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(LEAD) Divers to test Danube conditions in prep for search operations

All Headlines 16:02 June 03, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; RECASTS headline, lead with updates on search operations; ADDS photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon

BUDAPEST/SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- Hungarian and South Korean authorities decided to send divers into the Danube River early Monday (local time) to see if they can start searching for the missing victims in last week's deadly boat sinking, officials said.

South Korea's quick response team of government officials dispatched to Budapest said it decided to send two divers into the river, starting at 8 a.m., to test whether it's possible to begin underwater search operations. Two Hungarian divers will also take part in the test dive.

"We're not approaching the wreck right away but trying to gauge the situation (down there) first," a rescue team official said.

The decision was made at the request of the South Korean government, as it has called for an underwater search before salvaging the ship so that the contents of the sunken ship won't be lost, including the bodies of 21 missing people.

Hungary prefers to lift the ship and reportedly wants to start salvage operations as early as Thursday if it's difficult to continue an underwater search.

Hungarian rescue workers move equipment onto a military ship in apparent preparation for underwater search operations on the Danube River in Budapest on June 3, 2019. (Yonhap)

A tourist boat carrying 33 South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members capsized and sank in the Danube River on Wednesday night (local time) after being hit from behind by a Swiss cruise ship. The collision left seven Koreans dead and 21 people missing, 19 of whom are Korean. Seven Koreans were rescued.

With little progress made in efforts to search for the missing, concerns have risen that bodies, possibly trapped inside the sunken boat or elsewhere, could be swept away in strong currents to neighboring countries.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha pledged to further strengthen cooperation not only with Hungary but also its neighboring nations, like Serbia and Romania, to make progress in efforts to search for the missing Korean victims.

"We'll work not only with the Hungarian government for search operations but with the neighboring coastal states, including Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, to make substantial progress in the search for the missing persons," she said.

"(Hungarian Foreign) Minister Szijjarto agreed to not give up hope for the last person and (Interior) Minister Pinter promised to use all available resources to make every possible effort."

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (on the screen) convenes a disaster management meeting with related government agencies on June 3, 2019, over the deadly sinking of a tourist boat in Hungary that left seven Koreans dead and 19 others missing,

Kang stressed she will continue to urge Hungary to ensure a swift and thorough probe be carried out to hold those responsible to account for the accident.

South Korean and Hungarian workers have been unable to conduct underwater searches because of high waters and strong currents stemming from days of rainfall. They have carried out surface-level searches along the Danube River with little success.

The rescue team was expected to start sending divers into the waters as soon as conditions are met, the Seoul government said earlier. The water levels had dropped to about 7.6 meters as of Sunday, compared with the previous level of 9.3 meters a day earlier. The speed of the river has also slowed.

Following the meeting, Kang briefed President Moon Jae-in on the accident and rescue operations.

South Korea will ask Hungary to seek a court order to put a lien on the Swiss cruise ship, known as the Viking Sigyn, responsible for the collision and sinking of the Hableany, a foreign ministry official said.

The move is part of preparations to seek damages and compensation from the cruise operator.

elly@yna.co.kr
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