(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead, paras 2-3 with updates)
By Kim Seung-yeon
BUDAPEST/SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- The wreck of a tour boat salvaged from the Danube River was safely placed on a barge nearly two weeks after its deadly sinking, officials said Tuesday.
Four bodies, three of them believed to be South Koreans, were found in the wreck early Tuesday (Budapest time), after its sinking that left 26 South Koreans dead or missing. The other body appears to be the Hungarian captain of the sightseeing boat, the Hableany.
If the three bodies found Tuesday are confirmed to be South Koreans, that would raise the number of Korean deaths to 22, with four still unaccounted for after the May 29 sinking, officials said.
A floating crane raised the boat from waters beneath the Margit bridge in downtown Budapest, live TV footage showed. Salvage operations began at around 6:30 a.m., local time (1:30 p.m. Korean time).
Less than 30 minutes into the salvage work, the ship's steering room appeared from the surface. Two divers were sent in to search and discovered a body believed to be the Hungarian captain, officials said.
The sightseeing boat, carrying 33 Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew members, capsized and sank after colliding with a large Swiss cruise ship. So far, 19 South Koreans have been confirmed dead and seven remain missing. Seven were rescued right after the accident.
Search operations to find the missing will also continue after the ship is salvaged, Song Shun-keun, a defense attache at the South Korean Embassy in Budapest, said.
South Korean and Hungarian authorities have continued their joint search along the river with divers, helicopters, drones and search dogs. The previous day, they searched areas up to 50 kilometers downstream from the site of the sinking.
Hungarian investigators carried out another search inside the Viking Sigyn, the cruise ship that hit the tourist boat, to obtain additional evidence amid growing criticism that the investigation into the sinking has not been thorough.
Hungarian police allowed the cruise to keep sailing two days after the accident, saying they had obtained enough evidence for the investigation. A Hungarian court has also granted conditional bail for Yuriy C., the cruise captain accused of negligence and carelessness resulting in the deaths.
Criticism arose as it turned out part of the cruise boat has been repainted in an apparent attempt to conceal and destroy traces of the collision.
The foreign ministry in Seoul said the government will continue to put every effort into dealing with legal matters in relation to the investigation and for the bereaved families going forward. A ministry official said that the Ministry of Justice has formally joined a disaster management meeting to discuss necessary procedures for the aftermath.