Divers searching a tourist boat that sank on Sunday in Russia's Volga river discovered the bodies of some 50 people, many of them children, an Emergencies Ministry official said on Tuesday.
The news will deepen anguish over a disaster that tore families apart, killing up to 129 people and underscoring concerns about the negligence, corner-cutting and corruption that troubles Russia.
The official death toll rose to 83, including 16 children.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who may seek re-election next March, vowed harsh punishment for violators of transport safety rules and said tougher legislation was needed.
The Bulgaria, an ageing, overcrowded riverboat on a weekend Volga cruise, sank in minutes 3 km (2 miles) from shore after listing onto its right side in a thunderstorm. Authorities said 79 of the 208 people on board were rescued.
One of the survivors said the boat, built in 1955, swiftly turned into a "metal coffin" after it got into difficulty.
Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Smirnykh said divers working their way through the wreck saw the bodies when they reached a recreation area, where survivors had said some 30 children gathered shortly before the boat went down.
"By their visual estimates, the bodies of about 50 people are there. Most of them are children," Smirnykh told Reuters. (read more)