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Russia to crack down on vessel safety after river cruise tragedy

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medvedevRussian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a day of mourning on July 12 for the victims of the sinking of the two-deck river cruise vessel Bulgaria. Operated by travel company Agrorechtur, the vessel reportedly sank within three minutes on the Volga River, July 10. The ship was built at Slovenské Lodenice in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, in 1955 as Ukraine and was renamed in February 2010. Its length was 80.2 m (263 ft), the beam  14 m (46 ft), and the draft was 1.9 m (6.2 ft).

Today President Medvedev held a Kremlin meeting with Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Transport Minister Igor Levitin, Healthcare and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, and First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Vladislav Surkov.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that the vessel sank yesterday near the village of Syukeyevo at 13:58. and that there were 208 people aboard the vessel.

“The initial information put the number of people at 185, but there were additional passengers aboard the ship too, unregistered for various reasons, and this is what gives us the higher figure,” said Mr. Shoigu. He said that as of midday today, 80 people had been rescued, with nine of them hospitalized in a stable condition.

President Medvedev said that the vessel must be raised in order to fully investigate the circumstances of the tragedy.

“I am instructing the Government to set up a state commission to investigate the circumstances of the Bulgaria’s sinking,” he said. The commission will be headed by Transport Minister Levitin.

“We already know that this kind of tragedy would not have happened, even despite the difficult weather conditions, if safety rules and technical supervision regulations were properly observed,” said President Medvedev. “There is to be a thorough investigation into how this happened and why the ship’s owner allowed the ship to be operated in such a state if it is confirmed that there were indeed violations of safety and technical norms. You must investigate the crew’s behavior too. This is all a job not just for the government commission, but also for the prosecutors and the investigators.”

The President ordered a complete inspection of all passenger ships, “because this is obviously not the only ship with problems. It is true that civilian passenger ships have a long service life, longer than planes, but even so, judging by the information we have so far, this ship was not fit for operation.”

He said that, on his instructions, investigators have already begun work.

President Medvedev said that the Prosecutor General’s Office would act within its powers to check compliance with transport legislation “by this particular ship owner and by the state officials who granted the required permission to transport passengers and sail in these conditions. This applies too to everyone who was involved in organizing this cruise, all the more so as there were a large number of children on board the ship too.”

“We have far too many old ships sailing our waters,” said President Medvedev. “Just because up until now nothing had gone wrong did not mean that this kind of tragedy could not happen. It has happened now, and with the most terrible consequences.

“This situation needs to be examined, and the shipowners will either have to give their vessels a full and complete overhaul, or stop operating them if they are no longer fit for this kind of transport. This should be carried out across the whole country, because the fleet of ships is very old now, and it is partially in private hands. Only a small part of the fleet is still state-owned, but this does not mean that the state can stop ensuring proper supervision of the situation.”

July 11, 2011

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