0352 GMT February 25, 2020
The boat reportedly collided with another tourist vessel near the Hungarian parliament on Wednesday, before turning over on the river, which has been flooding, with very strong currents, while a rainstorm enveloped Budapest, Reuters.com reported.
The foreign ministry said the South Koreans aboard the vessel when it sank were 30 tourists and three tour guides, in addition to a crew of two Hungarians.
Seven South Koreans were rescued, seven died, 19 were missing, and one Hungarian died, said Kang Hyung-shik, a foreign ministry official. The seven people rescued were suffering from hypothermia but stable, a Hungarian ambulance spokesman said.
South Korea planned to send 33 officials to Budapest, including a emergency rescuers and military specialists, presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said, and the government would provide counseling to victims’ families.
A massive rescue effort deployed boats, divers, spotlights, and radar scanning to scour the river for several kilometers downstream from the site of the accident, which took place soon after 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).
Journalists at the scene said they saw children’s ambulances on the riverbank.
There was a six-year-old on board, said Lee Sang-moo, an official of the South Korean travel agency that booked the group tour. But the child did not figure on the list of survivors, the agency added.
The National Ambulance Service mounted searches along a stretch of the river downstream from Budapest and was on alert along a section further south in Hungary, where all boat traffic was halted.
Television images showed the bank of the Danube closed off by police on the Pest side, across from the World Heritage site of Buda Castle.
The Danube’s flooding and currents made rescue efforts extremely difficult, a rescue diver told the state broadcaster, with water temperatures ranging between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius (50 and 54 degrees F).
The boat, the Mermaid, was a 27-m (89-ft) double-decker river cruise boat with a 150-horsepower engine and could hold up to 60 people, its owner, Panorama Deck Ltd., told state media.
Boat registry Hajoregiszter.hu showed the ship, originally built in the Soviet Union in 1949, received a Hungarian-made new engine in the 1980s.
Neither the registry nor the operator could be immediately reached for comment on the boat’s age.
A shipping expert told state television it was likely the pleasure boat had collided with a very large vessel that had sunk it very quickly.
The hull was found on the riverbed just a few hundred meters from its usual mooring point.