Updated 8:34 ET ET May 30, 2019
Updated 8:34 ET ET May 30, 2019
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Rescue workers scour the Danube river in the center of Budapest Thursday for 21 people missing after a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank in seconds after colliding with a larger cruise ship during an evening cruise.
Seven people were confirmed dead and seven were rescued, Hungarian officials said. Police launched a criminal investigation into the incident. The tourists were not wearing life jackets, according to the Seoul Ministry.
The South Korean based very good travel agency who organized the tour said the boat was returning after an hour long night trip on Wednesday night when the accident happened.
Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members are missing. The tour party consisted of 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer on a package trip in Europe. Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the national ambulance service, said they were rescued in a stable state.
The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic parliament building on the river.
Police colleague Adrian Pal said the boat hit its side and sank in about seven seconds. He said rescue operations were hampered by the rain and the rapid flow of the rising Danube. The search for the 21 missing extended far downstream, even in Serbia, where the Danube goes after leaving Hungary.
The river, which is 500 meters wide at the accident site, was fast flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. The water temperatures were about 50 to 53 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earlier, the news site Index.hu was told that one of the rescues was found near the Petofi Bridge, which lies about two miles south of the Parliament.
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Thousands of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search. Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest assist Hungarian officials to identify the rescued and deceased.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ "all available resources" to support rescue efforts in Hungary. The Moon Spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said in Seoul that the moon also ordered the launch of a government service led by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung and for officials to maintain close communication with family members of South Korean passengers.
A team of South Korean officials went to Hungary on Thursday to help rescue and support passengers and their families. Kang was also supposed to travel to Hungary.
The Ministry in a briefing Thursday said the Seoul government will work closely with Hungarian officials so that the rescue effort can continue quickly and effectively.
The Very Good Tour Agency said tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were due to return on June 1.
Most of them were family groups, and they included a 6-year-old girl. Her status was not immediately clear, but she was not shown on a list of survivors from the travel agency.
Senior Agency Leader Lee Sang-moo revealed the seven rescued South Korean identities – six women and one man, between 31 and 66 years. The company ensures that family members of tourists travel as quickly as possible to Hungary.
The boat that sank was identified as Hableany, which is described on the sightseeing company website as "one of the smallest members of the fleet." It has two decks and a capacity of 60 people or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck sailing, said Hableany was on a routine sightseeing tour of the city when the accident happened. He told the state television that he had no information on any technical issues with the boat which he said were serviced regularly. Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship tracking site, lists Hableany, which was built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.
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, which, like the Parliament, is a major tourist drawing in the heart of the city.
The river runs south, which means that survivors were likely to be swept through the well-populated historic part of the city.
Index.hu reported that other riverboats shone spotlights in the water to help with the search, and a movie crew member operating on the Liberty Bridge further down the river directed his lighting equipment to the Danube to help. Budapest has in recent years emerged as a popular destination for film, television and other commercial video production.
Budapest has had a boom in overseas tourism in recent years. Long-haul flights from as far away as Dubai and Beijing are increasingly flying visitors from Asia and the Middle East to the Hungarian capital, a relatively affordable but historically rich European destination. Budapest Airport said it handles a record number of travelers by 2018, with passenger numbers rising more than 13 percent to 14.9 million.
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