Rescue workers looking for 21 missing people as seven confirmed dead in Budapest

Rescue workers looking for 21 missing people as seven confirmed dead in Budapest
Rescue staff takes part in the seach operation at Margaret Bridge on the River Danube in downtown Budapest, Hungary. Picture: Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP

Rescue workers are scouring the Danube River in Budapest for 21 people missing after a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank in a matter of seconds after colliding with a larger cruise ship during an evening downpour.

Seven people are confirmed dead and seven were rescued, Hungarian officials said. Police launched a criminal investigation into the incident and have questioned the Ukrainian captain of the Viking, but no details have been released.

The South Korea-based Very Good Tour agency, which organised the trip, said the boat - a 70-year-old vessel built in the former Soviet Union - had been on its way back after an hour-long night tour on Wednesday evening when the accident happened.

Authorities said both vessels' captains are experienced, with many years of service with their companies.

Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members are missing.

Responders  preparing for the search of victims next to a landing dock after a tourist boat crashed with another ship. Picture: Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP
Responders preparing for the search of victims next to a landing dock after a tourist boat crashed with another ship. Picture: Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP

The tour party had consisted of 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer on a package tour of Europe.

Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the National Ambulance Service, said those rescued were in hospital in a stable condition.

Video displayed by Hungarian police showed the sightseeing boat, identified as the Hableany (Mermaid), travelling closely side by side and in the same direction as the Viking cruise ship as they approached the bridge on Wednesday night.

The Hableany then appeared to steer slightly to its left, into the path of the cruise ship, which continued to sail on at the same speed.

The two collided and the sightseeing boat was then seen tipping on its side between the bridge's two supports.

"As the Viking comes into contact with (the Hableany), it overturns it and in about seven seconds, as it turns on its side, it sinks," Police Colonel Adrian Pal said.

Mr Pal said it is unclear what caused the Hableany to steer into the path of the Viking.

He said several people aboard the Hableany fell into the water after the collision.

The South Korean government said none of those on board was wearing a life jacket.

Police 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 10C to 12C (50F-53F).

Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.

CCTV footage recorded on Wednesday night showed that the river was busy with boats of different sizes travelling in both directions.

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.

Earlier: Seven dead after sightseeing boat sinks in Budapest

Rescue workers looking for 21 missing people as seven confirmed dead in Budapest

Seven people have been confirmed dead after a sightseeing boat carrying 33 South Korean passengers and two crew members collided with another vessel and sank in the Danube River in Budapest.

Rescue officials said seven bodies had been recovered.

Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the National Ambulance Service, said seven people were rescued and transported to hospital in stable condition following the accident on Wednesday night.

National police spokesman Kristof Gal said 33 South Koreans were on the boat, after early reports mentioned 32.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry later confirmed that 33 of its citizens were on the boat and said 19 were still missing.

It said the tourists were not wearing life jackets, but added this was customary for sightseeing boats on the Danube

Rescue workers looking for 21 missing people as seven confirmed dead in Budapest

The two crew members were identified as Hungarian.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ "all available resources" to support the rescue efforts in Hungary.

Mr Moon's spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said in Seoul that Mr Moon also ordered the launch of a government task force led by foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha to deal with the accident and maintain close communication with the family members of the South Korean passengers.

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

Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.

Rescue workers looking for 21 missing people as seven confirmed dead in Budapest

Officials said searchers were checking the Danube for miles downriver from Budapest. The river was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city.

Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search.

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 spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the "Hableany" was on a "routine city sightseeing trip" when the accident happened.

Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the National Ambulance Service, said those rescued were in hospital in a stable condition.

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

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

- Press Association

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