As divers conduct a final search of the sunken pleasure boat Bulgaria on Thursday, the fate of 24 missing persons is still unknown. It is believed that 129 of the 208 people on board drowned, but only 105 bodies have been found.
It is feared that the missing dead may have been carried away by the Volga River, which means they may be as far as 200 kilometer away from the wreck site by now. Some of the bodies recovered earlier were not inside the vessel.
Another possibility is that some of the people were not on the ship at all. The organizer of the trip is suspected of faking the paperwork to boost profits, and it is not clear exactly how many people were on the Bulgaria.
Some 200 rescue and recovery divers are involved in the search operation. The Emergencies Ministry says all parts of the sunken vessel will have been checked by midday Thursday, after which engineers will start preparing the raising of the Bulgaria.
The plan is to use two floating cranes, which are to arrive at the site from the Moscow Region next week. Lifting the Bulgaria will be no easy task due to the soft riverbed and strong current in the area.
Investigators expect that once the ship is afloat, they will find additional evidence in the criminal case over Russia’s worst waterway incident in decades. The ship allegedly was in terrible technical condition and safety rules were violated on it.
Meanwhile two people linked to the disaster have been arrested. They are Svetlana Inyakina, head of the firm which rented the Bulgaria, and Yakov Ivashov, chief expert of a branch of the river transport registrar, who allowed the use of the ship. Both are suspected of violations of safety regulations, resulting in numerous deaths. The offence may result in sentences of up to ten years in prison.
A former captain of the Bulgaria told the media that his superiors in the company forced him and other crewmembers to man the ship despite its terrible condition, threatening to lay them off if they did not comply. Evgeny Minyaev says the owners saved money by not carrying out necessary maintenance of the vessel and that it should have been banned from sailing at least three years ago.
Earlier, a radio officer from the Bulgaria who survived the wreck said he could not send a distress code when the ship started sinking. One of its diesel engines did not work at all and the whole electric system failed during the disaster.
The Bulgaria sank on Sunday on its way to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The ship got into stormy weather, rolled on its starboard side and began to take on water. In a matter of several minutes it went underwater. Out of up to 209 people onboard, 79 survived, most of whom were rescued by the passing passenger ship Arabella.