At least eight die in Moscow riverboat collision

MOSCOW Sun Jul 31, 2011 9:46am EDT

1 of 3. Emergency workers and survivors look on from the banks of the Moscow river following a crash between a private boat and river barge in Moscow July 31, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mikhail Voskresensky

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - At least eight people died and one person was missing Sunday after a riverboat collided with a barge and sank in the Moscow River, a spokeswoman for Russia's Emergencies Ministry said.

The private boat carrying 16 people sank after colliding with the river barge at around 1 a.m. (2100 GMT). Russian media quoted passengers as saying the boat had been rented for a birthday celebration.

A string of transport disasters ahead of parliamentary elections in December and presidential polls in March has led President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to condemn the state of the country's infrastructure and endemic regulatory corner cutting.

"An eighth body has been discovered. One more passenger is still missing," Interfax reported, quoting Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Smirnykh.

The captain of the barge helped save some of the seven passengers who survived, including one man who swam to shore.

Survivors wrapped in brown blankets huddled on the river's grassy bank watching Emergencies Ministry boats and divers searching the sunken craft before work began to raise it to the surface of the river.

Among those saved was a Turkish citizen and a U.S. embassy employee, Interfax reported Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin as saying.

State-run RIA news agency said the owner of the Riverboat Swallow had in the past been punished for exceeding the ship's passenger limit of 12. He was among the dead.

Russia 24 quoted witnesses as saying the riverboat was moving erratically on a 200 meter-wide bend in the river before it collided with the barge in southwest Moscow, near Luzhniki Stadium, the site of the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Three weeks ago, 122 people died on the Volga River when the riverboat Bulgaria listed to one side and sank within minutes.

Putin blamed irresponsibility and the desire for a quick profit for that disaster, Russia's worst river accident since 1983. A culture of corruption sometimes helps old, decrepit vessels to pass routine safety tests.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, editing by Tim Pearce)

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