World

Death toll hits 9 in Budapest tour boat crash, as divers recover more bodies

The death toll in last week's tour boat crash on Budapest's Danube River has risen to nine, after divers on Monday pulled two more bodies from the waterway where the vessel sank, Hungarian officials said.

19 of 35 people who were on sightseeing vessel still missing

A rescue team continues its search for bodies Monday on the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. A tour boat and a river cruise ship collided there last week, killing several people and leaving others missing. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

The death toll in last week's tour boat crash on Budapest's Danube River has risen to nine, after divers on Monday pulled two more bodies from the waterway where the vessel sank, Hungarian officials said.

Of the 35 people who were on the sightseeing boat, 19 remain missing. The boat, called the Mermaid, was carrying 33 South Korean passengers and two crew members when a larger cruise ship, the Viking Sigyn, struck it last Wednesday evening near the Hungarian parliament building in the country's capital.

Seven people survived the crash, while another seven had initially been confirmed dead hours after the boat sank.

The agency leading the salvage operations said Hungarian divers found the eighth body in the water Monday morning during an inspection of the wreck. Korean divers who were also assisting in the search brought the body to the surface in the afternoon.

Police said a ninth body, belonging to a male, was found Monday night downstream at the village of Harta, which is 110 kilometres south of Budapest by road. The victim's nationality was not revealed.

Relatives of some of the missing South Korean tourists briefly watched Monday's search and recovery efforts from the bridge above the scene of last week's collision.

Family members of missing South Korean tourists watch the ongoing search operation from the Margit Bridge over the Danube River on Monday. (Laszlo Balogh/Associated Press)

Janos Hajdu, the head of the government agency co-ordinating search and rescue efforts, said Hungarian and South Koreans divers were working together to locate any bodies that may be trapped in the wreckage.

Despite a few test dives last week, the Danube's fast flow, its high springtime water levels and near-zero visibility under water have prevented divers from reaching the sunken boat.

"We will do everything except for one thing — entering the boat's wreckage is strictly forbidden," Janos Hajdu said. "It is an absolutely life-threatening manoeuvre, but on this we agree with our partners."

Hajdu said the wreckage was located nine metres deep — about three metres lower than previous official estimates.

A huge floating crane capable of lifting about 181 tonnes and hoisting the boat out of the water is expected at the scene within days. Hungarian state television reported that the crane was stranded roughly 120 kilometres upriver, unable to pass under bridges on its way to Budapest because of the Danube's high water levels.

An image of the sunken tour boat, the Mermaid, is seen during a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday. (Fedja Grulovic/Reuters)

Shun-keun Song, military attache at the South Korean Embassy in Budapest, said relatives of the victims were anxious for news.

"If conditions improve ... the Korean divers would like to examine the hull of the boat," he said. "The relatives in Korea are waiting very much for the missing family members to finally appear."

Zoltan Tolnay, captain of a sightseeing boat in Budapest, said he was about 1.6 kilometres south from the site of the collision when it happened.

"I didn't hear any communications between the two ships, the Viking and the [Mermaid], in which they would have talked," Tolnay said. "I didn't hear a warning. I didn't hear any indications.

"What we saw was a boat sinking in complete silence into a grave beneath the waves."

People mourn at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the boat crash at the banks of the Danube River on Monday. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)