One dead, 97 missing in Volga boat accident
At least one person died and 97 were missing Sunday after a Soviet-era cruise ship carrying more than 180 people sank in a heavy storm on Russia's Volga River, officials and witnesses said.
A total of 84 people were rescued off the Bulgaria boat, which was carrying 182 tourists and crew members when it sank in the central Russian republic of Tatarstan, ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova told Vesti 24 television.
One woman has been confirmed dead, the spokeswoman said.
"There were 182 people on board. We have saved 84 people," Andrianova said.
"One person died. Search and rescue operations are continuing," she added.
State television reported that the two-deck Bulgaria was built in 1955 in what was then Czechoslovakia.
The accident happened at around 2:00 pm (1000 GMT) some three kilometres (two miles) from the shore, with the Bulgaria now lying 20 metres (66 feet) deep on the riverbed, officials said.
The first survivors were picked up by a passing riverboat called the Arabella, which was in the neighbourhood and was the first vessel to arrive atg the scene.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke by telephone to his emergencies minister and the local head of the administration after learning of the disaster, the Kremlin said.
More than 80 rescue workers were deployed to the region, with a Mi-8 helicopter surveying the scene from the air, the emergencies ministry said.
The first survivors were picked up by a passing riverboat called the Arabella, which was in the neighbourhood and was the first vessel arrive to the scene.
The Volga River has remained a popular summer tourist destination since the Soviet era, with occasional accidents rarely leading to major fatalities.
The last shipping accident recorded by Russian state media occurred in September 2010, when seven people were killed on a lake above the Arctic Circle.
Perhaps the most famous shipping disaster occurred in August 1986, when the Admiral Nakhimov collided with a cargo ship while leaving a bay on the Black Sea.
Soviet reports said the boat sank within eight minutes, claiming the lives of 423 people.
The director of a school in the village nearest to the scene told RIA Novosti that the Bulgaria sank in a heavy storm.
"The river was fairly calm, but there was a heavy rain and storm," school director in the village of Syukeyevo told the news agency.
Russian television said the boat, while built more than 50 years ago, was recently modernised and included comfortable cabins for up to four people.
Some of the modernised craft, however, are equipped with only two rescue boats as opposed to the four the original models came with, RIA Novosti reported.
Beside the Volga, the types of vessel that sank Sunday are also on rivers stretching from the Dnepr in Ukraine to Don and further east in Siberia.
© 2011 AFP