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At least 55 dead in Russia boat sinking

KAZAN, Russia -- Rescuers scoured the wide waters of a Volga River reservoir yesterday, searching with dimming hopes for survivors after an aged, overloaded cruise ship sank amid wind and rain. Fifty-five people were confirmed dead. Dozens remained missing.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying 208 people were believed to have been aboard the Bulgaria when it sank Sunday afternoon. The boat was licensed to carry only 120, officials said.

As of midafternoon, 41 bodies had been found, including five children, the regional Emergencies Ministry office said. The ministry said 79 survivors were rescued, all of them Russian. It was unclear whether any foreigners were aboard.

River cruise boats such as the Bulgaria are highly popular among Russian holiday-makers, conducting cruises ranging from a few days to two weeks.

Igor Panishin of the regional Emergencies Ministry was quoted by the state news agency RIA Novosti as saying survivors reported the ship was leaning to starboard as it made a turn and a wave washed over the deck. It sank within about eight minutes, he said. The agency cited local investigators as saying the ship was listing even when the voyage began, possibly because of unemptied sewage tanks, and that the port engine was malfunctioning.

The ship sank about two miles from shore in about 65 feet of water, officials said.

Many children were aboard, and Russian news reports quoted survivors as saying about 50 children had gathered in the ship's entertainment hall shortly before it sank.

"It happened very fast. Hatches and windows were knocked out," said Vladimir Shirybyryv, a friend of both survivors and missing people. Based on a surviving friend's account, he said: "Everyone who survived was covered with fuel oil."

One survivor told the national news channel Vesti 24 that other ships refused to come to their aid. Transport Minister Igor Levitin was quoted by news agencies as saying the captains of two ships that appeared to ignore distress calls would be prosecuted "in the harshest terms."

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