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Arbat ship captain to go on trial for not helping sinking Bulgaria

December 26, 2011, 10:31 UTC+3
Previously, the consideration of the case was postponed due to incomplete attendance of witnesses
1 pages in this article
Photo ITAR-TASS

Photo ITAR-TASS

KAZAN, December 26 (Itar-Tass) — The trial of the captain of the Arbat dry-cargo vessel, Yuri Tuchin, who failed to help passengers from the sinking Bulgaria ship will begin on Monday at the Kama-Ustyinsky District Court of Tatarstan, the court’s press service told Itar-Tass.

“The court meeting was to be held on December 16, but due to the illness of the defendant it was rescheduled for December 26,” the court’s secretary Maria Konyagina said. Previously, the consideration of the case was postponed due to incomplete attendance of witnesses.

Criminal proceedings under Article 270 of the RF Criminal Code – “Failure by a vessel’s captain to help those in distress” were opened against the Arbat dry-cargo ship’s captain Yuri Tuchin who was in the area of sinking of the Bulgaria ship and, according to data of the Russian Investigative Committee (SK), did not help drowning people. The article provides for up to two years imprisonment.

On July 10, Tuchin, the captain of the freighter sailing in the Kuibyshev Reservoir on the Volga River in the vicinity of the Bulgaria ship’s wreck, seeing people in distress on life rafts, failed to take all possible measures needed for their rescue, although there was no danger to the freighter and its crew. Thus, the RF Inland Water Transport Code was violated.

The Bulgaria passenger ship, built in 1955 in Czechoslovakia, sank in the Kuibyshev Reservoir near the village of Syukeyevo of the Kamsko-Ustyinsky district of Tatarstan. The boat carried 201 people, 79 of whom were rescued. The tragedy claimed 122 lives, including of 28 children.

Bulgaria was built at Slovak shipyard in Kom·rno, Czechoslovakia, in 1955 as Ukraina, and was renamed in February 2010 to Bulgaria after the Volga Bulgaria. Her length was 80.2 metres (263 ft), her beam was 12.5 metres (41 ft), her draft was 1.9 metres (6.2 ft), and her power output was 273 kilowatts (366 hp). She had two engines and two decks. Her cruising speed was 20.5 kilometres per hour (12.7 mph; 11.1 kn), and her original passenger capacity was 233 (then reduced after overhaul).

At the time of the sinking, Bulgaria was owned by Kamskoye Rechnoye Parokhodstvo (Kama River Shipping Company), which leased the ship to OOO Briz, which in turn subleased it to OOO Argorechtur, which operated it, according to media reports, on a bareboat charter. That means OOO Agrorechtur accepted sole liability for technical maintenance and crew placement. Investigators claim that Argorechtur was operating the cruise ship without a proper licence, and the director of OOO Agrorechtur was arrested on 12 July 2011.

On 22 July with the help of two salvage cranes Bulgaria was partially lifted to the water surface. On 23 July it was moved to the nearby shallow Gulf of Kirelsky, where its hold was sealed. On 25 July the bodies of the last two missing passengers were found in their cabins. On 26 July Bulgaria was placed to floating dock for further disaster investigation.

According to survivors’ accounts, two ships (the oil tanker Volgoneft-104 [other sources claim it could have been the Volgoneft-38] and the freighter Arbat) passed by after the Bulgaria had sunk. The passing ships did not stop to help and the RF Investigative Committee has launched an official investigation into these claims. In accordance with Russian Criminal Code Article 270, the captain of a ship that refuses to help in disaster could be sentenced to up to two years of deprivation of freedom. However it may also be that these ships, being heavy freight barges with minimal crews, were not technically capable of stopping while passing or of turning back in acceptable time. The barge owners refused to comment. The technical reasons may not be sufficient to justify the refusal, as the article 270 of the RF Criminal Code allows the only reason to refuse help when it could endanger a ship or its crew or passengers. Assistance from the towboat Dunaisky 66 with two barges that appeared later after accident, was refused by Arabella's captain assuming that the towboat would not have provided useful help and would only hinder the rescue. Both Volgoneft-104 and Volgoneft-38 are equipped with life boats and while coordinates are not precisely tracked they were approximately in the region of the accident. Investigators did not charge captains of any oil tankers in relation to the Bulgaria disaster as of 15 July 2011; the only captains charged with failure to save are captains of Arbat (Yuri Tuchin) and Dunaisky 66 (Alexander Yegorov). These two ships seem also equipped with life boats.

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