Danube capsizing kills 7 Koreans, 19 are missing
A river boat carrying 33 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members on the Danube collided with a larger ship near Budapest’s Parliament Building and the Margaret Bridge at around 10 p.m. Wednesday. The boat capsized and sank rapidly, according to local media reports in Hungary.
Local rescue workers dispatched to the scene were able to bring 14 people to shore, though seven of them were confirmed dead. The rest, 19 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members, were still missing as of press time Thursday.
There were no casualties reported from the larger boat.
The 33 Koreans were part of a group tour organized by Very Good Tour, a tour company in central Seoul. Of the 33, three were guides. They were traveling through six countries in the region, including Croatia and the Czech Republic, from May 25 to next Sunday.
“Most of the Koreans on the trip were in their 40s and 50s, and it was a group of nine families altogether,” said Lee Sang-moo, an executive of Very Good Tour in a press briefing Thursday morning.
One of these families included a 6-year-old girl, according to local media reports. She was not one of the seven rescued as of press time, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The seven rescued people were two women in their 30s, two women in their 40s and 50s, two women in their 60s and a man in his 60s, according to the Foreign Ministry.
None of the passengers on the boat were wearing life vests, according to the ministry.
“We were told by local authorities that they were not wearing life vests,” said Kang Hyung-shik, head of the international safety management bureau of the ministry, in a press briefing Thursday. “We were told that this was normal practice in the boat, but there will have to be further investigations as to why.”
After days of heavy rain in the city, the water level of the Danube was reportedly higher than usual and the current faster when the collision took place. Within an hour of the collision, some people were rescued 2 miles down river from where the collision took place, according to Hungarian media outlet Index.
Panorama Deck, the operator of the Hableany, or Mermaid, said there was nothing out of the ordinary when the boat set sail.
“We cannot confirm why the boat sank - it was just an average day, and this was a regular trip,” Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck, told CNN. “We carry out thousands of tourist boat trips every day. There were no signs that something like this could happen.”
South Korea dispatched rescue teams to Hungary Thursday morning. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was scheduled to leave last night.
“The authorities in Hungary are continuing the rescue operations, but they say it has not been easy because they were operating at nighttime and in bad weather conditions,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a written statement addressed to the public earlier on Thursday. “All diplomatic channels between the two countries must be on alert to assist the rescue and search work.”
Moon offered his “deep condolences” to the victims and their families in the statement.
The Foreign Ministry dispatched an 18-person rescue team to the country earlier on Thursday morning and another in the afternoon. Some personnel had experience in the rescue work during the sinking of the Sewol ferry in South Korea in 2014.
“All information regarding the rescue efforts and victims from the accident must be shared with their relatives in Korea as soon as it is available,” Moon said in his statement.
Despite the ongoing rescue work, the coldness of the river’s waters did not bode well for the missing.
“The Danube’s water is 10-12 degrees Celsius [50 to 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit], so those involved in rescue do not have much hope for survival of other passengers,” Index reported.
Hungarian authorities are also investigating how the collision took place. CCTV footage and videos taken of the accident by tourists show the two vessels traveling next to each other on the Danube, with the Hableany on the right side of the other ship, called the Viking Sigyn.
As the two vessels approached Margaret Bridge, the Viking Sigyn suddenly turned toward the Hableany and collided with it. Authorities in Hungary are reportedly investigating why the ship turned abruptly.
Some of the missing families were retired couples traveling with friends from a high school alumni group, the JoongAng Ilbo reported.
“My son-in-law and my daughter are among the missing,” an 82-year-old woman surnamed Lim, who lives in Daejeon, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “They went with other couples whom they know through their high school alumni group.”
Lim’s daughter, a 57-year-old surnamed Seol, and her husband, a 62-year-old surnamed Yoo, went on the trip with two other couples in the alumni group. Other than one man, surnamed Ahn, all five are among the missing 19.
“My daughter and son-in-law would come visit me at least once a week and we would get dinner together and take walks,” Lim said. “I wished them well on their trip, but I didn’t know that was to be our last good-bye.”
BY ESTHER CHUNG, KIM BANG-HYUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]