Hungarian rescuers 'not far' from lifting tour boat wreckage

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.