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(LEAD) Search for missing victims in Hungary boat sinking still hampered by adverse conditions

All Headlines 13:30 June 01, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS byline, photo; RESTRUCTURES; UPDATES throughout)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL/BUDAPEST, June 1 (Yonhap) -- Frantic efforts to search for 21 missing victims of this week's tourist boat sinking in Hungary are still being impeded by high waters, strong currents and poor underwater visibility, officials said Saturday.

On Saturday, South Korean and Hungarian workers plan to start surface-level searches up to 50 kilometers down the Danube River from the site of Wednesday's sinking in Budapest that left seven Koreans dead and 21 people missing, including 19 Koreans.

Underwater operations are expected to come later due to the adverse conditions. Divers from the two countries plan to determine whether to begin full-scale operations in the river on Monday morning, though they could proceed earlier than that, officials said.

On Wednesday night, the sightseeing boat carrying 33 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members collided with a Switzerland-registered cruise ship, causing it to capsize and sink into the river. Hungarian police have detained the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain of the cruise ship.

Hungarian workers search for missing victims of a tourist boat sinking in the Danube River in Budapest on May 31, 2019. (Yonhap)

In response to Seoul's request for support, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria that are adjacent to Hungary are providing support for the search operations.

"Austria, Czech Republic and other adjoining countries are providing necessary support," Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho said during a government disaster management session at the foreign ministry in Seoul.

"We are concentrating all our efforts in all areas, including expanding the scope of search operations and crafting measures to prevent any damage to or loss of bodies during the work to salvage the hull out of waters and search the vessel," Lee added.

Lee also said that coordination is under way to provide professional psychological counselors to help the survivors and the families of the victims.

Among the victims' family members, 43 arrived in Budapest the previous day. Another six are to arrive there later.

"We desperately hope that there will be progress in the rescue and search activities though there are very difficult situations due to the weather at the scene, fast currents and high waters," Lee said.

Lee has been presiding over the session as Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was in Budapest to oversee the search and other operations.

South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has operated its crisis management center around the clock to check any progress in the search operations in Budapest and the efforts to prevent any outbreak of African swine fever, which was recently reported in North Korea.

In a message to Seoul's Interior Minister Chin Young, Hungary's Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said that his government will make all-out efforts to search for the missing South Koreans and investigate the cause of the sinking.

In a reply, Chin called for active cooperation in supporting the search operations and handling and transporting the deceased.

Seoul has formed an emergency response team consisting of 49 people, including staff from the foreign ministry, police, the National Intelligence Service and other agencies, to ensure close coordination with Hungarian authorities.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha visits the joint headquarters of search operations involving officials from both South Korea and Hungary in Budapest on May 31, 2019. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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