Divers broaden search for victims of Volga boat disaster

MOSCOW, July 13, 2011 (AFP) - Russian divers on Wednesday broadened their search for those drowned in a pleasure boat disaster almost 200 kilometres down the Volga River after recovering more than 100 bodies.

The search for bodies of passengers who drowned outside the ship was broadened to cover 190 kilometres (120 miles) downstream, the emergencies ministry said, as rescuers continued to comb islands near the scene.

AFP - Little girls light candles in memory of victims of the pleasure boat Bulgaria that sank and killed at least 116 people

"We will work until we are sure that all the bodies have been found," deputy emergencies minister Alexander Chupriyan said in televised comments. "The divers are working in absolutely extreme conditions."

Divers raised the 104th body from the wreck, with the bodies of 23 children recovered so far, the Russian emergencies ministry said in a statement.

Russia's Investigative Committee said Tuesday that negligence on the part of the tour operator "led to the death of at least 116 people", although that toll is expected to climb.

Authorities arrested the director of the company that rented the boat and a ship registrar who certified it, placing them in pre-trial detention.

Deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov slammed the accident as "lawlessness and a crime", saying the ship had a "whole bunch of violations", the Interfax news agency reported.

Russian media lamented the safety shortcuts that apparently led to the sinking of the boat, built in 1955 in Czechoslovakia, which had one non-functioning engine and was designed to carry only 140 passengers.

The accident "shows the logic of neglecting safety in the name of profit", wrote Vedomosti business daily.

"Disrepair and overloading increased the risk of capsizing even in moderately bad conditions. They gambled on luck going their way."

The Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid interviewed the director of a cruise company who said he refused to hire the Bulgaria this year out of safety concerns.

The ship required "investment of seven million rubles ($248,000) to make it safe to sail, so we decided not to get involved", the shipping company director, Roman Kalmykov said.

"The owners extracted profit while turning a blind eye to safety rules," Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote in an editorial. "People die ... because of their tacit acceptance that things are not done the right way."

Investigators are questioning the crew of two ships to see if a crime was committed, after survivors said they waved at two passing vessels while waiting for rescue, Izvestia daily reported.

The captain of a ship that passed the scene admitted that he saw life rafts but said he decided not to sail over because the manoeuvre would have taken too long, the Izvestia daily reported.

The captain of the Dunaisky-66 tug-boat reported to his management that "rafts were visible, but there were no people to be seen on the surface of the water", it wrote.

The captain of the ship that picked up survivors, the Arabella, defended the decision in televised comments, however, saying he told the captain of the slow-moving tug boat to move on because it could have hindered the rescue operation.

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