Budapest boat crash: Captain arrested as hunt for missing passengers continues

The captain of a cruise ship has been taken into custody after a fatal collision with a tour boat on the River Danube in the heart of Budapest.

Hungarian rescue workers have been scouring the river for 21 people missing after the sightseeing boat carrying South Korean tourists sank in a matter of seconds after colliding with the larger cruise ship during an evening downpour.

Seven people are confirmed dead and seven were rescued, all of them South Koreans.

Hungarian Police said the 64-year-old Ukrainian cruise ship captain is suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident.

Video footage shows the moment the collision took palce under as the two ships passed under the Margit bridge during a heavy bout of rain in the Hungarian capital.

A rescue boat searches for survivors following the incident on the Danube. Credit: AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh

According to a preliminary investigation, none of the thirty-three South Korean tourists on board the boat were wearing life jackets. Two Hungarian crew members are also missing.

Human Resources Minister Miklos Kasler said four of the seven people rescued from the crash have been released from hospital.

"As the Viking comes into contact with (the Hableany), it overturns it and in about seven seconds, as it turn on its side, it sinks," Police Col. Adrian Pal said.

More than 200 divers and medical staff are involved in the rescue attempts, and officials are planning to locate and hoist the ship.

A six-year-old girl was registered to have been on the tour and her whereabouts are not yet accounted for.

Soldiers take part in the search and rescue operation. Credit: Zoltan Mathe/MTI/AP

South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ “all available resources” to support the rescue effort in Hungary.

His spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said Mr Moon also ordered the launch of a government taskforce led by foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha and for officials to maintain close communication with family members of the South Korean passengers.

A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operation and support passengers and their families. Ms Kang was also travelling to Hungary.

The 33 South Koreans included 30 tourists on a package tour of Europe, two guides and one photographer, according to the South Korea-based Very Good Tour agency, which organised the trip.

Agency officials said the tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return on June 1.

Most of them were travelling with families, including a six-year-old girl, who did not appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.

The agency said the boat was on its way back after an hour-long night tour when it collided with a larger cruise ship.

Damage is visible on the Viking Sigyn hotel ship. Credit: Zoltan Mathe/MTI/AP

Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans — six women and one man aged between 31 and 66.

The sunken boat was located early on Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic parliament building on the riverbank.

Employees from the South Korean embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.

Officials said searchers were checking the Danube for miles downriver from Budapest. The river was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10C to 12C.

The news website said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, about two miles south of parliament.

Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search.

The boat that sank was identified as the Hableany (Mermaid), which is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet”. It has two decks and capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises., a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.

Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a “routine city sightseeing trip” when the accident happened. He told state television he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly.