The first chapter in the history of one of the most dramatic catastrophes that has recently taken place in Russia is over. The Bulgaria cruise ship that sank in the Kuibyshev reservoir of the Volga River has been lifted from the river bottom as a result of a nine-day most complex operation. There is no visible damage to the ship. Examining the Bulgaria divers have found the bodies of several more dead passengers, so the exact number of fatalities is known now: of 201 people on board 122 died and 79 were rescued.
The vessel has been towed to shallow waters. After the investigators finish their work the motor ship will be cut for scrap metal. Meanwhile, everybody wonders: who will bear responsibility for what has happened? Experts have spoken of the need to radically change the entire transport policy.
The two-deck passenger boat Bulgaria sank on July 10 three kilometres from the shore in just three minutes. The causes will become known only after the vessel is fully examined.
“No visible damage both to the exterior and interior of the Bulgaria has been found, including in the engine room,” chief of the Volga regional emergencies centre Igor Panshin said. He also noted that the captain of the Bulgaria ship to the end was trying to save the vessel, intentionally steering her to shallow waters.
Criminal cases have already been opened over the shipwreck. Director General of the Agrorechtur tourism company – that leased the Bulgaria motor ship, Svetlana Inyakina, and chief expert of the Kama branch of the Russian River Register Yakov Ivashov have been charged with the provision of services that do not meet the safety requirements and that resulted in the death of two and more persons by negligence. They are facing up to 10 years in prison.
A month before the tragedy 62-year-old Ivashov had prepared an annual report on the Bulgaria condition in which he wrote that the repair of the diesel-electric ship complies with the river register by its design, condition and performance data. According to preliminary information, it was far from being so. The investigation suspects that Ivashov gave his conclusion without inspecting the vessel.
In addition, the Kommersant daily writes, the investigative authorities have opened another criminal case over the fact of abuse of authority – this time against officials of the owner of the Bulgaria – OJSC Kama River Shipping Company.
Violations were exposed in the procedures of leasing the ship. According to the investigation, the state being the owner of a 32-percent stake in the Kama River Shipping Company did not get the dividends it is entitled to.
The talk about the poor technical condition of the cruise ship, built in Czechoslovakia in 1955, arose immediately after the tragedy. In particular, it was noted that perhaps one of the engines was not working. However, the leaseholders and owners denied this, asserting that all necessary repairs were carried out in time.
Last year, the river transport workers of the Bulgaria ship at a professional Internet forum were betting, whether the ship would make it for another season, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper notes. “All technical problems of the Bulgaria are known. If the ship owner, rather than to solve these problems in the period between navigations, comes with them during the next navigation – all the blame for the possible consequences will rest with the ship owner,” one message on the forum said.
The Russian authorities have very sharply reacted to the tragedy. President Dmitry Medvedev demanded to punish those responsible. Transport Minister Igor Levitin has promised “to take very strict measures” to his subordinates, if their guilt is proven. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the accident was caused by greed, carelessness and gross violation of safety rules.
However, experts of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO) believe that the Bulgaria was “sunk” by Russia’s transport policy, which requires radical change.
Bulgaria’s catastrophe is a warning, because “50.6 percent of vessels in Russia as of early 2009 were listed as built before 1979, and among passenger ships this figure is 55.4 percent. Many of them are worn to the limit,” it is noted in the institute’s analytical report.
“The Bulgaria tragedy has shown that the radical measures must not be delayed any longer,” the report says. “Russia needs a qualitatively different economic and crisis management policy, which is inseparable from working out a new approach to transport. It is necessary to return to it the importance of the blood circulatory system of the economy, on the state and work of which the entire social development depends.”
Moscow, July 25