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Shesank
Written by   
, 22 2011
The catastrophe of the riverboat 'Bulgaria', which sank on the Volga in broad daylight, reflects the horrors of Russia's technology and morality
In early 2001, Russian authorities were warning of a coming era of man-made disasters. Vladimir Putin set up the so-called 'Challenge 2003' presidential commission to study the series of man-made disasters that were threatening Russia because of the deterioration of technology in virtually every industry in the nation. Apparently he believed that it served its purpose, as did his successor, yet the commission's most pessimistic predictions, though somewhat delayed, were more than justified.
In our country for the last few years, August has been associated with troubles and disasters, calamities and cataclysms. Every August. Eachyear.
In 2011, August came to Russia in July.
The July 10th disaster on the Volga riverboat 'Bulgaria' was for some a shock, while for others an expected emergency.
Did you notice that after the 1999terrorist attacks in Moscow many of us were afraid to turn on our TV sets in the morning? After hearing the tragic news, however, we ceased to worry and wonder.
Central to talks and discussions is not what actually happened, but how many people died. Thatis, the significance of the event. Afew people? Nota lot.
It used to be that tragedies united the nation. Nowthey more or less divide it, because for many 'excessive' attention paid to the latest catastrophe starts to annoy, and we do not wish to distract ourselves with unpleasant thoughts about something that did not happen to us or to our family, did not happen in our town, or to someone close to us.
We are even starting to get used to the scale of these disasters.
What do 120drowned people matter after 129persons were shot to death in the Budennovsk hospital? After 100, then later another 124, were blown up in their Moscow residences on Guryanov Street and the Kashirsk Highway? After 130(according to the official version) people were killed by bullets and deadly gas at Dubrovka? After 42were burned to death in a Moscow subway train between the 'Avtozavodskaya' and 'Paveletskaya' stations? After 90were blown up in midair over the Tula and Rostov regions on two aircraft out of 'Domodedovo'? Orafter 334people, including 186children, were burned to death in Beslan? After 71, including 52children, were killed in a midair collision over Lake Constance? After 40people were blown up in the 'Lubyanka' and 'Park of Culture' subway stations? After 75were drowned by the Shushenskaya power plant dam? After 90were suffocated and burned to death in the 'Raspadskaya' mine?
What about the numbers?
In contrast to the terrorist attacks at Dubrovka, Beslan, Domodedovo, and the Moscow subway, the peaceful 'Bulgaria' tragedy should never have happened. These 130people (the total is still not known), 50of which were children, obviously should still be alive.
As we now understand in hindsight, this technically dead ship should never have sailed under any circumstances.
But it sailed anyway.
The vessel was built in 1955in Czechoslovakia and had seen no major repairs for the last thirty years. Asbecame known, 'Bulgaria' had already sunk, but at the time she went to the bottom under the name 'Ukraine'. Thatwas four years ago, and at the same place. Thename was changed, but the ship remained the same.
The owners of 'Bulgaria' were not licensed (!) to carry passengers, but despite this the ship, gasping its last breath, was engaged for many years under the radar of the regulators and authorities.
On that ill-fated day there were 25undocumented passengers on board. Ata minimum of 25, but it is suspected that there were many more. Themain reason could have been a desire on the part of the owners to make a profit, but perhaps it was that the crew was trying to make something under the table: the riverboat was behind on wages.
Most of the children aboard the vessel, according to documents, were born on the same day, month, and year: December 30th, 1999. Thereason for this is simple: tickets for children under the age of 12are at a discount, and so older children were probably recorded as younger than they actually were.
At the time of the sinking, from 30to 40children were in one room of the boat, the game room, and had little chance to escape or even get to the top deck of the capsized vessel.
It is beyond the power to imagine.
'Bulgaria', which did not even have standard watertight interior bulkheads (to prevent access of water to all compartments and maintain buoyancy) was unable to stay afloat. Water filled the hold immediately and the boat went to the bottom in only a few minutes.
This cruise's departure was delayed for a week since money from ticket sales had to go to the most basic repairs. Itis said that only some repairs were done.
One of the engines of the ship was malfunctioning. Moreover, it had been having problems for more than a year, and on the last cruise it gave out entirely, delaying 'Bulgaria' for several hours.
According to the owner, the failure of one engine could not affect the safety of the ship, a starboard list for such types of boats is due to the particular location of the fuel tanks, and water runoff is normal.
Sources say that the crew even tried to refuse to sail from its last port before the tragedy: everything was in such awful shape. Thecaptain, however, did not respond to the demands of the crew. Literally within an hour the boat made a peculiar turn to the left, scooped up water through the portholes of the lower compartments, fell under a severe list and quickly sank.
Immediately after the tragedy, two vessels (a passenger and a cargo boat) sailed by the sinking 'Bulgaria' and its drowning passengers, but their captains took no action to save them. Theyjust sailed on by! Itis said that on board these two vessels people filmed on their cell phone cameras the mass casualties taking place before their eyes.
Together with man-made catastrophes, moral catastrophes have arrived in our country. No, they have not arrived, they have emerged with a new force. Thisis less noticeable outwardly, but all the more frightening.
First off, they have tried to silence and refute the fact that these boats abandoned people in danger, but surviving passengers from the 'Bulgaria' confirmed it. Criminal proceedings are now planned against the two captains.
There were those who saved people: 'Arabella', which arrived at the site of the sinking a half hour after the tragedy. Fortunately, more than 30of the passengers on board 'Arabella' turned out to be physicians. 'Arabella' passengers also noted the two vessels that passed the wreck and did not even think to report the disaster.
Only 78of the 209on 'Bulgaria' were rescued from the oil-covered waters.
President Dmitry Medvedev, after a morning break, received information about the full scale of the catastrophe and declared a state of mourning. Hereminded us that the number of old vessels in use here is prohibitive. He demanded that the perpetrators be found and punished.
It's very sad, said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Andhe continued: It's obvious today that dozens died. It is really something how masterfully the prime minister is able to choose his words in such cases.
Transport Minister Igor Levitin, who by order of the president led the commission to examine the circumstances of the sinking of the 'Bulgaria', that same day casually told reporters details about vessels of this class in Russia: The average age of river cruise boats in Russia is 3040years. Allof them were built in former socialist countries, as well as in Austria. Wehave eighteen of the same type of boat as sank. Three of them are now sailing inland waterways, so we decided to suspend their licenses until we clarify the circumstances.
Did the head of transport department really not possess such information? Didhis deputies not have the information, and did they not consider it necessary to solve such an obvious problem? Ordoes such information only get publicized when there is a clap of thunder?
The minister has a plan: We still have a number of proposals and we, of course, will offer them to the Russian government after the tragedy that took place in Tatarstan.
Of course, no one, neither the minister nor his deputy, nor the head of the policy department for maritime and river transportation, none of them will be held responsible for crew negligence. This was understood in advance by all involved in the case, both the president and ordinary Russians. Noneof them will take any of the blame, nor even partially share in the moral guilt for the tragedy. Noteven if a thousand people had been killed.
Official inaction is essentially no better than filming a tragedy on a mobile phone camera, and not a single high-ranking civil servant in Russia will ever be out of job for this or any other tragedy.
Compare: in Cyprus, as a result of a series of explosions at a military base, at least 12people were killed and over 60injured. According to the latest information, barrels of gunpowder in the storehouse were stored without proper supervision and exploded. Thesame day, Cypriot defense minister Kostas Papakostas and the commander of the Cypriot national guard Petros Tsaliklides tendered their resignations, which were quickly accepted by Cypriot President Demetris Kristofias. Without waiting for any investigation, senior officials assumed full moral responsibility for what happened, and this is the normal practice in a democratic country where the government is responsible to the people.
It is impossible to imagine anything like that in Russia.
The July 10th sinking of 'Bulgaria' was not the only tragedy on that day. At9 am, an Antonov-24 flying the Surgut-Tomsk route made an emergency water landing on the Ob river after an engine fire. Asa result of the splashdown, 6were killed and 29injured. Onlythe pilots' skill and courage saved the lives of a majority of the passengers, including a baby.
After the incident, the president made a belated decision to cease operations of An-24s, but they still are flying throughout the country.
When the president and parliament back at the beginning of the century declared that awaiting us was an era of technological disasters, were they trying, perhaps, to prepare Russians for the coming horror, pain, and death? Backthen, however, everyone who was to die was still alive, and some had not yet even been.
What was done with the swollen oil revenues? Whatwas done to save lives with the budgeted funds for the preventing accidents and disasters? Practically nothing.
And since then, every year people are dying, ships are sinking, and planes are falling from the sky
But government officials do not drown.
By Denis Kamalyagin in 'Pskov Province', 1319July 2011

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