Conflict in rescue operation of sunken sightseeing boat in Budapest

There is disagreement between the Korean and Hungarian authorities on how to conduct the rescue operation of a sunken sightseeing boat.

According to the Korea Times, Song Shun-keun, the leader of the Korean response team in Budapest said that “while he respected the Hungarian government’s decision to raise the ship rather than conducting diving operations, he had requested that it reconsider its decision, so as to allow South Korean divers to look inside the sunken boat for bodies.”

János Hajdu of Hungary’s Counter-Terrorism Center (TEK) is heading the Hungarian search operation and “made it clear that his government was strictly prohibiting divers from entering the sunken boat as it was unnecessarily risking their lives.” Hajdu said that the operation to raise the Hableány was expected to begin on June 5 and may take four days. (Read Korea Times report here.)

Song Shun-keun of Korean response team (left) and János Hajdu Hungary’s Counter-Terrorism Center (TEK)

A week ago, last Wednesday, a large Viking river boat collided with Hableány, a smaller local sightseeing vessel with 33 tourists from South Korea and two Hungarian sailors. Seven Koreans were killed and 21 others including two Hungarians still missing. Seven tourists were rescued.

The accident happened in the middle of Budapest, close to the iconic Parliament building at the pillar of the Margaret Bridge. Although the highest point of the sunken ship is only 2 meters (7 feet) below water yet Hungarian authorities stated that the rain, the rising water levels, strong currents and poor visibility made diving impossible. The depth of the river at the location was 7.5 meter (25 feet).

The South Korean Embassy told reporters that an additional body which appears to be a Korean man aged between 55 and 60 was found 102 kilometers (about 60 miles) down river from the accident.

Hundreds of large riverboats, so called “long boats” park during the tourist season at the banks of the Danube in downtown Budapest. The boats often double or triple park during the season; traffic is heavy on the river.

Mr. Gergely Karácsony, an opposition politician and local mayor of Budapest’s Zugló district called to revise cruising regulations and review the technical conditions of Hungarian sightseeing boats. The sunken Hableány was a 70 year old Soviet built vessel. It was well maintained yet sunk in seconds.

Opposition media also pointed out that Swiss based boat operator Viking also owns (with the Hungarian government) part of Mahart Passnave company, the owner and operator of Budapest’s river harbors. Conflict of interest is suspected since Viking might influence government regulations related to Danube traffic.

The captain of the Viking Sigyn river boat involved in the accident was arrested; the 64-year-old Ukrainian man is from Odessa and maintains his innocence in the fatal crash.

György Lázár

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