At least seven people have died and more than a dozen are missing after a sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank on the flooding Danube in Hungary’s capital, according to police and rescue officials.
The vessel was reportedly hit on Wednesday by another tourist boat near the Hungarian parliament building, then turned over on the river – which has been flooding with very strong currents, -while a rainstorm enveloped Budapest.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman of the boat’s owner, told state television that the double-decker river cruise boat – identified as the “Hableany” (Mermaid) – had sunk.
A massive rescue effort was under way with boats, divers, spotlights, and radar scanning along the river several kilometres downstream.
The boat was reportedly carrying at least 32 South Korean tourists plus a crew of two Hungarians.
Officials said 14 people had been pulled out of the water so far. Seven of them have died, with the other seven suffering from hypothermia but stable. It was not immediately clear exactly how many of the at least 20 remaining people were still missing.
Staff from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.
Dozens of emergency vehicles were visible on a stretch several kilometres downstream from the site of the accident, which happened shortly after 9pm (19:00 GMT).
The hours that have passed since the accident make it less likely that new survivors will be found in the central Budapest area, as the strong currents have carried people far downstream, emergency rescue chiefs told state media.
The National Ambulance Service was conducting searches on along stretch downstream from Budapest and on alert on the entire Danube stretch south of Budapest in Hungary, where all boat traffic has been halted.
Television footage showed the bank of the Danube closed off by police on the Pest side, across from the World Heritage site of Buda Castle.
The Danube’s flooding and currents made rescue efforts extremely difficult, a rescue diver told the state broadcaster, adding that the waters of the Danube were only about 10-12 degrees Celsius.
The boat was is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet”. It had two decks, a 150-horsepower engine and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
A shipping expert told state television that it was likely that the capsized boat had collided with a very large vessel that had sunk it very quickly.
The hull is yet to be found on the riverbed.