Thursday, August 11, 2022

Seven tourists dead in boat disaster

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BUDAPEST: Hungarian rescue officials said there was little chance of finding survivors after a boat carrying South Korean tourists sank on the Danube in Budapest, killing at least seven people and leaving 21 people missing.

Officials said the hull of the ill-fated Mermaid, a 27-meter (89-ft) double-decker river cruise boat, had been found on the riverbed just a few hundred meters from its usual mooring point.

A crane ship docked near the wreck early on Thursday in preparation for recovery operations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader send their condolences to Seoul. “We are with the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers in these most difficult times,” Orban said, according to his spokesman.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the authorities would work with the Hungarian government to investigate the cause of the accident.

“What’s most important is speed,” Moon said in Seoul.

The foreign ministry said 30 South Korean tourists, including children, three tour guides and two Hungarian crew were on board when the tragedy happened, around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, and 19 were among the missing, said Kang Hyung-shik, a foreign ministry official. The seven people rescued were suffering from hypothermia but stable, a Hungarian ambulance spokesman said.

The Hungarian authorities confirmed the death toll. The two Hungarian crew members were both missing. Police said the seven people who died had no life vests on.

“We have found the wreckage with a sonar,” police Col. Adrian Pal told a press briefing. “We are looking at ways to extract (the Mermaid) from the river.”

“At this point we cannot confirm or deny whether there are any bodies trapped inside the hull.”

The crash happened extremely fast, according to video footage of a security camera shown by police at the press conference. The bigger boat, catching up from behind at a higher speed, caught the Mermaid’s left side.

MASSIVE RESCUE EFFORT

Rescue officials deployed boats, divers, floodlights and radar following the accident, scouring the river for several kilometers (miles) downstream from the site of the accident.

The National Ambulance Service extended its search for survivors and victims downstream from the capital Budapest and was on alert along a section further south.

For a while traffic on the river, an important commercial waterway, was suspended on the entire Hungarian stretch of the Danube south of Budapest. However, the ban is now limited to the immediate area around the accident, Hungarian police said.

Officials have yet to determine what led to the collision between the Mermaid and the Viking Sigyn, a 95-room floating hotel of the kind that has multiplied as Danube river cruises gained popularity in recent years.

“We are mobilizing every resource we have to protect human lives,” the Mermaid’s owner, Panorama Deck Ltd., told state media through a spokesman.

The boat – a Soviet model manufactured in 1949 and refurbished in the 1980s – had been in its fleet since 2003, with regular maintenance, it said.

The Sigyn’s operator, Swiss-based Viking Cruises Ltd., acknowledged its vessel had been involved in an incident.

“There were no injuries to Viking crew or Viking guests. We are cooperating with the authorities as required,” a Viking spokesperson said.

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