Russia fears 110 dead as boat sinks on Volga River

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says the tragedy has shocked Russia

About 110 people, many of them children, are feared dead after an old tourist boat sank in central Russia.

Around 80 were rescued on the River Volga in Tatarstan, about 750km (450 miles) east of Moscow.

Thirteen deaths are confirmed, but reports say divers have seen numerous bodies inside the sunken vessel.

The double-decker Bulgaria was carrying 196 passengers and crew when it was caught in a storm on Sunday while sailing to the regional capital, Kazan.

The bad weather, mechanical failure on the 55-year-old vessel and overcrowding have all been cited as possible reasons why the boat sank.

Miles from shore
Tearful reunions of survivors of the tragedy and their loved ones at the port of Kazan in Russia on Sunday Survivors said the boat sank without warning in a few minutes

The Bulgaria, leased by a local tourism company, was on a two-day cruise when it got into difficulty at about 1400 on Sunday (1000 GMT), sinking within minutes at one of the widest points of the river.

Nearly 50 Russian divers were scouring the murky river on Monday and Russian media reports suggested they had seen many bodies inside the sunken ship.

Igor Panshin, head of the Emergencies Ministry's Volga Regional Centre, was shown commenting on NTV: "[The divers] were tapping on the hull in hope of getting possible replies. Unfortunately, none came.

"They have now shone light into the holds and the restaurants, and they see that there are [dead bodies of] people inside."

There was little hope of finding more survivors. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered a search of nearby islands in case any survivors had managed to swim ashore.

Negligence claim

The Russian authorities have launched a criminal investigation, amid suspicions that negligence contributed to the tragedy.

Russian media report that the boat was overcrowded and that one of its two engines was not working.

Investigators quoted by Itar-Tass news agency said that even before the boat had set sail from Bolgary to Kazan on Sunday one of its two engines had malfunctioned and the vessel had been listing.

The 80m (260ft) boat sank several kilometres from the shore near the village of Sukeyevo, about 80km south of Kazan.

One survivor described it as "a bad ship, a very old ship", which had already been listing to starboard when it set sail.

"She went under in three minutes," said the survivor, Nikolai Chernov. "There were no announcements or anything, she just listed to starboard and capsized and sank. That was it."

Bulgaria boat. File photo The Bulgaria was overcrowded and sank rapidly during a storm, officials said

About 80 people survived the accident, most of them rescued by another pleasure boat that was passing nearby.

However, one survivor revealed that before they were finally rescued other ships had refused to come to their aid.

Weeping survivors draped in blankets were shown on state TV, while relatives gathered at a port in Kazan waiting for news of their loved ones.

"My son-in-law telephoned to say that he held out his hand to his wife but she could not grab on," one man told Rossiya 24 state television. "He could not pull her out."

Around 30 children had gathered in a play area on deck just before the boat went down, said one survivor, who feared all may have drowned.

The Volga, Europe's largest river, is popular with cruise boats at this time of the year, says our correspondent.

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