Russia readies to raise doomed Volga boat

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian emergency workers hoped Monday to lift the sunken Bulgaria pleasure boat off the Volga riverbed in a bid to recover the last bodies and confirm the cause of the country's worst shipping disaster.

Up to 129 people were killed when the overcrowded double-decker craft sank in a wide bend of Europe's longest river on July 10.

Divers are still scouring the shores and surface for 15 more bodies after pulling 114 victims -- including 28 children -- from the current and expanding the search to more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) downstream.

Two huge cranes were in position over the wreck this weekend as crews struggled to pull the crippled craft off its side and secure it with heavy steel cords and special supports before slowly raising it to the surface.

"If everything goes to plan, we should be able to raise it today," said local emergencies ministry spokeswoman Svetlana Lebedeva.

"They are first going to raise the top deck and then pump out all the water," Lebedeva told AFP.

"The rest comes later. It is a slow process. First we have to get it to stand straight -- it is not standing straight yet."

Salvage workers were dealt a setback on Sunday when one of the steel cables used to steady the boat snapped. But Lebedeva said the operation was still on schedule and favourable weather meant that divers could work overnight.

The accident sparked fury in Russia at the industry's lax security controls. The boat had a history of engine and electrical problems and was listing to its right side when it sailed.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the 56-year-old craft operated without a license and blamed the disaster on the "greed" of local tour operators.

Authorities have arrested the tour operator and licensing official on charges that could put them behind bars for 10 years.

© 2011 AFP

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