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Tour boat sinking revives memories of SKorea ferry disaster
By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG | Fri, May 31, 2019 01:29 EDT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The sinking of a boat carrying South Korean tourists in Hungary is touching a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatized over a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly students. The grief is compounded by claims by some South Korean tour agents and travelers that there were past safety issues on the Danube River where the accident happened.
A total of 33 South Koreans were on the small boat enjoying the night view of Budapest on Wednesday evening despite a downpour. A preliminary investigation showed none was wearing a life jacket when the boat collided with a larger cruise ship on the river, according to the South Korean government and their tour agency in Seoul.
Nearly a day after the sinking, seven people had been confirmed dead on Thursday, seven had been rescued, and 19 South Koreans and two Hungarian crewmembers were listed as missing. Rescuers were scouring the Danube for miles (kilometers) downriver, but prospects for more rescues were dimming because the river was flowing rapidly and rising as heavy rain continued. The water temperature was about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-53 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the exact cause of the collision still wasn’t known, some said there could have been a lack of safety awareness, as in the sinking of the ferry Sewol in South Korea five years ago that was blamed on a culture that has long sacrificed public safety standards for profit and convenience. The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank while sailing to the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students.
Lim KyoungJae, head of a Seoul-based travel agency who has taken South Korean tourists to Budapest about five times in recent years, said he would have seriously considered whether to go ahead with the boat tour in the strong rain.
“Heavy rain must have made the current of the river faster and caused low visibility,” Lim said. “If you don’t have a good night view, then you really don’t need to take a boat ride.”
Many sightseeing boats on the Danube turn their lights low to have a better night view of the city. If that was the case for the boat that capsized Wednesday, Lim said those navigating the larger cruise ship may have found it difficult to see the small boat sailing nearby.
The South Koreans’ tour agency, Very Good Tour, said the boat trip was part of a package tour to Europe. It said the agency went ahead with the excursion after the tourists agreed on it.
“Other boats were making tours too and we decided to go on after passengers agreed,” senior tour agency official Lee Sang-moo said. “Our company humbly accepts all the responsibility that is ours.”
According to the tour agency and South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, none of the South Koreans — 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer — was wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident. Lee admitted that there was a possibility that there were no life vests on the boat. Senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official Kang Hyung-shik said it is “customary” for tourists on Danube boat trips not to wear life jackets.
The boat, the Hableany (Mermaid), is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet.” Built in 1949, it has two decks and a capacity of 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises. Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a “routine city sightseeing trip” when the accident happened.
Lee Deok-sun, a South Korean who took the Hableany on a package tour in April, said he and about 28 other South Korean tourists didn’t wear life jackets. He said his group wasn’t given instructions on the use of life vests and he didn’t even know where they might be. He said he saw only one or two small rubber boats tied with ropes at the boat’s bow.
“It was a very old boat and I felt some anxiety,” Lee said in a phone interview with the YTN television network. “The railings looked unstable … and the river was deep so I worried that we would get into big trouble if some accident happened.”
After the capsizing, South Korean President Moo Jae-in canceled all of his scheduled events and ordered officials to mobilize all available resources to support rescue efforts in cooperation with the Hungarian government. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and divers who took part in the rescue work when the Sewol sank were to fly to Hungary later Thursday.
The swift government reaction was in sharp contrast to that after the Sewol sinking, which triggered an explosion of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures.
South Korean investigators found that the Sewol’s crew had overloaded the vessel with 185 cars when it had room for only 97. Crewmembers failed to properly fasten the vehicles and containers so they could squeeze in more cargo. Although the captain reported 657 tons of cargo, investigators said the real amount exceeded 2,140 tons, which likely prevented the vessel from regaining balance after making a sharp turn.
Rescue officials then missed a series of opportunities to save most of the passengers before the ship completely sank about three hours after crewmembers lost control. Rescuers saved 172 people, including the ferry’s captain. He is now serving a life prison sentence after a court found him guilty of homicide through willful negligence because he fled without issuing an evacuation order.
The public uproar over the Sewol’s sinking was so large that it contributed to the ouster of Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a lengthy prison term over a separate corruption scandal.
The Danube River flows south, meaning that the missing people were likely to be swept through the well-populated, historic part of Budapest. The South Korean tourists included families and a 6-year-old girl. Her status wasn’t immediately clear but she was not on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.
Associated Press writer Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, contributed to this report.
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Honduras president, others targets of DEA investigation
By CLAUDIA TORRENS and CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN | Thu, May 30, 2019 07:08 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. federal court documents show Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and some of his closest advisers were among the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation.
A document filed by prosecutors on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York mentions Hernández as part of a group of individuals investigated by the DEA since about 2013 for participating “in large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States”.
Hernández was elected president of Honduras in late 2013.
The document is a July 2015 application to the court to compel Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL to give investigators email header information, but not emails’ content, for a number of accounts. Two of the accounts are believed to be of Hernández, the documents says.
There is no indication charges have been brought against Hernández.
Also included in the request are the email accounts of the president’s sister Hilda Hernández, his adviser Ebal Díaz and his security minister Julián Pacheco Tinoco. Hilda Hernández, who helped manage the finances of the president’s political party and his presidential campaign, died in a December 2015 helicopter crash. The request also named four members of the wealthy and politically-connected Rosenthal family.
Yani Rosenthal, a former national lawmaker and presidential candidate, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in 2017 for money laundering for the Cachiros drug trafficking organization.
The new court filing is part of the pre-trial motions in the case of Hernandez’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, who was arrested in 2018 in Miami and accused of scheming for years to bring tons of cocaine into the country. His trial is expected to start in September.
A spokesman for the Southern District of New York said on Thursday the court’s response to the application for email header information is not public information. He declined to comment further.
The document filed Tuesday raises the possibility that the DEA has email data for Honduras’ president and members of his inner circle dating to 2015.
Messages left for Díaz, who is Hernández’s de facto spokesman, were not immediately returned. Pacheco could not be immediately reached, but the government has previously denied allegations against him.
Pacheco has been dogged by allegations of his links to drug traffickers since at least 2017 when a leader of Honduras’ Cachiros cartel testified in another case in New York about his ties to drug traffickers.
Pacheco had served under Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, as the government’s chief of investigation and intelligence. Lobo’s son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in a U.S. prison in 2017 for drug trafficking.
In another document filed Tuesday in Tony Hernández’s case, prosecutors said “the charges against the defendant arise out of a long-term investigation of politically connected drug trafficking in Honduras” that began in 2013.
On Thursday, a DEA spokeswoman referred questions asked by The Associated Press to the Southern District of New York.
The U.S. government has been a staunch supporter of Hernández’s government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation because Honduras is a key transshipment point for cocaine headed to the U.S. from South America.
Hernández had especially curried favor with Gen. John Kelly who had led the U.S. military’s Southern Command and later became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Kelly advocated for continued U.S. support of Hernández’s government, noting their contributions to the war on drugs and progress in combatting corruption.
When Hernández’s already controversial re-election was marred by irregularities in late 2017, the U.S. government congratulated him while the opposition was still contesting the vote count.
With Hondurans filling the ranks of several large migrant caravans during the past year, the U.S. has continued to support Hernández while pressuring his government to stem the immigration flow.
Many Honduran migrants encountered making the journey to the U.S. border during the past year have referenced government corruption among their reasons for leaving. Thousands of doctors and teachers have been marching through the streets of Honduras’ capital for three weeks against presidential decrees they say would lead to massive public sector layoffs. On Thursday, a massive march led to clashes with police who fired tear gas against some protesters’ rocks.
Retired history professor Dana Frank, whose recent book “The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup” details the country’s recent political turmoil said the documents confirm the U.S. government has known about drug trafficking activities linked to Hernández for years.
“Why have U.S. officials — from the State Department to the White House to the Southern Command — continued for years now to celebrate, and pour security funding into, a government whose very topmost officials and security figures it has known were drug traffickers?” Frank said. “This evidence underscores the vast hypocrisy of U.S. policy, which backs a known drug trafficker and his police and military cronies, while claiming to do so in the name of fighting crime and drugs.”
Torrens reported from New York and Sherman from Mexico City. Associated Press Martha Mendoza contributed to this report from San Jose.
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Skipper of cruiser that sank Budapest tour boat arrested
By PABLO GORONDI and HYUNG-JIN KIM | Thu, May 30, 2019 09:50 EDT
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian police detained the captain of a cruise ship that collided with and sank a sightseeing boat packed with South Korean tourists, as rescue crews geared up to raise the vessel from the bottom of the Danube River in the heart of Budapest while scouring the waters for 21 people still missing.
Seven people are confirmed dead and seven have been rescued, all of them South Koreans, Hungarian officials said. Hungary’s state TV reported that all those rescued have been released from the hospital except one who is being treated for broken ribs.
Officials said preparations to bring up the 70-year-old boat, which was built in the former Soviet Union, could take days.
Police, who launched a criminal investigation into the incident, said late Thursday that they had detained and questioned the Ukrainian captain of the larger vessel.
The 64-year-old man is suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident. In line with Hungarian laws, the suspect was identified only as Yuriy C., referencing his first name and the initial letter of his last name. Police proposed the arrest of the Odessa resident, described earlier by police as an experienced sailor.
So far, only seven of the 35 people onboard, that included 33 South Koreans, are known to have survived the incident near the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. Seven others are confirmed dead and 21 remain missing.
A South Korean group on a package tour of Europe — including 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer— were on an hour-long sightseeing tour of Budapest when their boat collided with a Viking cruise ship during a downpour Wednesday evening.
Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members — the captain and his assistant — remain missing.
A map released by Hungarian police showed the locations and times the seven bodies were recovered, with one body found nearly 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) downstream, nearly 2-½ hours after the collision.
“Those contributing to the search will continue to do everything possible … along the full Hungarian stretch of the Danube’s coasts in the interests of the locating the missing persons,” Budapest police said in a statement, adding that the river was flowing at speeds of 9-11 kilometers (5.6-6.8 miles) per hour.
A crisis management team from the South Korean government arrived in Budapest late Thursday, as well as representatives from the South Korean tourist agency which organized the ill-fated trip.
“The most important emphasis of our government is the protection of Korean nationals overseas,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary Oh Sai Juengh said upon his arrival in Budapest.
The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the riverbank.
Video released by Hungarian police showed the sightseeing boat, identified as the Hableany (Mermaid), traveling closely side by side and in the same direction as a German-built Viking cruise ship as they approached the bridge Wednesday night.
The Hableany then appeared to steer slightly to its left, into the path of the 135-meter (443-feet) long cruise ship, which continued to sail on at the same speed. The two collided and the sightseeing boat was then seen tipping on its side between the bridge’s two supports.
“As the Viking comes into contact with (the Hableany), it overturns it and in about seven seconds, as it turn on its side, it sinks,” Police Col. Adrian Pal said.
Pal said it’s unclear what caused the Hableany to steer into the path of the Viking. He said several people aboard the Hableany fell into the water after the collision. The South Korean government said none of those on board was wearing a life jacket.
Police said rescue operations were hampered by the rain and the fast flow of the rising Danube. The search for the 21 missing extended far downstream, even into Serbia, where the Danube goes after leaving Hungary.
The river, which is 450 meters (500 yards) wide at the point of the accident, was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-53 Fahrenheit).
Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in the former Soviet Union. The Viking Sigyn was built this year, according to cruisemapper.com.
CCTV footage recorded on Wednesday night showed that the river was busy with boats of different sizes traveling in both directions.
Budapest has enjoyed a boom in overseas tourism in recent years. Long-haul flights from as far away as Dubai and Beijing increasingly fly visitors from Asia and the Middle East to the Hungarian capital, a relatively affordable but history-rich European destination.
Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) south of Parliament.
Police have questioned the Ukrainian captain of the Viking ship, but no details have been released. Authorities said both vessels’ captains are experienced, with many years of service with their companies. South Korean officials said the tourists were not wearing life jackets.
Relatives and a team of 25 official rescue workers were on their way from South Korea to Budapest Thursday. The team of fire, navy and coast guard workers includes some who had been involved in rescue operations for the 2014 South Korean ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people — one of the country’s worst maritime accidents.
Seoul’s presidential Blue House said President Moon Jae-in has called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to discuss rescue operations. Moon thanked Orban for the Hungarian government’s rescue efforts, and requested further support for efforts to find the missing, treat the survivors and recover bodies.
The Blue House said Orban told Moon that more than 200 divers and medical staff are involved in the rescue efforts and that officials are planning to locate and hoist the ship.
Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.
Budapest’s Disaster Management Office Chief Col Zsolt Gabor Palotai said the Hungarian army is setting up a pontoon near the capsized ship’s wreck and divers will go into the Danube from there.
The Very Good Tour agency said the tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return June 1.
Most of them were family groups, and they included a 6-year-old girl. Her status wasn’t immediately clear but she didn’t appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.
Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans — six women and one man, aged between 31 and 66. The company is arranging for family members of the tourists to travel to Hungary as soon as possible.
The Hableany is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet.” It has two decks and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a “routine city sightseeing trip” when the accident happened. He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly.
The Margit Bridge connects the two halves of the city, Buda and Pest, with a large recreational island in the middle of the Danube. It is the bridge just north of the famous Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge originally built in the 19th century that, like the Parliament, is a major tourist draw in the heart of the city.
Index.hu reported that other riverboats shined spotlights into the water to aid with the search, and that a film crew operating on the Liberty Bridge farther down the river directed its lighting equipment toward the Danube to assist.
Hyung-jin Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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Nigerian President Buhari sworn in again, faces challenges
By BASHIR ADIGUN and SAM OLUKOYA | Wed, May 29, 2019 12:59 EDT
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term as head of Africa’s most populous nation on Wednesday, facing heightened pressure to defeat Islamic extremism and boost the oil-dependent economy amid concerns over his health.
The 76-year-old former military dictator read the oath of office from a card as he stood beside his wife, wearing a traditional white robe and sunglasses. He did not make a speech.
Governors also were sworn in across the West African nation of nearly 190 million people, though the ceremony was canceled in Buhari’s home state of Katsina in the north because of security concerns.
Buhari won the February election despite serious questions about his health, having spent more than 150 days outside the country for unspecified medical treatment during his first term.
Along with a 25% unemployment rate and widespread poverty , Nigeria continues to confront a multitude of security threats that loom over Buhari’s second term. A new extremist faction pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group has made a deadly resurgence in recent months, overrunning military bases in the northeast and raising questions about how much support Nigeria’s troops receive from the government.
The decade-old Boko Haram insurgency also remains a threat . Bandits threaten the northwest, while oil militants remain active in Nigeria’s oil-rich south.
Deadly clashes between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim herders over increasingly scarce land also have wracked central Nigeria. Buhari has faced particularly sharp criticism over the crisis, as many Nigerians worry that he sympathizes with the herders as a fellow ethnic Fulani from the north.
Buhari also faces rising discontent over the poor economic prospects for most Nigerians, said political analyst Dan Ekere, a lecturer at the University of Lagos.
“There are also challenges with infrastructure, especially power. As we speak, we are still paying for darkness,” he said of a county where the rumble of generators is part of the daily soundtrack. “How do you grow the economy without power supply? There is nothing to show that we are moving away from the state we are in.”
Olukoya reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.
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1 dead, 3 including deputy wounded in East Texas shootings
Wed, May 29, 2019 03:30 EDT
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — Police searched Wednesday for a man they say killed a woman and wounded three people, including a sheriff’s deputy, during shootings that started at a plumbing company in East Texas.
A woman was killed and two men injured around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the business east of Cleveland, a city of 8,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Houston, Liberty County sheriff’s Capt. Ken DeFoor said.
DeFoor said the suspect, Pavol Vido, was driving away from the plumbing company when deputies pursued him on a local highway. He said Vido pulled off and exchanged gunfire with the deputies near a veterinary clinic.
A deputy was shot in the throat and flown to a Houston hospital where he was in stable condition, DeFoor said.
Vido fled and authorities continued to search for him. DeFoor said Vido was driving a white 2004 Mercury.
DeFoor did not provide the names of any of those who were shot, including the deputy.
Public schools in Cleveland were locked down Wednesday morning, according to a statement on the district’s Facebook page.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the suspect’s name is Pavol Vido, not Pablo Vito as police said initially, and that the initial shooting took place at a plumbing company, not a veterinary clinic.