Russia says boat safety poor nationwide

3rd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian prosecutors found "numerous" violations Wednesday on the country's waterways after conducting an unprecedented safety review sparked by last month's deadly pleasure boat disaster.

The Volga River boat accident killed 122 people and prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to call for an immediate inspection of all Russian tourism ships.

An initial investigation of the "Bulgaria" sinking found that the boat was unfit to sail and should have never been given the go-ahead to transport tourists on June 10.

The overcrowded 56-year-old vessel had a malfunctioning engine and was seen listing to its side before capsizing. The authorities have since presented charges against both the tour operator and a local licensing official.

The tragedy also dealt a blow to Russia's attempts to develop its tourism industry. The cruises had been a popular foreign tourist attraction since the 1990s when authorities lifted old Soviet travel restrictions.

Wednesday's findings from the Prosecutor General's office found "numerous violations" that included one incident in which 94 children were transported by a boat that was equipped with only 13 life vests.

"Shipowners are often lax about proper technical upkeep and ensuring safe travel conditions," the prosecutors said in a statement.

"There is widespread evidence of ships sailing with skeleton crews, without authorisation documents, without consideration of maximum seating capacity or the necessary safety facilities," it said.

The statement added that prosecutors were preparing to launch 20 criminal suits against unnamed officials and were also demanding that disciplinary measures be brought against more than 800 other people.

Prosecutors also instructed Transport Minister Igor Levitin "to take specific steps aimed at improving regulations."

Levitin has held his post since 2004 and his risen to become one of Russia's longest-serving ministers despite a series of deadly accidents affecting the country's ageing planes and other means of transport in recent years.

Medvedev last month accused officials of failing to properly enforce existing safety regulations.

But he avoided blaming Levitin and the minister later visited the site of the tragedy with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

© 2011 AFP

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