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24 July 2011

Death toll rises to 119 in Russian riverboat sinking

MOSCOW — Divers pulled five more bodies from a tourist boat that sank in the Volga River two weeks ago, raising the death toll to 119 in Russia's worst river disaster in decades, officials said on Sunday.

Three people are still missing but presumed dead, an Emergencies Ministry spokesman said, as the authorities worked to search the wreck and lift it to the surface.

The overcrowded, 56-year-old vessel sank in stormy waters on a riverbend in Russia's central region of Tatarstan on July 10.

Just 79 of the 201 people on board were rescued. Work is under way to identify the bodies found on the upper deck of the sunken boat on Sunday, the spokesman said.

The sinking, in which many of the victims were children, shocked the nation and prompted calls for improved safety and a crackdown on systematic negligence and corruption.

The Bulgaria, a Soviet-era river cruiser built in 1955, listed to one side and suffered engine trouble when it set out from port operating without a proper licence.

Russian investigators have arrested the boat's tour operator and local river fleet inspector in a criminal probe.

Cranes have partially raised the vessel and moved it to shallower waters, where it will be drained of river water and silt.