Hungarian police to examine raised wreck of Danube pleasure boat

Confirmed death toll rises to 24 as ‘Mermaid’ is salvaged in central Budapest

Salvage crews have recovered the wreckage of a Hungarian boat that capsized on the Danube river in Budapest last month, killing 26 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew. Video: Reuters


Hungarian police are stepping up their investigation into the sinking of the Hableany pleasure boat in Budapest, after it was raised from the Danube and divers recovered four more bodies, bringing the confirmed death toll to 24.

Four South Korean tourists are still missing, presumed dead, following the accident on May 29th, when the Hableany (“Mermaid” in Hungarian) collided with a much bigger river cruise ship during heavy rain and sank in seconds.

Seven South Koreans survived but 22 others have now been found dead, some inside or close to the wreck in central Budapest and others much further downstream, including one victim who was swept more than 100km to the south.

One Hungarian crewman was also confirmed dead, and police said one of the bodies discovered on Tuesday is almost certainly that of the ship’s captain; another is believed to be that of the youngest victim, a six-year-old girl from South Korea.

Lifting the boat

Divers worked for days in fierce currents and near-zero visibility to stabilise and run cables under the 27-metre Hableany, and at about 6am on Tuesday a huge floating crane began to lift the boat from its resting place near Margit bridge.

As the blue-and-white boat began to re-emerge from the swirling brown water, divers went back into the wreck and brought out the four bodies, which were handed over to South Korean rescue workers who have been in Budapest since the crash.

Police boats patrolled the Danube and police and special forces officers kept onlookers away from the scene, as the ship was brought back slowly to the surface and pumps spewed water from its dented hull, before the crane lowered it onto a waiting barge at about 1pm.

Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal said care had been taken to note whether the salvage operation caused any additional damage to the ship, which was built in the Soviet Union 70 years ago and overhauled in the 1980s.

“It will now be taken to Csepel for further examination,” he told reporters on Margit bridge, referring to an industrial district on the Danube in southern Budapest.

“Nautical and technical experts will examine the boat there and prosecutors will also be part of that process,” he added.

“The police have spent several days preparing the port to which it will be transferred, so that all investigative procedures can be conducted smoothly there.”

Mr Gal confirmed that four people were still unaccounted for.

“The Budapest police are doubling the strength [of their teams] in a southerly direction along the river to continue the search. I hope this will give us the right result and we will find the missing people as soon as possible,” he said.

The Hableany was completing an evening sightseeing trip when it collided with the 135-metre Viking Sigyn, a Swiss-listed floating hotel with 95 rooms.

Hungarian police have charged the captain of the Sigyn, a Ukrainian citizen officially identified only as Yuriy C., of “endangering waterborne traffic resulting in multiple deaths”. He denies causing the crash, which was Hungary’s worst such incident in 75 years.