The Bulgaria, a two-deck cruise vessel believed to be carrying 199 people — 148 of them passengers going for a scenic trip on the Volga, was sailing through a storm on Sunday when it listed onto its side and sank within minutes two miles from shore in waters that were 65 feet deep.
Another Volga River tour boat, the Arabella, which was the first to arrive at the scene, found people clinging to debris and life vests, and pulled 82 survivors from the water and one woman who had drowned, Russian television reported.
Interfax cited an unidentified survivor who went ashore when the Arabella docked in Kazan as saying that the boat was carrying many children, and that about 30 of them were gathered in an inside play room when the boat sank. “I’m afraid many of them died,” the survivor was quoted as saying.
Another survivor told Life News that many of the ships doors had been locked or welded shut. “When the ship jerked sharply and then began to list, many passengers began to panic,” he said. “They ran and tried to reach the deck to jump into the water but [the doors] were locked.”
The ship’s radio operator, who survived the sinking, told ITAR-Tass that passengers and crew had pleaded with the captain to head for shore after realising that one of the ship’s engines had gone and the vessel had started to list.
The Bulgaria was built in Czechoslovakia in 1955, it was certified to carry a maximum of 120 passengers, it was reported to be in poor condition. The tour company operating the Bulgaria had recently canceled trips because of mechanical troubles on the boat, and passengers from a previous outing had complained on a local Web site that the engines had broken down during their cruise.
The Volga, is Europe’s longest river and is up to 18.5 miles wide. The river is a popular tourist destination, especially in summer months. Most of Russia’s largest cities are located in the Volga River basin. President Dimtry Medvedev has declared July 12 a national day of mourning in Russia for the victims of the tragedy.