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Several killed, captain arrested after Hungarian tourist boat capsizes

Antonio Bronic, Reuters | Police special forces officers and divers are seen on a boat at the site of a ship accident, which killed several people, near Margaret Bridge on the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary, May 30, 2019.

Hungarian police have detained the captain of a cruise ship that collided with a sightseeing boat packed with South Korean tourists causing it to capsize in the Danube River leaving at least seven people dead.

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Seven people have been confirmed dead and seven rescued, while 21 people still remain missing in the rivers dark and murky waters.

A South Korean group on a package tour of Europe -- including 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer -- were on an hour-long sightseeing tour of Budapest when their boat – the Mermaid -- collided with a Viking cruise ship during stormy weather on Wednesday evening.

Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members remain missing.

The boat's sinking has touched a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatised over a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly students.

Survivors have given accounts saying they were lucky to grab onto a drifting lifeboat on that fateful Wednesday evening while looking in horror as others around them floundered in the choppy, rainy waters, crying out for help.

'I never imagined it would ram our boat'

Their small sightseeing boat had almost finished its tour and was almost at a stop when the larger cruise ship hit it under a bridge near the riverbank parliament building, a city landmark. They said about 20 people were on the deck taking photographs or preparing to disembark. The others were in the cabin.

"I saw that big cruise ship coming closer to us but I had never imagined it would ram our boat," said 31-year-old South Korean Jeong to Yonhap news agency.

Jeong said she and others on the deck were thrown into the cold Danube waters by the impact of the collision. Police said it took only seven seconds for the boat to overturn and sink.

She said she saw a lifeboat drifting close by and managed to seize hold of it, also throwing a rope to another tourist surnamed Yoon.

People trapped

"Our boat was turned over in an instant and began sinking," Yoon, 32, told Yonhap. "All those on the deck fell into water and I think those staying in the cabin on the first floor couldn't probably get out of the ship swiftly."

Rescue crews are looking for the missing people, but operations have been hampered by the rain and the fast flowing and rising River Danube. The search for the 21 missing has extended far downstream, even into Serbia, where the Danube goes after leaving Hungary.

Meanwhile, crews also prepared to raise the sunken boat. Officials have said that due to heavy currents it could take days to recover the 70-year-old boat, which according to the boat register was originally manufactured in 1949 in the Soviet Union and received a Hungarian-made new engine in the 1980s.

Ukrainian captain

Police, who launched a criminal investigation into the incident, said late Thursday that they had detained and questioned the Ukrainian captain of the larger vessel.

The 64-year-old man is suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident. In line with Hungarian laws, the suspect was identified only as Yuriy C., referencing his first name and the initial letter of his last name. Police proposed the arrest of the Odessa resident, described earlier by police as an experienced sailor.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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