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(2nd LD) S. Korean, Hungarian teams to begin full operations to search for missing victims of boat sinking

All Headlines 16:57 June 01, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL/BUDAPEST, June 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korean and Hungarian workers were set to begin full-fledged operations on Saturday to search for 21 missing victims of this week's tourist boat sinking in Budapest, officials said, although high waters and strong currents remain tough challenges.

They plan to conduct surface-level searches up to 50 kilometers down the Danube River from the site of Wednesday's disaster that left seven Koreans dead and 21 people missing, including 19 Koreans.

The South Korean team, consisting of staff from the Navy and fire agency, plan to conduct four separate searches in the morning and afternoon. It has borrowed four boats from the Hungarian authorities.

In response to the requests by South Korea and Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria have also been conducting search operations in parts of the Danube River.

Underwater operations are expected to come later due to the adverse conditions. Divers from Korea and Hungary plan to determine whether to begin full-scale operations in the river on Monday, 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.

Since Friday, Seoul's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has been in Budapest to oversee the South Korean team's search operations and ensure coordination with Hungary.

Later in the day, the minister is to meet the victims' families who have arrived in the Eastern European country.

Alongside the search operations, the Hungarian authorities also plan to resume preparations to salvage the hull of the ill-fated boat out of the water.

The authorities have been mulling when to begin the salvage operations in earnest, while taking into account adverse river conditions, including strong currents.

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

Seoul has formed an emergency response team consisting of 53 people, including staff from the foreign ministry, police, the National Intelligence Service and other agencies, to support search operations and ensure coordination with Hungarian authorities.

It has also decided to send four professional counselors to Budapest to support the victims' families.

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

In Seoul, Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho presided over a government disaster management session, reiterating the government will make all its efforts to search for the missing.

"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.

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 South Korean 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.

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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