Survivors say that during the cruise, Bulgaria encountered stormy weather, and listed sharply to starboard. This was apparently compounded by the captain trying to turn the boat around, and soon water rushed into the vessel through portholes that had been opened because the ship had no air conditioning. According to a survivor, the sinking came without warning, and the vessel "listed to starboard ... and capsized and sank."The boat sank within minutes, plunging nearly 20 metres (66 ft) to the river bed. The sinking occurred about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from shore, in the Kamsko-Ustyinsky District.
As of 25 July 2011, the officially confirmed death toll is at 122, with all bodies found so far identified.On 11 July 2011, a government official from the Ministry of Emergency Situations said that the likelihood of finding additional survivors was slim, leaving a presumed total of up to 129 dead. Among the dead were believed to be at least 50 children. On 12 July 2011, the divers recovered bodies of Bulgaria's captain Alexander Ostrovsky and his spouse.
Seventy-nine people (56 passengers and 23 crew members) were reported to have survived the sinking. Of those, 76 were rescued by the cruise ship Arabella, a few others were saved by other boats, and one survivor managed to swim to the shore. At the time of the incident, Bulgaria passenger's count is estimated to have been at 201, though she was only rated to carry 120.
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 ICRF 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 Russian 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-104and 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 Egorov).These two ships seem also equipped with life boats. On 28 February 2012, Alexander Egorov was found guilty by court. However, the court imposed only a relatively minor penalty of 190,000 RUB (less than 4,900 EUR). Egorov pleaded not guilty claiming that entering the disaster area while towing barges would have hindered the rescue operation. He is considering filing an appeal.
On 11 July, an anonymous source close to the committee investigating the sinking said that the likely cause was portholes that were opened because of the lack of air conditioning on the vessel, which allowed water to enter Bulgaria when the captain attempted to turn the ship during stormy weather.
Evidence suggested that a number of safety violations could have caused or compounded the disaster. According to one survivor, emergency exit doors on the boat had been sealed or locked shut. Investigators also suggested that the boat set sail with a list to the right, possibly due to full sewage or fuel tanks on that side, and with one of its engines not properly functioning. Some survivors told Russian news agencies that they begged the captain to turn round because of the list, but were ignored. There were conflicting reports about whether the boat and the cruise operator were properly licensed for passenger cruises.One of the diesels was not in operation when Bulgaria last set sail, which, according to investigators, is a serious violation of passenger boats regulations. Survivors from the crew claimed that Bulgaria had lost electric power minutes before she sank, which effectively disabled ship controls, and prevented the crew from making a distress call over radio. For some unknown reason the emergency power did not come in. It was not until Arabella picked up first survivors that authorities found out the name of the vessel and the true scale of the disaster.
While the ship was not licensed to carry the number of passengers that were on board, it likely was not technically overloaded as in the past has been tested with as much as 2000 passengers
Russia’s Investigative Committee has found out what may have caused the “Bulgaria” cruise ship to sink, killing 122 people.
The list of possible reasons is topped by engine failure, troubles with its radio warning system, a lack of life-saving equipment and an overload of passengers – 201 people were onboard instead of 156.
The exact cause of the tragedy will be revealed after a full engineering and technical examination is completed. As of now, it is believed that the “Bulgaria” sank because of technical troubles.
“Now the investigators have to find who is to blame for the tragedy and understand which actions of the crew, of the cruise ship’s owners and of the officials responsible for the cruise ship’s check-up caused the sinking,” said the official spokesperson for the committee, Vladimir Markin.
The “Bulgaria” sank during a pleasure cruise on the Volga River. Of 201 people onboard, 122 died when the ship went down in a matter of minutes. There were 28 children, 72 women and 22 men among the victims.
A criminal case was launched against the captains of two freighters that failed to take part in the rescue of people from the “Bulgaria” on June 10, the day she sank.
“Even though both suspects deny any wrongdoing, the body of evidence collected by the investigation, including passenger and crew-member reports and the logs of the vessels ‘Dunaysky 66’ and ‘Arbat,’ confirm their guilt,” stated Markin.
The captains of both ships are suspected of abandoning a ship in distress. Two other people have already been charged with criminal negligence in connection with the incident.
A check-up on cruise ships following the Volga River tragedy found out that 90 percent fail to meet basic safety requirements. The most common violations are missing or faulty life-jackets and no flares in the lifeboats.
After a thorough check-up, 23 vessels were banned from operating as passenger ships, and prosecutors initiated 66 administrative cases against boat owners. More checks will be carried out in other regions.