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(2nd LD) Divers test Danube conditions in prep for search operations

All News 17:11 June 03, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead and paras 2 and 4 with updates on test diving; UPDATES with minor edits; TRIMS; RESTRUCTURES; CHANGES photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon

BUDAPEST/SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korean and Hungarian divers went underwater in the Danube River on Monday to determine if they can start searching for the missing victims of last week's deadly boat sinking, officials said.

Two divers from South Korea's quick response team dispatched to Budapest went into the water at about 9 a.m., from a barge docked in the river in Hungary's capital. Two Hungarian divers also took 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.

Monday's test dive is the first to be carried out by Korean professionals after the tourist boat carrying 33 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members capsized and sank in the river after being hit by a larger cruise ship on late Wednesday.

The collision left seven Koreans killed and 21 people missing, 19 of whom are Korean. Seven were rescued.

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 divers get ready to go underwater in the Danube River in Budapest on June 3, 2019, as part of a test to see if they and Korean rescue team dispatched to the site can conduct underwater search operations to find the 21 missing victims in a deadly tourist boat sinking. (Yonhap)

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.

President Moon Jae-in on Monday stressed the government's resolve not to abandon efforts to search for the missing victims. He was briefed by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who returned from Budapest on Sunday, on the latest on the rescue operations and other details.

As the head of the government response team, Kang 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 had been unable to conduct underwater searches because of high waters and strong currents stemming from days of rainfall. They 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.

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.


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