30 May 2019
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The sinking of a boat carrying South Korean tourists in Hungary hits a sore spot in South Korea, where many are still traumatized by the sinking of a ferry in 2014 that killed more of 300 people, mostly students. The grief is compounded by claims by some South Korean tour operators and travelers that there had been safety concerns on the Danube where the crash occurred.
A total of 33 South Koreans were on the small boat to enjoy the night view of Budapest on Wednesday evening despite a downpour. A preliminary investigation showed that no one was wearing a life jacket when the boat collided with a larger cruise ship on the river, according to the South Korean government and its travel agency in Seoul.
Almost a day after the sinking, seven people had been confirmed dead on Thursday, seven had been rescued and 19 South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members were missing. Rescuers scoured the Danube for miles (kilometers) downstream, but prospects of further rescues faded as the river flowed rapidly and rose as heavy rains continued. The water temperature was around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-53 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the exact cause of the collision was still not known, some said there may have been a lack of safety awareness, such as when the Sewol ferry sank in South Korea five years ago. years, blamed on a culture that has long sacrificed the public. safety standards for profit and convenience. The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank as it sailed to the South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students.
Lim KyoungJae, director of a Seoul-based travel agency that has taken South Korean tourists to Budapest about five times in recent years, said he would have seriously considered continuing the boat tour in heavy rain.
“Heavy rains must have accelerated the flow of the river and reduced visibility,” Lim said. “If you don’t have a good night view, you really don’t need to take a boat ride.”
Many tourist boats on the Danube switch off their lights to get a better night view of the city. If that was the case for the boat that capsized on Wednesday, Lim said those who sailed on the larger cruise ship might have struggled to see the small boat sailing nearby.
South Koreans’ travel agency Very Good Tour said the boat trip was part of an organized trip to Europe. He said the agency organized the excursion after the tourists agreed.
“Other boats were also doing tours and we decided to continue after the passengers agreed,” said Lee Sang-moo, head of the travel agency. “Our company humbly accepts all the responsibility that is ours.
According to the travel agency and the South Korean Foreign Ministry, none of the South Koreans – 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer – were wearing life jackets at the time of the crash. Lee admitted that there was a possibility that there was no life jacket on the boat. A senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official Kang Hyung-shik said it was “customary” for tourists on Danube boat trips not to wear life jackets.
The boat, the Hableany (Mermaid), is described on the tourism company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet”. Built in 1949, it has two decks and a capacity of 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises. Mihaly Toth, spokesperson for boating company Panorama Deck, said the Hableany was on a “routine sightseeing trip to town” when the crash occurred.
Lee Deok-sun, a South Korean who took a tour with the Hableany in April, said he and about 28 other South Korean tourists were not wearing life jackets. He said his group hadn’t been given instructions on how to use the lifejackets and didn’t even know where they might be. He said he only saw one or two small inflatable boats tied with ropes to the bow of the boat.
“It was a very old boat and I felt some anxiety,” Lee said in a phone interview with YTN television station. “The guardrails seemed unstable … and the river was deep, so I was worried we would be in big trouble if an accident happened.”
After the capsizing, South Korean President Moo Jae-in canceled all his scheduled events and ordered authorities to mobilize all available resources to support rescue efforts in cooperation with the Hungarian government. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and the divers who took part in the rescue operations when the Sewol sank were due to fly to Hungary later Thursday.
The government’s swift response was in stark contrast to that following the sinking of the Sewol, which sparked an outburst of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures.
South Korean investigators discovered that the Sewol crew overloaded the ship with 185 cars when there was only room for 97. The crew members did not properly secure the vehicles and containers. so that they can carry more cargo. Although the captain reported 657 tonnes of cargo, investigators said the actual amount exceeded 2,140 tonnes, which likely prevented the vessel from regaining balance after making a sharp turn.
Rescue officials then missed a series of opportunities to rescue most of the passengers before the ship sank completely about three hours after the crew members lost control. Rescuers saved 172 people, including the ferry captain. He is currently serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of willfully negligent manslaughter because he ran away without issuing an evacuation order.
The public outcry over the sinking of the Sewol was so significant that it contributed to the ouster of Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence over another corruption scandal.
The Danube flows south, meaning missing people were likely to be swept away by the historic and well-populated part of Budapest. South Korean tourists included families and a 6-year-old girl. Her status was not immediately clear but she was not on a survivor list provided by the travel agency.
Associated Press writer Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this report.