Bodies recovered as crashed Danube boat raised to the surface

Four bodies are recovered as Danube boat is raised to the surface in Budapest after 19 South Korean tourists died when it struck a ship and sank in seconds

  • The Mermaid, an 89ft tourist boat, capsized and sank after it collided with a much larger vessel on May 29 
  • Rescuers rushed to the scene at around 9.15pm close to the Hungarian Parliament in downtown Budapest
  • The wreckage was discovered at a nearby bridge, but casualties have been swept for miles downstream 
  • Divers were searching the boat for more victims and rescuers carried away four body bags on stretchers
  • Nineteen South Koreans and a Hungarian crewman have previously been confirmed dead, with eight missing 

Four bodies were recovered from the wreckage of a tour boat that sank in the Danube River as it was lifted out of the water in the Hungarian capital today.

A huge floating crane, barges and rescue personnel were working early in the morning at Budapest’s Margit Bridge, where the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat sank on May 29 after colliding with a much larger river cruise ship.

The top of the Hableany was visible, as life jackets floated in the boat’s hull.

Rescuers recovered several bodies (pictured) from the wreckage of a tour boat that sank in the Danube River as it was lifted out of the water in the Hungarian capital Budapest today

A huge floating crane, barges and rescue personnel were working early in the morning at Budapest’s Margit Bridge, where the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat sank on May 29 after colliding with a much larger river cruise ship

The top of the Hableany (pictured) was visible, as life jackets floated in the boat’s hull. One of the rescuers looked on as the operation got underway

Divers were searching the boat for more victims and rescuers carried away four body bags on stretchers to a small police cruise boat waiting nearby

Divers were searching the boat for more victims and rescuers carried away four body bags on stretchers to a small police cruise boat waiting nearby.

Nineteen South Korean tourists and a Hungarian crewman have previously been confirmed dead, with eight people still missing.

Seven people were rescued after the nighttime collision amid heavy rain.

The Viking hotelship was berthed on the River Danube in downtown Budapest following the collision with the smaller tourist vessel

The 86ft Mermaid tourist cruise ship in an undated photo outside the Hungarian Parliament on a previous journey in fairer weather

Seven South Korean tourists are dead and 21 are missing, including a six-year-old girl, after a river cruise boat crashed into another vessel and sank on the River Danube amid torrential rain in Hungary. Police showed security camera footage from a bridge that showed the Mermaid (left) and the Viking (right) colliding. A police chief said the Mermaid ‘sank within seven seconds’

The collision took place at about 9.15pm on May 29 close to the Parliament building in Budapest. The Mermaid was found a few hours later near the Margaret Bridge

The lift is planned in several stages, depending on conditions such as the integrity of the hull and the discovery of bodies in the wreckage.

Rescuers plan to lift the Hableany using the floating crane and place it on a long barge. The boat will then be handed over to police investigating the collision.

Efforts to search for the missing victims of the accident and to raise the Hableany had been hindered by the Danube’s high springtime water levels – which are expected to fall significantly over the coming days in Budapest – and the river’s fast flow, as well as near-zero visibility under water.

Today’s rescue mission is planned in several stages, depending on conditions such as the integrity of the hull and the discovery of bodies in the wreckage

Efforts to search for the missing victims of the accident and to raise the Hableany had been hindered by the Danube’s high springtime water levels – which are expected to fall significantly over the coming days in Budapest – and the river’s fast flow, as well as near-zero visibility under water

The Viking appeared to hit the Mermaid from behind, before the smaller Soviet-era vessel (pictured today), which was carrying a total of 35 people, spun sideways on impact

The captain of the other ship in the collision, the Viking Sigyn, has been under arrest since June 1, suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident

The captain of the other ship in the collision, the Viking Sigyn, has been under arrest since June 1, suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident.

The Viking appeared to hit the Mermaid from behind, before the smaller Soviet-era vessel, which was carrying a total of 35 people, spun sideways on impact.

The Mermaid then capsized before sinking in just seven seconds on a fast-moving stretch of the river which has swollen during heavy downpours throughout May.

The wreckage of the 70-year-old Mermaid – which was refurbished in the 1980s – was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main crossings connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital

A total of 33 South Koreans were on board with none wearing life jackets, officials from the country said

Army divers joined police in the search operation, but the operation was complicated by high water levels and a fast-moving current after weeks of heavy rainfall

The wreckage of the 70-year-old Mermaid – which was refurbished in the 1980s – was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main crossings connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital.

A total of 33 South Koreans were on board with none wearing life jackets, officials from the country said.

Army divers joined police in the search operation, but the operation was complicated by high water levels and a fast-moving current after weeks of heavy rainfall.

Abrasive damage can be seen on the hull of the Viking hotelship after it struck the other boat – a witness reported seeing a larger vessel run into the back of the smaller tourist vessel

How boat disasters have hit Europe in the past

The Danube crash is the latest major river boating accident in Europe. Here is a list of previous disasters.

Deadliest

On July 10, 2011, 122 people drowned when a tourist ship broke up during a storm on Russia’s mighty Volga river, east of Moscow. Built in 1955 and overcrowded, the ship took only a few minutes to sink. Some 80 passengers were saved.

Previous case on the Danube

On October 23, 1996, eight people died after their barge, which was flying a Slovak flag, hit a flood barrier and sank on the Danube, in Austria’s capital Vienna.

Elsewhere in Europe

On June 11, 2018 in Russia eleven people were killed in an accident on the Volga when a catamaran collided with a barge. Five people were rescued.

On July 31, 2011 in Russia a pleasure boat sank after colliding with a barge on the Moskva river. Two people died and six disappeared.

On September 15, 2005 in Russia at least eight people disappeared after their overcrowded boat capsized on the powerful river Yenisei near the port of Dudinka in Russia.

On June 3, 2000 in central France an overcrowded dinghy capsized on the river Yonne near Sens, leaving three people dead. The dinghy, which had a capacity of 12, was carrying 36 people.

On May 29, 2000 in Portugal six crew members on a Norwegian freighter disappeared when the vessel collided with a Korean cargo ship on the Tagus river, west of Lisbon. 

A captain of a boat that was near the accident told online daily 24.hu at the time: ‘I am still in shock. I have never seen such horror in my life,’ the unnamed man was quoted as saying.

‘We were at the parliament when we heard that people were in the water – everyone stopped right away and started helping out.’

Police showed journalists security camera footage from a bridge showing the collision.

The Mermaid started to take on water before it was flipped over and started sinking as heavy storms raged in the Hungarian capital, local media reported.

In the hours following the incident, news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, which is about two miles south of Parliament.

Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several miles south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm. The temperature of the river water was between ten and 15 degrees.

The accident 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.

The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI at the time.

A team of South Korean officials went to Hungary to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families.

The ministry, in a briefing after the crash, said the Seoul government would closely cooperate with Hungarian officials so the rescue efforts can proceed swiftly and effectively.

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 six-year-old girl who died.

Cruise line operator Viking said one of its ships, the Sigyn, was involved in the collision. It said no one aboard the its ship was injured. 

The boat that sank was identified as the 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.

The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI at the time

The Margit Bridge – or Margaret 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.

In recent years, Budapest has emerged as a popular destination for film, television and other commercial video production.

Rescuers plan to lift the Hableany using the floating crane and place it on a long barge. The boat will then be handed over to police investigating the collision

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 travelers in 2018, with passenger numbers surging more than 13 percent to 14.9 million.

The Viking Sigyn, which left Budapest less than 48 hours after the collision with the Hableany, is back in Hungary on a scheduled trip and docked at the town of Visegrad, north of Budapest. 

Police said they carried out another inspection on the ship yesterday.     

Hungary boat sinking strikes nerve in South Korea five years after 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300

The sinking in Hungary is touching a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatised over a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly students. 

The grief is compounded by claims by some South Korean tour agents and travellers that there were past safety issues on the Danube River where the accident happened.

A total of 33 South Koreans were on the small boat enjoying the night view of Budapest on Wednesday evening despite a downpour. A preliminary investigation showed none was wearing a life jacket when the boat collided with a larger cruise ship on the river, according to the South Korean government and their tour agency in Seoul.

Nearly a day after the sinking, seven people had been confirmed dead on Thursday, seven had been rescued, and 19 South Koreans and two Hungarian crewmembers were listed as missing.

While the exact cause of the collision still wasn’t known, some said there could have been a lack of safety awareness, as in the sinking of the ferry Sewol in South Korea five years ago that was blamed on a culture that has long sacrificed public safety standards for profit and convenience. 

The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank while sailing to the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students. 

The sinking in Hungary is touching a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatised over a 2014 ferry sinking (pictured) that killed more than 300 people, mostly students

The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank while sailing to the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students

Lim KyoungJae, head of a Seoul-based travel agency who has taken South Korean tourists to Budapest about five times in recent years, said he would have seriously considered whether to go ahead with the boat tour in the strong rain.

‘Heavy rain must have made the current of the river faster and caused low visibility,’ Lim said. ‘If you don’t have a good night view, then you really don’t need to take a boat ride.’

Many sightseeing boats on the Danube turn their lights low to have a better night view of the city. If that was the case for the boat that capsized Wednesday, Lim said those navigating the larger cruise ship may have found it difficult to see the small boat sailing nearby.

The South Koreans’ tour agency, Very Good Tour, said the boat trip was part of a package tour to Europe. It said the agency went ahead with the excursion after the tourists agreed on it.

‘Other boats were making tours too and we decided to go on after passengers agreed,’ senior tour agency official Lee Sang-moo said. ‘Our company humbly accepts all the responsibility that is ours.’

After the capsizing, South Korean President Moo Jae-in cancelled all of his scheduled events and ordered officials to mobilize all available resources to support rescue efforts in cooperation with the Hungarian government. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and divers who took part in the rescue work when the Sewol sank were to fly to Hungary later Thursday.

The Sewol sinking triggered an explosion of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures

The swift government reaction was in sharp contrast to that after the Sewol sinking, which triggered an explosion of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures.

South Korean investigators found that the Sewol’s crew had overloaded the vessel with 185 cars when it had room for only 97. Crewmembers failed to properly fasten the vehicles and containers so they could squeeze in more cargo. Although the captain reported 657 tons of cargo, investigators said the real amount exceeded 2,140 tons, which likely prevented the vessel from regaining balance after making a sharp turn.

Rescue officials then missed a series of opportunities to save most of the passengers before the ship completely sank about three hours after crewmembers lost control. Rescuers saved 172 people, including the ferry’s captain. He is now serving a life prison sentence after a court found him guilty of homicide through willful negligence because he fled without issuing an evacuation order.

The public uproar over the Sewol’s sinking was so large that it contributed to the ouster of Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a lengthy prison term over a separate corruption scandal.  

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