Russia starts raising riverboat, 2 suspects charged

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 22, 2011 2:50 PM
Russia starts raising riverboat, 2 suspects charged

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia began Friday lifting to the surface a tourist boat that sank in the Volga River, killing at least 114 people, and two suspects were charged with criminal negligence.

Russia's Investigative Committee said the head of the company that rented out the Bulgaria riverboat and the river fleet inspector who was the last to check the ship had been charged over the boat's sinking in a storm on July 10.

Eight people are still missing after the overcrowded, 56-year-old vessel sank in Russia's worst river disaster in three decades. Seventy-nine of the 201 people on board were rescued, the investigative committee said in a statement on its website.

The disaster, in which the victims included a large number of children, prompted calls for improved safety and a crackdown on systematic negligence and corruption.

Russian television showed two large cranes slowly lifting the Bulgaria from a depth of 22 meters (72 feet), with the mast,

antenna and other parts of the boat above the surface.

Bad visibility, snapped rigging and heavy silt on the river bed have hampered the recovery effort, involving dozens of divers and rescue boats. Officials said the operation was delicate and could take several days.

"There are some difficulties. The situation is under control, though the work did not go at all as we expected. The problem is that the front half is heavier than the back, which is full of silt," Rustam Minnikhanov, leader of the Tatarstan region where the boat sank, told Interfax news agency.

Russian authorities want to bring the boat to the surface to help determine why it foundered and sank. "We need to see the whole boat," Transport Minister Igor Levitin was quoted as saying by Itar-tass news agency.

The Bulgaria, a 79-meter river cruiser built in 1955, listed to one side and suffered engine trouble when it set out from port carrying more passengers than it was permitted to.

(Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)