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article imageDesperate search after Budapest boat tragedy enters third day

By G├ęza MOLNAR (AFP)     May 31, 2019 in Travel

Hopes were fading Friday of finding more survivors from a boat accident on the Danube river in Budapest, with 21 people still missing, mainly South Korean tourists.

Hungarian police have detained the captain of a river cruise ship involved in the crash, which happened Wednesday night on a busy stretch of the Danube near the parliament building.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha arrived in Budapest with a emergency task force as Hungarian police and army teams struggled with fast-flowing currents to continue the search and rescue operation.

The Mermaid sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists overturned and was swallowed by the Danube just seconds after it collided in pouring rain with the much larger cruise ship.

Mourners have laid flowers along the banks of the waterway for the seven South Korean tourists who are known to have been killed and the 21 people who remain missing -- including a six-year-old girl and the boat's Hungarian captain and a crew member.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has arrived in Hungary
South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has arrived in Hungary
Attila KISBENEDEK, AFP

Only seven people are known to have survived so far.

Police said Thursday they had detained the Ukrainian captain of the larger ship, the Viking Sigyn, for questioning over the incident.

In a statement they said that 64-year-old Yuriy C, a resident of Odessa, was "questioned as a suspect... in relation to 'endangering waterborne traffic resulting in multiple deaths'."

Kang visited the site of the crash on Friday along with her Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto.

- Risky operation -

Some survivors have described the terrifying ordeal as the Mermaid sank almost immediately and they were pitched into the dark waters.

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

Divers and technical teams continue search operations after the "Mermaid" boat accident  b...
Divers and technical teams continue search operations after the "Mermaid" boat accident, but their work has been hampered by high river levels and a strong current after weeks of heavy rainfall
Attila KISBENEDEK, AFP

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

The Mermaid is still completely submerged under the murky waters of the Danube, which has been swollen by weeks of rain.

A floating crane was erected near the accident site, as well as a small pier for use by divers.

People have gathered along the riverbank to watch the rescue efforts
People have gathered along the riverbank to watch the rescue efforts
Attila KISBENEDEK, AFP

But rescue and recovery operations have been hampered by the strong current, making any diving attempts very risky and complicating plans to lift the wreck.

The water level is not expected to start receding before Tuesday at the earliest.

On Thursday police revealed the strong current had swept one of the victims around 11 kilometres (seven miles) downstream of the accident site.

The search operation has been extended to cover the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of Budapest and Hungarian authorities have also contacted their counterparts in neighbouring Serbia.

- Families arriving -

Families of some of the victims are due to fly to Budapest on Friday and a candlelit vigil for the victims is expected at the South Korean embassy in Budapest on Friday evening.

Hungarian police have launched a criminal investigation into one of the country's worst boat ac...
Hungarian police have launched a criminal investigation into one of the country's worst boat accidents
Attila KISBENEDEK, AFP

Lee Sang-moo, chief operating officer of Very Good Tour which organised the trip for the South Koreans, said most of the Mermaid's passengers were in their 50s and 60s.

The youngest was the missing six-year-old girl who was travelling with her mother and grandparents and the oldest was a man in his early 70s.

Budapest tourist boat accident
Budapest tourist boat accident
Laurence CHU, AFP

The collision happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.

Dozens of small sightseeing boats ply the river through Budapest every day. Larger river cruise boats travelling on the Danube between Germany and the Black Sea typically spend several days moored in the capital.

The tragedy comes five years after the Sewol ferry sinking in South Korea which killed more than 300 people in one of the deadliest maritime disasters in the country.

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