Hungary PM orders strict probe into boat disaster

South Koreans mourning yesterday at a bridge over the Danube near the site of the accident involving a cruise ship and a tourist boat. Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, and 19 of their compatriots were among the 21 people still missing. P
South Koreans mourning yesterday at a bridge over the Danube near the site of the accident involving a cruise ship and a tourist boat. Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, and 19 of their compatriots were among the 21 people still missing. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Police detain captain of cruise ship involved; search efforts hampered by river conditions

BUDAPEST • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said yesterday that he has asked for a thorough investigation into a boat accident on the Danube River in Budapest that killed at least seven South Korean tourists this week.

Hungarian police said late on Thursday that they had taken into custody the captain of the Viking Sigyn, a 135m cruise ship, which hit and sank a smaller pleasure boat that was carrying a South Korean tourist group.

Rescue teams have taken up positions on the surface above the sunken tourist boat and divers have attempted to approach the wreckage, but the flooding river meant conditions were poor and the work could take a long time, the government said.

"One is shaken by this... an accident happened where passengers had almost no chance of survival," Mr Orban told state radio, offering his condolences to the victims' kin.

"I have asked the authorities to carry out a strict and thorough investigation," he said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha arrived in Budapest yesterday with an emergency task force to get first-hand information on the rescue efforts and to help with the process.

She thanked her Hungarian counterpart for the intense search and rescue operations. "I hope this level of effort can be sustained," she told a press conference.

 
 
 

"We strive to ensure no bodies are lost from the wreckage or the river bed, and so expanded the search parameters to that end."

Officials had little hope that those missing would be found alive more than 36 hours after the accident.

The search area extended to Serbia, downstream from Hungary, because the river could have carried bodies that far by now, said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

"Conditions are completely against us. It is impossible to get close to the wreckage. Visibility is zero; the Danube flows at 15kmh. The wreckage is 6m underwater," he said.

The tour boat was cruising during a rainstorm on Wednesday evening when the accident occurred and it sank with 33 South Korean tourists and tour guides and two Hungarian crew aboard.

Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, and 19 of their compatriots were among the 21 people still missing.

A crane ship was docked near the wreck for recovery operations.

"The task is almost impossible," an industrial diver helping the recovery team told Reuters. "The water is high, with strong currents and reduced visibility. Right now, the team is trying to find a way to submerge again."

Some survivors described the terrifying ordeal, saying the boat sank almost immediately and they were pitched into the dark waters.

Some were able to grab on to rescue buoys and they watched in horror as fellow passengers struggled to stay afloat.

"The current was so fast and people were floating away but the rescue team did not come," a 31-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Jung, told South Korean news agency Yonhap.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline 'Hungary PM orders strict probe into boat disaster'. Print Edition | Subscribe