Hungarian rescuers not far from lifting tour boat wreckage

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian rescue officials said
Monday they have nearly completed their preparations to start the difficult
process of raising a sunken tour boat from the floor of the Danube River.

Eight people are still missing from the May 29 collision
between the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat and the Viking Sigyn river
cruise ship at Budapest’s Margit Bridge.

So far, 19 South Korean tourists and a Hungarian crewman are
confirmed dead from the collision that occurred late at night and during stormy
weather. Only seven people were rescued.

Rescue spokesman Nandor Jasenszky said four wire lifting
straps to raise the Hableany have been put in place by divers and that a few
other technical and safety arrangements are still pending. A huge floating
crane which arrived at the scene of the accident last week was being put in
position for the procedure.

“The boat will soon be liftable,” Jasenszky said,
adding that the process of lifting the boat, which lies around 9 meters (29½
feet) below the surface, could start early Tuesday but would not take place in
darkness.

“There will be different stages and levels of lift,”
he noted. He said “the most critical part” will be “a very slow”
procedure to raise the Hableany off the river floor.

Jasenszky said divers would search the boat for any bodies
in the hull once it was close to the surface and inspect the wreck’s condition.

If all goes well, the wreck will be placed on a barge near
the crane, from where it will be taken over by Budapest police investigating
the collision.

“This is the plan and we hope that’s how it will be
implemented,” Jasenszky said.

Search and recovery efforts have been complicated by the
Danube’s high springtime water levels, its fast flow and near-zero underwater
visibility. Hungary’s water management office said Monday that the river’s
water level would fall faster than expected in Budapest in coming days.

Meanwhile, Budapest police said they would again inspect the
Viking Sigyn, the cruise ship involved in the collision, which sailed on
shortly after the crash but was back in Hungary, docked Monday at the northern
town of Visegrad.

The cruise ship’s captain — identified only as Yuriy C. in
line with Hungarian laws — has been under arrest since June 1, suspected of
endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident.

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