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Russia will observe a day of mourning on July 12 for the victims of the cruise ship Bulgaria’s sinking

July 11, 2011, Gorki, Moscow Region

Dmitry Medvedev declared July 12 a national day of mourning for the large number of victims in the sinking of the cruise ship Bulgaria. The President made the announcement at meeting on the disaster, which took place on the Volga River on July 10.

Mr Medvedev expressed his condolences to the victims’ families. The participants in the meeting observed a minute of silence in memory of those who lost their lives.

Taking part in the meeting were Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Transport Minister Igor Levitin, Healthcare and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, and First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Vladislav Surkov.

* * *

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,

A disaster took place yesterday — the sinking of the cruise ship Bulgaria in Tatarstan. A lot of our people have lost their lives. I want to express my condolences to the victims’ families. I have decided to declare tomorrow a Day of National Mourning. Let us now honour the victims’ memory. (Minute of silence).

Let’s start with the rescue operations first. We were in touch throughout the day yesterday with Mr Shoigu [Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief]. I want to hear about the situation now, what has been done, and what we can expect.

Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, colleagues,

Regarding the situation, yesterday, the cruise ship Bulgaria sank near the village of Syukeyevo at 13:58. As far as the latest updates go, following your instructions, Mr President, practically all of the eyewitnesses from among the people on board the ship have been questioned, and we have established that there were 208 people aboard the vessel. The initial information put the number of people at 185, but there were additional passengers aboard the ship too, unregistered for various reasons, and this is what gives us the higher figure. This is something that will have to be looked into.

As at midday today, 80 people have been rescued, with nine of them hospitalised in a stable condition.

A mobile base has been set up on the coast for the rescuers, and an operations headquarters has been set up in the port of Kazan. Currently, there are four vessels, 329 personnel, and 74 technical equipment systems taking part in the operation. We are using the most advanced equipment to search underwater and find the victims’ bodies. Sadly, we have to admit after searching the ship that there is practically no hope of finding anyone alive.

The search and rescue operations are still underway, with 91 divers taking part. Over the next four hours we will increase the number of divers to 150, given the large amount of work involved. 

So far, we have brought the bodies of 12 people to the surface. The time has come now to use equipment for cutting the vessel’s hull.

I had a meeting with the transport minister, Mr Levitin, and we want to propose, Mr President, that we start an operation to raise the ship, while continuing at the same time the work to find and raise the victims’ bodies, of course.

Shipping in the area proceeds as normal. As I said, we are continuing to increase the number of personnel taking part in the rescue operations.

I also want to report on an incident that happened today on the border between Tomsk and Tyumen Regions, when a plane made a crash landing in the shallows of the Ob River.

The aircraft, an An-24, was flying from Tomsk to Surgut with 37 people on board, including one child, 33 passengers and four crew members. So far, the fate of 35 people has been established: 30 people are in hospital, and five people have died. I think Ms Golikova [Minister of Healthcare and Social Development] can give more details. The fate of two people is still not clear. 

We are continuing to search the body of the plane. The missing people are most likely somewhere inside the body of the aircraft, which is underwater at a depth of up to two metres. We have divers at the site. Three helicopters are taking part in the operation, and the ministry has an operations group at the site.

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course the search and rescue effort has to continue, even if there is very little hope of finding anyone alive. But it is our moral and ethical duty to continue this work to the end.

As for the sunken vessel’s fate, as I discussed with you this morning, I think we do indeed need to raise the ship in order to fully investigate the circumstances of this tragedy. This operation must be organised. I therefore give the instruction to the Government and the Transport Ministry to work on this together with the Emergencies Ministry and other relevant agencies.

Ms Golikova, many people were injured too in this disaster, but as far as I know, none of them really seriously. What is the situation? What kind of aid are they receiving?

Health Care and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova: Mr President, colleagues,

We have been in direct contact with the healthcare authorities and social services in the Republic of Tatarstan right from the moment the disaster occurred. They did everything necessary to organise the required medical and psychological assistance.

As Mr Shoigu said, nine people are still in hospital. Their injuries are for the most part bruises and cuts, because people broke glass in their efforts to get out of the sinking ship, and this explains the nature of their injuries. Five people were given medical treatment and then allowed to go home.

More important now is the social and psychological support, because the survivors and the victims’ families have undergone a big psychological trauma. As I said, the healthcare authorities in Tatarstan and the Government organised this help straight away. A group from the Moscow Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, headed by their director, left for Tatarstan this morning to coordinate the work properly, because there are a lot of people concerned, survivors and victims, and this will require a lot of support and help. 

We have also sent a forensic medical team because, sadly, the forensic specialists will have a lot of work to do. As with the psychologists, our federal agencies will coordinate these efforts.

If required, the federal authorities can organise more personnel and resources. The Tatarstan Healthcare Ministry has organised 115 hospital beds in reserve, as is standard procedure in such situations. All the necessary medical supplies and medicines have been provided. 

Regarding the case of the aircraft, we have 25 people listed as injured to varying degrees. We are currently assessing the situation and, if necessary, will turn to the Emergencies Ministry if any of the injured need to be transported to federal establishments or to the nearest hospitals in Tyumen Region and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Are the injuries serious?

Tatyana Golikova: Medium and serious.

Dmitry Medvedev: You are to do everything necessary in both cases, working together with the authorities in Tatarstan in the first case, of course.

I am instructing the Government to set up a state commission to investigate the circumstances of the Bulgaria’s sinking in Tatarstan. The commission will be headed by the Transport Minister.

Mr Levitin, you will therefore have to fly to Tatarstan to investigate the circumstances and make the necessary organisational and economic decisions in coordination with the regional authorities.

One other point I want to make is that we already know that this kind of tragedy would not have happened, even despite the difficult weather conditions, if safety rules and technical supervision regulations were properly observed. There is to be a thorough investigation into how this happened and why the ship’s owner allowed the ship to be operated in such a state if it is confirmed that there were indeed violations of safety and technical norms. You must investigate the crew’s behaviour too. This is all a job not just for the government commission, but also for the prosecutors and the investigators.

Of course, you also should organise a complete inspection of all passenger ships, because this is obviously not the only ship with problems. It is true that civilian passenger ships have a long service life, longer than planes, but even so, judging by the information we have so far, this ship was not fit for operation. In any case, the government commission and the investigators will have to make the final conclusion.

Acting on my instructions yesterday, the investigators have already begun work, and the Head of the Investigative Committee [Alexander Bastrykin] has also gone there. He has been instructed to investigate what happened at the actual site, examine the evidence, get it all taken down as thoroughly as possible, and carry out the necessary investigation activities.

Mr Chaika [Prosecutor General], I want the Prosecutor General’s Office to act within its powers to check compliance with transport legislation by this particular ship owner and by the state officials who granted the required permission to transport passengers and sail in these conditions. This applies too to everyone who was involved in organising this cruise, all the more so as there were a large number of children on board the ship too.

The conclusions are to be summarised and examined, and not only with regard to this particular disaster, but with regard to all ships of this and other types. We have far too many old ships sailing our waters. Just because up until now nothing had gone wrong did not mean that this kind of tragedy could not happen. It has happened now, and with the most terrible consequences.

This situation needs to be examined, and the ship owners will either have to give their vessels a full and complete overhaul, or stop operating them if they are no longer fit for this kind of transport. This should be carried out across the whole country, because the fleet of ships is very old now, and it is partially in private hands. Only a small part of the fleet is still state-owned, but this does not mean that the state can stop ensuring proper supervision of the situation.

Concerning the incident with the plane, this case also requires a proper investigation of course. I was told this morning that the crew acted in what was a very difficult flight situation. Their actions should be properly assessed, because there are different possible interpretations. Overall, if the crew took the right action, there are probably grounds for commending them for managing to land the plane in the shallows and save quite a large number of lives.

I spoke not long ago about the state of our aircraft fleet, however, and everything I said then about the Tu-134 aircraft applies equally to the An-24 too. We are replacing our old aircraft now, and we have to extend this to the An-24 too.

Finally, I spoke with the President of Tatarstan yesterday, who returned immediately from his vacation. I hope that all of the required decisions are being made there now. If anything is needed, we at the federal level can take steps too, given the scale of the disaster and the duty to help the people facing this misfortune.

July 11, 2011, Gorki, Moscow Region