Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry has began to scale back efforts to find the bodies of 15 people believed to have died in the sinking of Bulgaria riverboat, the ministry said on Friday.
The bodies of 114 victims have been recovered, while 79 people were rescued after the boat sank on Sunday in the Volga River about 80 kilometers south of Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. There were 208 people on board the vessel, which was designed for 120 passengers.
Search and rescue teams started to fly home on Friday evening, with the process of lifting the wreck off the riverbed due to start over the weekend.
"At 21.39 Moscow time, a Russian Emergency Situations Ministry Il-76 with 17 divers on board took off from the airport in Kazan for the Moscow Region," an Emergencies Ministry spokesman said.
He added that three units of specialist rescue equipment were also on the plane.
Witnesses said the ship was listing to starboard when it set out for Kazan. The poor state of the boat was compounded by the fact that it was critically overloaded, and its owners had no license to organize cruises.
President Dmitry Medvedev vowed on Friday that any guilty parties would be punished.
"Everyone involved in organizing this should bear responsibility," Medvedev said at a meeting with investigators at his Gorki residence near Moscow.
"Next time, every official, regardless of his rank, will understand that the consequences for such a ship leaving a port will be not only disciplinary, but criminal," he said.
A number of divers remain at the site of the tragedy and will continue to search for bodies while work to raise the ship from the riverbed goes ahead. The vessel is lying in about 20 meters of water some three kilometers from the shore.