Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér assessed the rescue operation following Wednesday’s Danube boat accident as having been extremely rapid and professional at a hearing before Parliament’s National Security Committee on Tuesday.

The Minister said he had taken control of rescue operations within half an hour, and the National Chief of Police, the head of the National Directorate General for Disaster Management, Budapest’s Chief of Police and the capital’s Director of Disaster Management were also present at the scene.

He said the cooperation provided by civil defence, the ambulance service and the public had been exceptional.

“Police boats and volunteer assistance boats appeared along the whole length of the Danube within a very short time. Police patrols rescued several of the passengers of the boat, which sank in 7-8 seconds”, the Minister said.

At his regular annual hearing, socialist Zsolt Molnár asked Mr. Pintér about the high amount of traffic on the Danube and the possible tightening of water traffic regulations. The Minister declined to say more until the events had been suitably analysed, but indicated that the Committee would also be informed following the closure of criminal proceedings.

In a statement to the press following the hearing, the Minister said: “Our cooperation with the South Korean government, the embassy and their divers is good”. “They are accepting our arguments about not entering the boat wreck in view of the fact that current visibility is essentially zero and we cannot know how far the boat has sunk into the riverbed and what ‘traps’ there may be inside the hull. It is currently life-threatening to enter the wreck”, he said.

He told reporters that exploratory rescue dives are continuing, and bodies are being recovered if possible, but the authorities do not want another tragedy. “The goal is to bring the wreck to the surface safely”, he declared.

According to Mr. Pintér, sonar scans have provided information on the approximate orientation of the wreck on the riverbed. The Adam Clark rescue boat is expected to arrive in the capital on Thursday.

The Minister also said that in the interests of facilitating the rescue operation, the Ministry of Interior has convened the Scientific Council on Water, in which it is continuously consulting with academics and scientists from the Budapest University of Technology.

Not long after 9 p.m. last Wednesday evening, the Viking hotel ship collided with the much smaller Hableány (Mermaid) tourist boat that was carrying South Korean tourists near Margaret Bridge in Budapest, causing it to sink within 7-8 seconds. Seven people were rescued from the river by the passengers and crew of other boats in the vicinity and the bodies of seven people were found, all of whom were South Korean citizens, while 21 people were declared missing. The bodies of two more people have been found since then, putting the number of people currently still missing at 19.

The 64-year-old captain of the hotel ship, who is a Ukrainian citizen, was arrested on Thursday following questioning. Based on the submission by the investigative authority, last Friday Budapest’s 6th and 7th District Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of the suspect. The court has ordered the suspect to be detained for a period of 30 days pending prosecution.