Negligence inquiry after Russian cruise disaster

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The Independent Online

A criminal negligence investigation has been launched into the sinking of a cruise vessel on the Volga River that killed scores of people, many of them children.

The confirmed death toll from Sunday's sinking stood at 88, but more than 41 people remained missing and hopes of finding any alive were fading.

The 55-year-old double-decker boat, the Bulgaria, was overloaded when it sank. Russia's Investigative Committee said there were 192 people on board, dozens more than it was licensed to carry, but the Emergencies Ministry said more than 200 were on the boat. Survivors reported that the vessel was listing to starboard and having engine trouble even as it left the town of Bulgar en route to Kazan, about 450 miles east of Moscow.

The Investigative Committee also announced yesterday that the director of the tour agency that operated the Bulgaria and an official of the agency that registers river vessels had been detained and that a criminal case had been opened against them. The committee opened a separate case against the captains of two ships that reportedly passed by at the time of the sinking but did not stop to offer help.

President Dmitry Medvedev declared yesterday a national day of mourning. Flagstaffs were hung with black ribbons, while vessels on the Volga blew their horns and dropped wreaths into the waters. "It is especially bitter and hard because there were so many children," said Transport Minister Igor Levitin.