Captain denies he avoided sinking ship

July 26, 2011 at 9:31 AM

MOSCOW, July 26 (UPI) -- A Russian captain denied charges that he failed to come to the aid of the sinking riverboat Bulgaria, saying he couldn't "consciously leave people in trouble."

The cruise ship Bulgaria sank during a storm in the Volga River in Tatarstan July 10, killing 122 people. Seventy-nine people on the Bulgaria were rescued by the ship Arabella.

Two cargo ships, the Dunaisky 66 and the Arbat, reportedly passed the sinking vessel without lending assistance, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday. Their captains -- Alexander Yegorov and Yury Tuchin -- could spend up to two years in jail if they are found guilty of deliberately ignoring a vessel in distress.

In a letter sent to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, Yegorov said his crew was preparing a boat to help Bulgaria's passengers when he saw the Arabella. The two ships' captains conferred and agreed that the Arabella would rescue the passengers, after which the Dunaisky 66 maintained its course.

"It's wormwood to me if the public believes that I could consciously leave people in trouble," Yegorov said. "If there was nothing as useful as the Arabella around, I would have done everything I could to help those in distress."

The Arabella's captain previously said it would have taken the Dunaisky 66 at least an hour to reach the Bulgaria, while his ship needed only 15 minutes, RIA Novosti said.

Rescuers recovered the last two bodies from the wreckage on Monday, officials said. The cruiser, which sank about 65 feet into the river, was lifted Friday.

Police are investigating the sinking and already have charged two people -- Svetlana Inyakina, general director of the company that rented the cruise boat, and river fleet inspector Yakov Ivashov, who certified that the Bulgaria was fit to sail.

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