Divers raise 100th body from sunken Volga boat

MOSCOW, July 13, 2011 (AFP) - Russian divers on Wednesday recovered the 100th body from the wreckage of pleasure boat that sank in the Volga River in a tragedy whose investigation has created a media outcry over blatant safety failings.

Bodies were taken to the city of Kazan for identification by grieving relatives, with the bodies of 18 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.

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."

In a shocking revelation, 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 claimed another ship, the Arabella, which eventually saved the passengers, was within 15 minutes of the scene, while his ship would have required an hour to uncouple its load and reach the wreck.

Investigators are questioning the crew of the Dunaisky-66 as well as of a passing cargo ship called the Arbat, to see if a crime was committed, after survivors said they waved at two passing vessels while waiting for rescue, Izvestia reported.

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