At least 13 children and a counselor at a Russian summer camp died Sunday in a boating accident that has devastated parents and that investigators have suggested is the result of criminal negligence by the camp’s staff.
Police said three boats from the summer camp in Russia’s northern Karelia region capsized during a storm on Lake Syamozero, plunging 47 children and four adults into the subarctic waters. Rescuers were still recovering bodies from the lake Sunday evening. Five children were hospitalized with hypothermia and trauma wounds.
Negligence and poor regulatory oversight have been the usual suspects for Russian investigators after similar tourism accidents in the past. Russia’s worst boating accident in recent memory occurred in 2011, when the Bulgaria cruise ship sank in the Volga River in Russia’s Tatarstan region, leaving 122 people dead. The accident prompted a full review of Russia’s nautical-safety regulations, as now-President Vladimir Putin, who was then the prime minister, chastised the vessel’s owners for their “negligence and greed.”
On Sunday, a vast spectrum of Russian officials publicly demanded justice, accusing the summer camp’s operators of lax attention to safety and suggesting that the children were not wearing safety vests.
“Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to bring back the children,” Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said in a frank statement. “I sympathize with all the parents and those close to the children, who died because of the negligence and stupidity of the adults, with whom they had entrusted what was dearest to them: the lives and health of their children.”
The Investigative Committee, which specializes in probing high-profile crimes, has opened a criminal case over suspected safety violations, arresting one camp official and seeking two others who had “hidden from investigators.”
Russian officials promised a flurry of safety checks and reviews.
The Emergency Ministry criticized the camp counselors for boating on the lake in bad weather without informing rescuers ahead of time. The Russian deputy prime minister for social affairs said she would hold a public review of safety at summer camps for children, as did the Russian prosecutor general. The head of the Karelia region declared that all companies providing boat trips in the area would be reviewed.