, the director, told the Itar-Tass news agency.
According to Imyakinova, the ship fully met the requirements of an economy-class passenger ship, and at the moment it is difficult to ascertain exactly what happened.
The “Bulgaria” was en route from Kazan to Bolgar in the Russian republic of Tatarstan.
The 80-meter-long vessel, with capacity for 233 passengers, was capable of traveling at speeds of up to 21 kilometers per hour.