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11 July 2011

111 missing in Volga boat tragedy

Moscow - Over a 100 people are missing after a tourist boat sank in Russia's Volga river on Sunday, killing at least one person, emergency services officials said.

One body was recovered and 84 people were rescued by a passing vessel after the two-deck river cruiser, believed to have been carrying 182 people, sank in the Tatarstan region, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesperson Irina Andrianova said.

Two of those saved were hospitalised and a rescue team searched for survivors in the choppy waters, she said.

The boat was heading to the regional capital, Kazan, 800km east of Moscow, when it sank about 3km from shore in 20m of water, the ministry's regional branch said.

Cruises on the Volga, which cuts through the heart of Russia and drains into the Caspian Sea, are popular among Russians as well as foreigners.

The cause of the sinking was unclear, Andrianova said. She said there were 125 passengers, 22 crew and 35 other staff aboard the boat, called the Bulgaria. It was built in 1955 in Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite.

Russian news agencies said the Bulgaria, which state TV said had dozens of cabins and two restaurants, had taken passengers to a city downriver in Tatarstan on Saturday and was returning to Kazan when it sank.

State television said the boat had only two lifeboats instead of the usual four. Itar-Tass cited the company that owned it as saying it was in working order and had passed inspections.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into the sinking, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The ministry sent a plane to Kazan late on Sunday with teams of divers and other rescuers as well as psychologists to counsel relatives of the dead and missing.

- Reuters/News24