Seven South Koreans dead, 21 missing as Budapest tourist boat sinks

A fire brigade rescue boat takes part in the search operations for survivors on the River Danube in Budapest on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (MTI via AP)
Updated 30 May 2019

Seven South Koreans dead, 21 missing as Budapest tourist boat sinks

  • 33 South Koreans was on board, Seoul’s foreign ministry said, confirming the seven dead were Korean
  • The accident happened near the parliament building in the heart of the Hungarian capital

BUDAPEST: Seven South Korean tourists died and 21 others were missing after a sightseeing boat capsized and sank on the Danube in Budapest, Hungarian and South Korean officials said Thursday.
The accident happened near the parliament building in the heart of the Hungarian capital after a collision with a larger river cruise boat during torrential rain around 09:15 p.m. (1915 GMT) on Wednesday, according to officials.
A total of 33 South Koreans was on board, Seoul’s foreign ministry said, confirming the seven dead were Korean.
The youngest was a six-year-old girl, travel agency officials said.
The 26-meter tourist boat, called the “Mermaid,” was also carrying two Hungarian crew members.
“Our services have recorded the death of seven people,” Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for Hungarian emergency services, said early Thursday morning.
“Seven people have been taken to hospital in a stable condition with hypothermia and shock symptoms,” Gyorfi added.
“A further 21 people are missing,” a Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal told AFP.
“Police are searching the river throughout the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of where the incident took place,” he said.
Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several kilometers south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm.
The temperature of the river water is between 10 and 15 degrees, according to local media.
The search for the missing with the help of divers and police shining lights continued through the night, said an AFP photographer at the scene.
A film crew working from a bridge south of the accident site also used reflector lights to help light up the water through the gloom and pouring rain, reported local media.
Heavy rainfall since the beginning of May has led to high water levels and a fast-moving river current, complicating rescue efforts.
The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.
The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.
“It was a routine sightseeing trip,” said Toth.
“We know nothing about how it happened, the authorities are investigating, all we know is that it sank quickly,” he said.
An eye-witness told the Index.hu news-site that the Mermaid, which could hold 60 people on board, had been hit from behind by a large cruise boat.
Web camera footage from a hotel rooftop posted on local news-sites appeared to show the bigger boat colliding with the Mermaid.
The wreckage of the Mermaid was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital, local media said.
Access to the river has been blocked by the authorities, according to public television.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in instructed the government to “deploy all available resources” for the rescue, the presidential office said.
Seoul planned to send a team of 18 officials to assist the authorities in Budapest, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The foreign ministry said minister Kang Kyung-wha would leave for Budapest later Thursday as head of a government taskforce.
Embassy staff have also been assisting the emergency services in the identification of victims.
The Hungarian interior and health ministers visited the scene and expressed condolences to the families of the victims.


Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

Updated 7 sec ago

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

  • Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before
  • Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island

ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in Monday at a Buddhist temple revered by his core Sinhalese nationalist supporters, following an election victory that triggered fear and concern among the island’s Tamil and Muslim minority communities.

Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before, seven months after deadly Islamist attacks rocked the country.

The former defense secretary is lauded by his majority Sinhala-Buddhist community for leading a no-holds-barred military campaign that crushed Tamil rebels and ended a 37-year separatist war in 2009 when his brother was president.

Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island.

He did so facing the temple’s stupa, which is the tallest in Sri Lanka and dates back more than two millennia.

The imposing structure is said to have been built by a Sinhalese king who is venerated by Sri Lanka’s Buddhists for vanquishing an invading south Indian Tamil ruler.
Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Saturday’s election saw the country’s Tamils, who account for about 15 percent of the population, vote overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa.

During his brother’s 2005-15 presidency Gotabaya had unfettered control over security forces, while “death squads” that abducted dozens of dissidents, opponents, journalists and others also allegedly reported to him.

Many people were never found again after being bundled into feared white vans, while some were killed and dumped by roadsides. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement.

He has resisted international calls to investigate the alleged war crimes.

At his only press conference during a three-month election campaign, Rajapaksa reiterated that he will not allow Sri Lankan troops to be tried by any war-crime tribunal, foreign or local.

He had also pledged to exonerate and free from prosecution the dozens of military personnel accused of abductions, extortion and killings during his brother’s decade in power.

In his brief acceptance speech at the announcement of the final election results on Sunday, Rajapaksa pledged to work for all Sri Lankans.

“I am the president of not only those who voted for me but also those who voted against me... irrespective of which race or religion they belong to,” Rajapaksa said.

“I am deeply committed to serve all the people of Sri Lanka.”

The island’s minority Tamils have been campaigning for greater autonomy in areas where they are concentrated.

Tamil youth took up arms in 1972 demanding a separate state and their violent guerilla campaign at its height saw them control a third of the country.

After being in opposition for nearly five years, the Rajapaksa family’s comeback came after the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and the powerful Buddhist clergy rallied behind them.

Rajapaksa formally announced his intention to run for the presidency just days after Islamist attacks on April 21 that killed 269 people, promising to protect the nation.

The Easter Sunday suicide bombings on three upscale hotels and three churches was carried out by a homegrown outfit from among Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It shocked the nation, and the world, just as Sri Lankan tourism was booming and as the nation prepared to celebrate a decade since the end of the Tamil separatist war.

Rajapakasa insisted that extremists would not have carried out any attacks if he had been in power. He blamed the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for weakening the intelligence apparatus he had built.