15/7 Tass 71
MOSCOW, July 15 (Itar-Tass) — The arrival of two cranes for lifting the sunken boat Bulgaria is expected during the day on July 16, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry’s (EMERCOM) main department for Tatarstan told Itar-Tass.
“The estimated time of arrival of the Moguchy floating crane from Volgograd – 13:00 MSK on July 16. The arrival of another crane from Dubna is expected on the same day at 12:00 MSK,” a spokesman for the republic’s emergencies department said.
He noted that the vessel’s hull has already been sealed, the pontoons, two pumps for pumping water from the sunken ship, as well as other specialized equipment to lift the vessel have been delivered to the site.
The Bulgaria has already been transferred to the general contractor – Podvodrechstroi – that will deal with the vessel’s lifting to the surface.
As of 12 July 2011, the officially confirmed death toll was 116, with 98 bodies having been recovered, 16 are still unaccounted for. On the previous day, a government official from the Ministry of Emergency Situations said that the likelihood of finding additional survivors was slim, leaving a presumed total of up to 129 dead. Among the dead were believed to be at least 50 children. On 12 July 2011, the divers recovered bodies of Bulgaria’s captain Alexander Ostrovsky and his spouse.
Seventy-nine people (56 passengers and 23 crew members) were reported to have survived the sinking. Of those, 76 were rescued by the cruise ship Arabella, a few others were saved by other boats, and one survivor managed to swim to the shore. At the time of the incident, Bulgaria passenger’ s count is estimated to have been at 208, though she was only rated to carry 120.
According to survivors’ accounts, two ships (the oil tanker Volgoneft-104 and the freighter Arbat) were passing by after Bulgaria had sunk. These ships did not stop to help and the Russian Investigative Committee has launched an official investigation into these claims. In accordance with Russian law, the captain of a ship that refuses to help in disaster should be sentenced to up to two years in prison. However, it may also be that these ships, being heavy freight barges with minimal crews, were not technically capable of stopping while passing or of turning back in acceptable time. The barge owners refused to comment. The technical reasons may not be sufficient to justify the refusal. Assistance from the towboat Dunaijskij 66 with two barges that appeared later after accident, was refused by Arabella’s captain assuming that the towboat would not have provided useful help and would only hinder the rescue.
On 11 July, an anonymous source close to the committee investigating the sinking said that the likely cause was portholes that were opened because of the lack of air conditioning on the vessel, which allowed water to enter Bulgaria when the captain attempted to turn the ship during stormy weather.
Evidence suggested that a number of safety violations could have caused or compounded the disaster. According to one survivor, emergency exit doors on the boat had been sealed or locked shut. Investigators also suggested that the boat set sail with a list to the right, possibly due to full sewage or fuel tanks on that side, and with one of its engines not properly functioning. Some survivors told Russian news agencies that they begged the captain to turn round because of the list, but were ignored. There were conflicting reports about whether the boat and the cruise operator were properly licensed for passenger cruises.
President Dmitry Medvedev on 11 July ordered “a complete check on all means of passenger transport” in Russia in response to the sinking of the Bulgaria, and also declared 12 July a national day of mourning for those killed in the incident.
The MS Bulgaria, which sank on the Volga River on Sunday, passed a scheduled examination in the middle of June and was recognised suitable for operation, the Russian Transport Ministry reported earlier. “According to the Russian inland water transport register, the MS Bulgaria passed a scheduled examination on June 15, 2011. The ship was found operational in all features,” the ministry reported. The life rafts and boats on the vessel were intended for 156 people. The ship had also 177 rescue jackets, including those for children. “The rescue equipment met the requirements of the Russian inland water transport register,” the ministry said.
The vessels built more than 25 years ago are subjected to annual sailing inspections, which include the examination of the sailing, rescue and radio navigation equipment. The ministry confirmed that the motor ship was built in Czechoslovakia in 1955 and was not reequipped since then. “The architectural and structural design was being kept under the design project,” a source in the ministry said. Meanwhile, the vessel passed an inspection of the hull, sailing and electric onboard equipment at the Perm shipyard between the navigation seasons in 2007. “The motor ship was found in an operational technical condition then. No major malfunctions were found in its technical condition from 2007 to 2011,” according to the press service of the Transport Ministry.