At least seven South Korean tourists dead in Budapest boat disaster

Reuters , Thursday 30 May 2019

A rescue boat is seen on the Danube river after a tourist boat capsized in Budapest, Hungary, May 29, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

Hungarian rescue officials said there was little chance of finding survivors after a boat carrying South Korean tourists sank on the Danube, killing at least seven people and leaving 21 people missing.

The boat reportedly collided with another tourist vessel during a rainstorm late on Wednesday near Hungary’s iconic parliament building, capsized and sank with some 30 tourists on board.

The cause of the collision was under investigation.

“I am not inclined to say there is no hope, so I would rather say there is a minimal chance (of finding survivors),” Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman of the Hungarian national ambulance service, told the m1 state television station.

“This is not just because of the water temperature, but the strong currents in the river, the vapor above the water surface, as well as the clothes worn by the people who fell in,” he said when asked about the search for the missing.

Heavy recent rains have left the Danube in spate, and local flooding and the strong currents hampered rescuers, one diver told the state broadcaster m1. Water temperatures ranged from 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-54 degrees F), he said.

Officials said the hull of the ill-fated Mermaid, a 27-m (89-ft) double-decker river cruise boat, had been found on the riverbed just a few hundred meters from its usual mooring point.

A crane ship docked near the wreck early on Thursday in preparation for recovery operations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader send their condolences to Seoul. “We are with the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers in these most difficult times,” Orban said, according to his spokesman.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the authorities would work with the Hungarian government to investigate the cause of the accident.

“What’s most important is speed,” Moon said in Seoul.

The foreign ministry said 30 South Korean tourists, including children, three tour guides and two Hungarian crew were on board when the tragedy happened, around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, and 19 were among the missing, said Kang Hyung-shik, a foreign ministry official. The seven people rescued were suffering from hypothermia but stable, a Hungarian ambulance spokesman said.

The Hungarian authorities confirmed the death toll. The two Hungarian crew members were both missing.

Massive Rescure Effort

Rescue officials deployed boats, divers, floodlights and radar following the accident, scouring the river for several kilometers (miles) downstream from the site of the accident.

The National Ambulance Service extended its search for survivors and victims downstream from the capital Budapest and was on alert along a section further south.

For a while traffic on the river, an important commercial waterway, was suspended on the entire Hungarian stretch of the Danube south of Budapest. However, the ban is now limited to the immediate area around the accident, Hungarian police said.

Officials have yet to determine what led to the collision between the Mermaid and the 135-metre Viking Sigyn, a 95-room floating hotel of the kind that has multiplied as Danube river cruises gained popularity in recent years.

“We are mobilizing every resource we have to protect human lives,” the Mermaid’s owner, Panorama Deck Ltd., told state media through a spokesman.

The boat - a Soviet model manufactured in 1949 and refurbished in the 1980s - had been in its fleet since 2003, with regular maintenance, it said.

The Sigyn’s operator, Swiss-based Viking Cruises Ltd., acknowledged its vessel had been involved in an incident.

“There were no injuries to Viking crew or Viking guests. We are cooperating with the authorities as required,” a Viking spokesperson said.

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