World

7 dead, 21 missing after tour boat sinks in Hungary

Rescue workers are scouring the Danube River in downtown Budapest for 21 people missing after a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank in a collision with a larger cruise ship during an evening downpour, killing at least seven people.

Tour boat collided with larger cruise ship

A Hungarian army boat passes under Margit Bridge in Budapest as rescue efforts continued Thursday following a ship accident. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Rescue workers scoured the Danube River in downtown Budapest on Thursday for 21 people missing after a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank in a collision with a larger cruise ship during an evening downpour.

Seven people have been confirmed dead and seven have been rescued, Hungarian officials said. Police have launched a criminal investigation.

The South Korea-based Very Good Tour agency, which organized the trip, said the boat was on its way back after an hourlong night tour on Wednesday evening when the collision happened.

Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members are missing. The tour party had consisted of 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer on a package tour of Europe. Pal Gyorfi, spokesperson for the National Ambulance Service, said those rescued were hospitalized in stable condition.

The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic parliament building on the riverbank.

Hundreds of rescue workers try to help at the bank of Danube River in Budapest after a smaller boat collided with a cruise ship. (Gergely Besenyei/AFP/Getty Images)

Police Col. Adrian Pal said the boat turned on its side and sank in about seven seconds. He said rescue operations were hampered by the rain and the fast flow of the rising Danube. The search for the 21 missing extended far downstream, even into Serbia, where the Danube goes after leaving Hungary.

The river, which is 450 metres wide at the point of the accident, was fast flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 C.

Major search effort

Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, which is about three kilometres south of parliament.

Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search. Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ "all available resources" to support the rescue efforts in Hungary. Moon's spokesperson, Ko Min-jung, said in Seoul that Moon also ordered the launch of a government task force led by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and for officials to maintain close communication with the family members of the South Korean passengers.

South Korean Embassy personnel help identify victims during a search operation for survivors from the tour boat. (Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI/The Associated Press)

A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families. Kang was also to travel to Hungary.

The ministry in a briefing Thursday said that the Seoul government will closely cooperate with Hungarian officials so that the rescue efforts can proceed swiftly and effectively. It said the tourists were not wearing life jackets.

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. Her status wasn't immediately clear but she didn't appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.

Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans — six women and one man, aged between 31 and 66. The company is arranging for family members of the tourists to travel to Hungary as soon as possible.

A man walks past a logo for the Very Good Tour company which organized the Budapest tour for a group of South Korean tourists. (Jung Yeon/AFP/Getty Images)

The boat that sank was identified as the Hableany (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.

Mihaly Toth, a spokesperson for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a "routine city sightseeing trip" when the accident happened. He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly. Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.

The Margit 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.

The river flows south, meaning that survivors were likely to be swept through the well-populated, historic part of the city.

Index.hu reported that other riverboats shined spotlights into the water to aid with the search, and that a film crew operating on the Liberty Bridge farther down the river directed its lighting equipment toward the Danube to assist.

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. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now