The search for 21 missing passengers of a sightseeing boat that sank in Hungary continued Sunday as recovery efforts remained hampered by high waters, strong currents and poor underwater visibility.
Upon returning from Hungary on Sunday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the full-scale underwater search operation could begin Monday, as the Danube River’s water levels were expected to fall and currents to be slower.
“We will see the river conditions and dispatch divers to check whether the search operation is possible or not. If we cannot do it on Monday, we plan to attempt (to conduct) the operation the next day,” she told reporters upon her arrival at Incheon Airport.
On Wednesday night, the sightseeing vessel Hableany, carrying 33 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members, collided with the Swiss-registered cruise ship Viking Sigyn, causing the former to capsize and sink into the river. The collision has left seven Koreans dead and 21 people missing, including 19 Koreans. Seven Koreans have been rescued.
Heading the government’s emergency response team, Kang has been in Budapest since Friday to visit the collision scene, meet with the survivors and bereaved families of the victims, and seek cooperation from Hungarian authorities.
Korea has asked for a net to be set up around the sunken ship, to prevent bodies from being lost, but this has not yet been done because of adverse water conditions. Hungary is considering installing a structure around the sunken vessel as well, Kang said.
To salvage the hull of the boat, the Hungarian rescue team plans to place a large crane in the river as soon as the water levels fall, Kang said.
Korea is considering dispatching extra rescue personnel in case the search is prolonged, according to the top diplomat.
Seoul has already sent an emergency response team that consists of 49 people, including police officers and staff from the Foreign Ministry, the National Intelligence Service and other agencies.
During her three-day visit to Budapest, Kang met with her Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, and Interior Minister Sandor Pinter. On Saturday, she also visited a 66-year-old Korean survivor, identified only by the surname Lee, at a hospital there.
Extra footage from a security camera was released on Saturday by a cruise alliance made up of local tourist boat operators. It showed that the Viking Sigyn had hit the Hableany and disappeared from view before moving back to the accident site. It then resumed its previous course.
Korea will ask Hungary to swiftly determine the cause of the deadly boat sinking and those responsible, Second Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho said during a government disaster management meeting Sunday.
“We will call on Hungarian authorities to investigate the cause of the accident and determine who was responsible in a swift manner,” Lee said.
Hungarian police on Saturday arrested the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain of the cruise ship, identified as Yuriy C, on charges of negligence and carelessness.
Lee also said the identities of the dead had been confirmed by bereaved family members and that the government would do its best to smoothly carry out funeral procedures for the victims.
Korean and Hungarian workers are on the scene for the joint operations, but they were not able to approach the wreckage of the 27-meter sightseeing boat due to high water levels and strong currents.
Hungary’s water management authorities said Saturday that the Danube River’s water levels would soon peak at around 5.9 meters and fall to about 4 meters by the middle of next week. It added that no rainfall affecting water levels was expected in the next six days.
In response to Seoul’s request for support, Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, which are adjacent to Hungary, are providing support for the search operations, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.