Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Metal Coffin

Summertime, and what could be more natural than families wanting to get out into the out-of-doors and make the most of the weather? Embarking, for example, on a short but pleasant cruise. An exciting event for children in particular. And there is this about human nature, we trust. We do not, though perhaps we should, ask questions about safety, taking for granted that the authorities have already done all of that on our behalf.

We trust that if a vessel is available for a certain purpose; tourism, recreation, and a lot of people embark on a trip, there is safety in numbers. They cannot possibly all be wrong in trusting that all will be well now, can they? Well they can and in this instance they were dreadfully misguided. But how were they to know, after all? Besides which, when families set out with their children to all enjoy a holiday, no one wants to disappoint the children by turning back.

We trust, because it is human nature under these circumstances, to do so. We trust that all will be well. That everything will turn out well in the end. That a good time would be had by all. And on returning home, the main topic of discussion will be what fun everyone had, with the children's excited, chattering voices raised high in happiness, and parents well satisfied with the outcome.

Except, that wasn't at all what happened. On the Volga waterway, a vessel not actually licensed to carry passengers, but with a maximum capacity of 120 people, set off for a two-day voyage, with 208 passengers. Now 128 of those passengers are feared dead, among them about 50 children. Most of these children were securely locked inside a playroom while the ship, named the Bulgaria proceeded.

For that matter, many of the ship's doors were locked as passengers discovered when they attempted to escape the sinking ship. "We were all buried alive in the boat like in a metal coffin" said one woman who managed to escape through a window but who lost her ten-year-old daughter because she could no longer manage to hold on to the child.

The voyage hadn't turned out as the passengers hoped it would; there was rain and strong winds, not the kind of pleasant weather that was anticipated. One of the vessel's two engines broke down. When the ship left port it was listing heavily. Passengers and crew asked the captain to halt the cruise in light of the state of the ship, but he adamantly refused.
"He should not have left port. The weather was bad. It was stormy weather. what kind of cruise could there be for God's sake?" Anna, surviving passenger.
With only one working engine, an attempt to make a sharp turn against the strong current failed, and the ship capsized.
"The vessel sank in less than three minutes. It flipped to the right and swerved and went down. Our whole family was on that ship. We lost everybody. My wife and my grandchildren. There were a lot of children on the ship. They were all in the games room and it was impossible for them to get out. My grandson would be five years old tomorrow."
Some survivors claim that two other boats had passed by, saw the drowning passengers, but did not stop to give assistance. Tourists aboard one of the boats, said one of the survivors, filmed people in the water on their mobile cellphones.

President Dmitry Medvedev, in mourning, promises to take "rust tubs" like the Bulgaria out of service.

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