Russian captain denies guilt in Volga ship tragedy

The captain of a Russian ship who faces criminal charges for failing to come to the aid of the sinking riverboat Bulgaria said technical reasons combined with bad weather did not allow him to approach the stricken ship quickly, Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda said on Tuesday.

The cruise ship Bulgaria sank during a storm in the Volga River in the Republic of Tatarstan on July 10, killing 122 people. Only 79 people on board the vessel were rescued by the crew of the ship Arabella.

Two cargo ships, the Dunaisky 66 and the Arbat, reportedly passed by the sinking Bulgaria without giving it any assistance. Their captains, Alexander Yegorov and Yury Tuchin, face up to two years behind bars if found guilty of deliberately ignoring a vessel in distress.

In his letter sent to the newspaper, Yegorov said his crew was preparing a boat to come to the aid of the sinking Bulgaria’s passengers when he saw the approaching Arabella. The two ships’ captains agreed that the Arabella would rescue the passengers, after which the Dunaisky 66 continued on its way, its captain said.

“It’s wormwood to me if the public believes that I could consciously leave people in trouble,” he said. “If there was nothing as useful as the Arabella around, I would have done everything I could to help those in distress,” he said.

The Arabella’s captain said previously it would have taken the Dunaisky 66 at least an hour to come to the aid of the Bulgaria, while his own ship needed just 15 minutes to get to the sinking vessel.

On Monday, rescuers recovered the last two bodies which were still missing after the tragedy. The wreck of the 80-meter cruiser, which was lying at a depth of some 20 meters, was lifted on Friday from thick silt on the river bottom.

A police investigation into the tragedy is under way and two people have already been charged over the sinking of the ship. Svetlana Inyakina, the general director of the company that rented the cruise boat, and river fleet inspector Yakov Ivashov, who certified that the Bulgaria was fit to sail, face prison terms if found guilty of providing unsafe services causing the deaths of two or more people.

The ship, built in 1955 and last overhauled 30 years ago, had no license to carry passengers and was heavily overloaded when it left port on its fateful voyage with only one of its two engines working, media reported in the immediate aftermath of the sinking.

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