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A wake-up call

May 31,2019
A tragic accident involving Korean tourists occurred in Budapest. At least seven Koreans were dead and 19 missing as of press time after a small sightseeing boat carrying 33 Korean tourists sank in the Danube River. We are shocked at such a terrible loss of life in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. We express deep condolences to the deceased, their relatives and other loved ones.

The misfortune befell them when a larger tourist ship crashed into the Hableány (Mermaid in English), causing the smaller ship to capsize and sink at around 10 p.m. Wednesday. A rescue team is reportedly having trouble searching for bodies as the river grew rougher and deeper after heavy rains. The authorities said the 33 Koreans aboard the boat include 30 tourists and three guides, including a guide living in Budapest. They were touring six countries in Europe — including four in Eastern Europe — on a package tour run by a travel agency named Very Good Tour in Korea. Nine family groups were on the boat.

Our government has set up an emergency headquarters to deal with the mishap. It also dispatched a rapid reaction team (RRT) composed of Foreign Ministry officials and National Fire Agency officers to Budapest. They must share information with local authorities in real time and launch search and rescue operations. At the same time, our government must establish a system to effectively cope with such accidents overseas. As about 30 million Koreans leave for foreign countries each year for various purposes, the government must create a reliable system for when accidents occur overseas.

Along with rescue efforts, the RRT must try to find out why the outbound travel agency pushed the cruise regardless of bad weather conditions such as heavy rain and strong wind gusts. Many people also raised questions about the fact that the tourists did not wear life vests during the cruise. Some said the ship didn’t offer them to passengers. If that’s the case, it is a very serious issue. Foreign media outlets have reported that the cruiser was a 70 year-old vessel built in the Soviet Union.

Tours to Eastern Europe are growing in popularity among Koreans. Thanks to the amazing night view of the Danube, travel agencies increasingly include such cruises in their package tours. Yet did the travel agency in question really pay heed to following safety guidelines? The government must do its best to handle the case and check if our tour agencies are doing their fair share in safeguarding the safety of their customers. It’s wonderful that families can travel abroad together — and return safely.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 31, Page 30