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Russia Probes Boating Deaths of 14 Children

In this Russian Emergency Situations Ministry photo, made available on Sunday, June 19, 2016, Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations workers stand at the site of an incident, at a lake in Russia's northwestern region of Karelia, Russia.

Russian authorities opened a criminal probe Sunday, hours after at least 14 children attending a summer camp in northwestern Russia died when their boats capsized in a storm-swept lake near the Finland border.

A spokesman for Russia's chief investigative agency, Vladimir Markin, said the deaths occurred overnight into Sunday on Lake Syamozero, in the Republic of Karelia, 120 kilometers east of the border with Finland.

Markin, speaking Sunday, said 47 children and four adult instructors were traveling in four boats when disaster struck.

He also said four members of the camp staff had been detained for questioning, as well as two adults who are alleged to have organized the boating excursion.

Karelia regional lawmaker Alexei Gavrilov told Rossiya 24 television that repeated bulletins had been issued for the area in recent days warning of an approaching Atlantic storm, along with advisories urging boaters to stay off the 270-square kilometer lake.

Another official, children's rights advocate Pavel Astakhov, told the Ria Novosti news agency the children were "apparently not wearing life jackets." However, an earlier report by Interfax News
Agency quoted a local official as saying all victims and survivors were wearing life jackets.

Russia's federal tourism agency was quoted in that report as saying the victims ranged in age from 12 to 15 and included orphans and children from disadvantaged families.

Most of the victims were from Moscow. The capital's Mayor Sergey Sobyanin tweeted his condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the accident.

Local experts said that lake can be extremely dangerous to navigate in strong winds, and even experienced local fisherman stayed off the water during the weekend.

"It was suicidal" to allow the group to go boating in those conditions, a local tour company director remarked in a television interview.