First suspects detained over “Bulgaria” sinking

Bulgaria pleasure ship sank in three minutes in central Russia on July 10 claiming 130 lives (RIA Novosti / STF)
The Investigation Committee confirms the detention of the general director of the company running the Bulgaria cruise ship. The captains of two vessels that passed the Bulgaria without coming to her aid have also been detained.

­The ship, which sank within minutes on the Volga on Sunday claiming 130 lives, was unable to signal SOS due to an electricity black-out. Survivors, who were clinging to rescue rafts, say they saw “vessels go past the people in the emergency without stopping to help.” Eventually, 77 people were picked by the motor ship Arabella, while two other survivors were rescued by a motor boat.

Local authorities have called for people not to jump to conclusions, but legal cases against the captains of at least two vessels, the Arbat and Dunaisky-66, have already been opened. Russia’s Transportation Ministry promises to punish the captains with the utmost severity if they are found guilty of ignoring survivors in the emergency. If their fault is proven, the captains face up to two years in prison.

The captain of the tow boat Dunaisky-66 reported that he left the wreck site because he misjudged the scale of the disaster and estimated that his help would not be needed by the time he would be able to disengage the two barges in his charge and return.

“Some 500 to 600 behind the ship rafts could be seen. No people on the surface were seen. MV Arabella moving towards us was no further than 15 minutes from the wreck site. MV ‘Dunaisky-66’ would require more than one hour to disengage the freight train and return to the rafts,” said the captain’s report published by Izvestia newspaper.

The captains of the tow boat and the approaching Arabella communicated and decided that Dunaisky-66 would not be able to provide any help in the rescue operation, and may even hamper the effort in the worst case scenario, both captains told the media.

The fact that the Bulgaria did not send a distress call also contributed to the decision to leave the site.

Svetlana Inyakina, the general director of Agrorechtur, the operating company that ran the Bulgaria, was detained on Tuesday. The company had entered no official contracts with the Bulgaria’s crew and provided the crew with no insurance, according to the Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin.

The committee has also detained Yakov Ivashov, a senior expert at a local department of Russia’s River Registry – a safety regulatory body – which cleared the Bulgaria to sail.

Charges against the two detainees are now being considered, Markin said. If their guilt is proven, they face up to ten years in prison. The case against Inyakina and Yashin has been initiated on charges of providing services that do not comply with safety requirements, leading to the deaths of two or more persons.

The owner of the boat, Andrey Smirnov, has also been detained, the Russian tabloid LifeNews reports. He has been taken to the Investigation Committee with his wife, as the Bulgaria is registered in her name, says the source citing local investigators.

Russia’s authorities have promised to pay one million rubles (over $35,000) in compensation to the families of the deceased.

I have signed the Russian Government’s order to provide each family of the deceased with one million rubles. Victims who received grave and medium injuries will each receive 400,000 rubles in compensation, while victims with minor injuries will each be entitled to 200,000 rubles in compensation,” Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday, adding that the local authorities are considering corresponding actions.