Saturday 20 July 2019

Search for 21 missing after boat sinking ‘could be protracted’, says Hungary

Officials said it could take days to recover the 70-year-old boat, which was carrying South Korean sightseers.

South Korean military divers (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)
South Korean military divers (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)

By Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press

Hungarian authorities have predicted it could take an extended search to find 21 people still missing after a boat carrying South Korean tourists was rammed by a cruise ship and sank in Budapest.

Seven people have been confirmed dead so far and seven others were rescued.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha visited the site of Wednesday’s accident and met rescue and search officials.

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South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha and Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto visit the scene (Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)

“We have to prepare for a protracted search,” Mr Szijjarto said he was told by Budapest river police, adding that authorities are also expecting help from Serbia, where the Danube flows after leaving Hungary.

“It is not unimaginable that we will need to depend on them in the coming days.”

Divers in full equipment went into the Danube but were unable to inspect the wreckage of the boat due to the extremely murky waters and heavy currents from recent rain.

Officials said it could take days to recover the 70-year-old boat, which was built in the former Soviet Union.

Hours after Wednesday night’s collision, the body of one victim was found more than seven miles downstream, near the Hungarian capital’s neo-Gothic parliament building.

“The wreck is located more than six metres deep and the water level continues to rise because of the expected rainfall,” Mr Szijjarto added.

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A military ship on the Danube (Zoltan Balogh/MTI/AP)

Hungarian police have detained and questioned the captain of the Viking Sigyn river cruise ship that collided with the sightseeing boat.

Mr Szijjarto said the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain protested being considered a suspect. Identified only as Yuriy C, he is suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident. Police have proposed placing him under arrest.

The Viking Sigyn has been allowed to sail to Germany but Ms Kang said the ship’s owner “has promised to fully co-operate with the investigation”.

“If the investigation finds the ship’s owner responsible, there will be a thorough legal response,” she added.

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Kang Kyung-wha and Peter Szijjarto at a press conference (Attila Kovacs/MTI/AP)

The ministers agreed to search for every missing person.

“We shared our firm resolve… to search for survivors to the last person,” Ms Kang said.

A South Korean group on a package tour of Europe — including 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer— were on an hour-long sightseeing tour of Budapest when their boat collided with a cruise ship during a downpour on Wednesday evening.

Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members — the captain and his assistant — remain missing.

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Damage on the Viking Sigyn (Zoltan Mathe/MTI/AP)

Survivors say they were lucky to grab on to a drifting lifeboat while looking in horror as others around them struggled in the dark, rainy water, shouting for help.

Their small sightseeing boat had almost finished its tour and was almost at a stop when the larger cruise ship hit it under a bridge near the riverbank parliament building.

They said about 20 people were on the deck taking photographs or preparing to disembark. The others were in the cabin.

The South Korean government said no one was wearing a life jacket.

Video released by Hungarian police showed the sightseeing boat, identified as the Hableany, travelling closely side-by-side and in the same direction as the German-built Viking cruise ship as they approached the Margit Bridge.

The Hableany then appears to steer slightly to its left, into the path of the 135-metre cruise ship, which continued to sail on at the same speed. The two collided and the sightseeing boat then tipped over on its side between the bridge’s two supports.

PA Media

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