BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian salvage crews prepared on Monday to raise the wreck of a pleasure boat that capsized on the Danube river in Budapest, killing 26 South Korean tourists and two local crew.
The Mermaid sank after a large Swiss-owned cruise liner struck it from behind on May 29 as both vessels passed under a 19th century bridge in the Hungarian capital during heavy rain.
It was the worst disaster in half a century on Europe’s longest river, which has become an increasingly popular route for big hotel cruisers.
The bodies of all but eight of the victims have been recovered.
Divers inserted four straps under the sunken wreck to allow a floating crane to lift it, possibly starting on Tuesday morning, according to South Korean Embassy defence attache Song Shun-Keun.
He expressed concern that the ship might break up, or bodies could be dislodged.
“Therefore, Hungarian experts spend a lot of time figuring out how to lift the ship in a good balanced position,” he told reporters.
Hungarian special forces spokesman Nandor Jasenszky said divers had fixed the straps and made all the necessary checks.
“The boat can be lifted soon,” he said, adding that the first phase, when the wreck is raised off the riverbed, will be critical.
Once the captain’s deck appears, they will stop and search for the body of the captain before continuing to lift the boat very slowly.
“It cannot be excluded that something happens to the hull (during the process) but we are hoping it won’t,” Jasenszky added.
The wreck will be placed on a barge before the police take over the investigation.
The Viking Sigyn cruise liner’s captain, a 64-year-old Ukrainian man identified by police as C. Yuriy, is being held as a suspect. His lawyers said he was upset but did nothing wrong.
Seven South Koreans were saved and 20 of the victims’ bodies have been recovered. On a nearby embankment, people have placed flowers, candles and teddy bears.
“I sincerely hope the missing bodies can be retrieved and brought back to their families to rest,” said South Korean tourist Lee Seung Hwan who was standing by the river.
Additional reporting by Krisztina Fenyo, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ed Osmond