BUDAPEST/SEOUL – At least seven South Korean tourists died, seven were rescued and 21 other occupants were still being searched for in the fast-flowing waters of the Danube River in the Hungarian capital Budapest on Thursday after a tour boat they had been traveling in sank, authorities said.
The sightseeing boat had been involved in a collision with a larger vessel on the river just as a heavy downpour swept over the city, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and Hungary’s National Ambulance Service said.
“The condition of the seven injured, who were hospitalized, is stable, they can communicate and they were treated against hypothermia,” said Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the ambulance service.
“Unfortunately, in the case of seven other people we could only confirm their death,” said Gyorfi, who added that with the prevailing temperatures of the water in the Danube, 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) maximum, body temperature is lost rapidly.
Police spokesman Kristof Gal identified the boat that sank as the “Hableany” (Mermaid), which is described on the sightseeing company Panorama Deck’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet, it is an excellent venue for cruises and smaller family events.”
Photographs of the boat show it had two decks, one furnished as a dining room and the other as an upper observation level.
It was listed as having a maximum capacity for 60 people, but this limit was lowered to 45 for sightseeing cruises.
A total of 31 tourists, including a minor, two tour guides – all South Koreans – and two Hungarian crew members were traveling aboard when it capsized around 9:00 pm Wednesday, Budapest time, police spokesman, Colonel Adrian Pal, said at a press conference.
The sunken vessel was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, a few hundred yards north or upstream of the country’s neo-Gothic Parliament building on the east bank, or Pest side of the river, one of Hungary’s main tourist attractions.
Video images showed that the boat had been turning to sail downstream when it suffered a collision with the bow of the “Viking Sigyn,” a four-deck river cruise ship with 95 luxury suites.
The Hableany had made a maneuver that left it right in the path of the larger vessel, which rammed it, causing it to capsize and sink in a matter of seconds.
“At 9:15 pm we received the information that two boats had collided and several people had fallen into the water,” said Pal at the press conference in Budapest.
Images of the Viking Sigyn’s bow taken on Thursday showed marks of the collision.
A team of experts, aided by divers, is to analyze the state of the sunken boat, found at a depth of several meters (yards).
Rescue teams were hampered by the heavy rainfall and strong currents, with bad weather being forecast for the coming days.
Rescue efforts were expanded to include the whole of the Danube in Hungary and ships movements were halted after it was calculated that the bodies could have been dragged several kilometers (miles) downstream by the strong currents of the river.
Based on these calculations, the focus of the search was moving southwards, outside Budapest.
The Danube, one of the main waterways transporting goods in Europe, crosses the Hungarian capital separating its two halves, Buda and Pest, and offers tourists and inhabitants a beautiful panorama.
The South Korean embassy in Hungary established an emergency team, set up special consular efforts and is coordinating closely with local authorities, while an 18-member rapid-reaction team was being sent to Budapest, the ministry in Seoul said.
The team is to be headed by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, the first woman to occupy the post.