Eight dead, one missing in Moscow river boat accident

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Eight people drowned and one was missing Sunday after a pleasure boat collided with a barge and sank in the Moscow river, the emergency ministry said.

As the number of bodies recovered rose to eight, the emergency ministry said seven people had survived and rescuers were searching for one missing passenger.

The accident came less than three weeks after Russia's worst post-Soviet shipping accident, when 122 people died after a pleasure boat sank on the Volga river.

"According to provisional information, there were 16 people on board. Seven were rescued and eight died. A search and rescue operation is ongoing," the emergency ministry said.

The motor boat collided with the barge at 00:58 am (2058 GMT Saturday) close to the city's Luzhniki sports stadium, upstream from the Kremlin, the emergency ministry said.

"After the collision, the motor boat was pulled under the bottom of the barge," deputy emergency minister Alexander Chupriyan said in televised comments at the scene, adding that the barge's crew helped rescue passengers.

It remained unclear why the motorboat crashed into the large barge in a popular stretch of the river for boating trips.

The motorboat was overcrowded since it had a "maximum capacity of 12 people," Chupriyan said, adding that the boat's owner had three times been fined for violations including for carrying too many passengers.

The owner, named as Gennady Zinger, was acting as captain and died in the accident, Russian television reported.

The vessel was registered in Russia's far eastern region of Chukotka, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported, citing investigators.

Witnesses said the motorboat was being used for a birthday party hosted by a Turkish national.

"The rescued passengers say they were invited on the boat by a Turkish citizen, who had turned 31," Moscow transport investigator Pavel Seliverstov said at the scene, Life News website reported.

Two Turkish nationals were among the survivors, ITAR-TASS reported.

Investigators have opened a criminal probe into breaches of safety rules leading to multiple fatalities.

The fatal accident comes just weeks after a Soviet-era pleasure boat sank on July 10 on the Volga in the central Russian republic of Tatarstan, killing 122 people, including 28 children.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed "greed" and gross safety violations for the accident, which was the worst shipping incident in recent memory.

The 56-year-old Bulgaria vessel was listing heavily to one side and had engine trouble before it set off. It was also overcrowded and operating without a proper license, officials said.

Investigators have arrested the tour operator and a local licensing official and have promised to widen their probe.

© 2011 AFP

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