BUDAPEST (AFP) - Hungarian police confirmed Monday (June 3) the discovery of two more victims of a sightseeing boat’s collision with a river cruise ship in Budapest last week raising the toll to nine tourists killed.
Only seven of the 35 people on board have survived so far, leaving 19 still missing with the prospect of finding any more passengers alive seen as very slim.
The Mermaid boat carrying mainly South Korean tourists overturned and sank last Wednesday seconds after colliding with the Viking Sigyn cruise ship on a busy stretch of the river in the heart of the Hungarian capital.
Seven victims were recovered from the water within hours of the accident, but strong currents and a water level swollen by weeks of rain have hampered the search for those missing and had prevented divers from reaching the Mermaid which lies some nine metres below the surface.
But South Korean divers helped by their Hungarian counterparts were able to bring another victim to the surface from the sunken vessel Monday, according to Hungarian police.
“Hungarian diving professionals found a body, which was then brought to the surface by Korean divers,” said a statement from Hungary’s counterterror police unit TEK published by Hungary’s MTI news agency.
According to South Korean media reports the body was female, and was found on the boat’s exterior after the divers had been underwater for over an hour.
All of the seven bodies found before Monday were recovered within Budapest’s city limits, with one discovered about 11 kilometres downstream of the accident site.
Also on Monday another victim was discovered some 100 kilometres down river from the collision site near the town of Harta, police said in a statement.
Local media reports said the victim was a middle-aged Korean man.
Those missing include a six-year-old girl as well as the Mermaid’s Hungarian captain and a crew member.
Monday’s dive was the first by members of a 27-man team sent by Seoul to help international divers and experts assessing how to hoist the submerged boat or search for bodies presumed to be stuck inside.
According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, Seoul had been urging the Hungarian authorities to carry out an underwater search inside the boat before an attempt is made to lift it.
Earlier, Janos Hajdu, head of the rescue taskforce of Hungarian divers helped by Czech and Austrian professionals, told reporters that entering the sunken boat was too dangerous until the high river level begins to subside.
Hajdu, who leads TEK, said his taskforce was mulling whether to try to bring the bodies up before lifting the wreck, or bring up the ship with the victims still inside.
“Until it is clear which approach is better we are following both in parallel, and entering the boat is strictly not allowed,” said Hajdu.
Visibility under the surface is practically zero, while the high water level and speed of the river current makes entering the boat potentially lethal, he said.
The arrival of a crane large enough to lift the stricken Mermaid “will take days,” said Hajdu, who added that reconnaissance dives to identify parts of the wreck suitable for attaching ropes are ongoing.