Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Little chance of more survivors from Hungary tour boat disaster

Seven tourists were confirmed dead and seven rescued, but 21 remain missing after the boat sank

A police boat is seen on Danube river in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
A police boat is seen on Danube river in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

There is minimal hope of finding more survivors as rescue workers scour the Danube River in downtown Budapest on Thursday after a boat carrying South Korean tourists capsized on the flooding Danube in the Hungarian capital on Wednesday, a spokesman for the national ambulance service said.

Seven people are confirmed dead and seven were rescued, Hungarian officials said after the boat collided with a larger cruise ship during an evening downpour. Twenty-one people – 19 tourists and two Hungarian crew members – are still missing.

The South Korea-based Very Good Tour agency, which organized the trip, said the boat was on its way back after an hour-long night journey on Wednesday evening when the accident happened.

Firemen stand at Margit Bridge, where the wreck of a sightseeing boat was found on the Danube River in downtown Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 30, 2019, after a sightseeing boat sank. A massive search was underway on the river for 21 people missing after the sightseeing boat with 33 South Korean tourists sank after colliding with another vessel during an evening downpour. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)
Firemen stand at Margit Bridge, where the wreck of a sightseeing boat was found on the Danube River in downtown Budapest, Hungary. MTI via AP

The group had consisted of 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer on a package tour of Europe. Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for the National Ambulance Service, said those rescued were hospitalized in stable condition. But by Thursday, Mr Gyorfi said there was little chance of finding more survivors.

"As an ambulance spokesman, I am not inclined to say there is no hope, so I would rather say there is a minimal chance [to find more survivors]."

The sunken boat was located early on Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the riverbank.

Officials said searchers were checking the Danube for kilometres downriver. The river was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius.

Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, which is about 3 kilometres south of the parliament.

Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search. Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ “all available resources” to support the rescue efforts in Hungary. Mr Moon’s spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said in Seoul that the president also ordered the launch of a government task force led by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and for officials to maintain close communication with the family members of the South Korean passengers.

A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families. Ms Kang was also to travel to Hungary.

In a briefing Thursday, the ministry said that the Seoul government will closely cooperate with Hungarian officials so that the rescue efforts can proceed swiftly and effectively. It said the tourists were not wearing life jackets.

The Very Good Tour agency said the tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return June 1.

Most of them were family groups, and they included a 6-year-old girl. Her status was not immediately clear but she did not appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.

Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans – six women and one man, aged between 31 and 66. The company is arranging for family members of the tourists to travel to Hungary as soon as possible.

A woman standing and looks at Margit Bridge, where the wreck of a sightseeing boat was found on the Danube River, in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 30, 2019. A massive search was underway on the river for over a dozen people missing after the sightseeing boat with 33 South Korean tourists sank after colliding with another vessel during an evening downpour. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
A woman standing and looks at Margit Bridge in Budapest. AP

The boat that sank was identified as the Hableany (Mermaid), which is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet.” It has two decks and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.

Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a “routine city sightseeing trip” when the accident happened. He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly. Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.

The Margit Bridge connects the two halves of the city, Buda and Pest, with a large recreational island in the middle of the Danube. It is the bridge just north of the famous Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge originally built in the 19th century that, like the Parliament, is a major tourist draw in the heart of the city.

National disaster management rescue staff participate in a search operation for survivors on the River Danube in downtown Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 30, 2019, following a collision of a hotel ship and a smaller tourist cruise ship on the previous evening. (Peter Lakatos/MTI via AP)
National disaster management rescue staff search for survivors on the River Danube. MTI via AP

The river flows south, meaning that survivors were likely to be swept through the well-populated, historic part of the city.

Index.hu reported that other riverboats shined spotlights into the water to aid with the search and that a film crew operating on the Liberty Bridge farther down the river directed its lighting equipment toward the Danube to assist. In recent years, Budapest has emerged as a popular destination for film, television and other commercial video production.

Budapest has enjoyed a boom in overseas tourism in recent years. Long-haul flights from as far away as Dubai and Beijing increasingly fly visitors from Asia and the Middle East to the Hungarian capital, a relatively affordable but history-rich European destination. Budapest’s airport said it handled a record number of travellers in 2018, with passenger numbers surging more than 13 per cent to 14.9 million.

Updated: May 30, 2019 11:51 AM

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