BUDAPEST (Reuters) – South Korea’s practice of fingerprinting all adult citizens has helped forensic experts identify all of the bodies recovered so far from a boat crash in Budapest that killed 28 people, most of them South Korean tourists, officials said on Thursday.
The Mermaid, carrying a group of South Koreans on a pleasure cruise on the River Danube, capsized and sank on May 29 after being struck by a larger vessel, the Viking Sigyn cruise liner.
Seven Koreans were rescued alive. Fifteen bodies have been recovered and 13 people are officially listed as missing and presumed dead, including a Korean child and two Hungarian crew.
Police lieutenant-colonel Zsuzsanna Kreitz said that in such accidents, corpses are damaged and identification through photographs and ID cards becomes impossible. “We use fingerprints, DNA and dental records instead,” she said.
“We have Korean fingerprint experts on the scene. With a new methodology, they are able to record fingerprints from dead bodies that have been underwater for weeks, even months, then cross reference them with their databases.”
South Korean Interpol Chief Superintendent Im Byung-ho, leading the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) unit at the scene, said every body recovered so far has been identified at the Budapest Medical University using fingerprints.
The Korean government’s practice of collecting fingerprints from every citizen at age 17 had helped the effort, along with a method for taking prints from corpses, he said.
“We either inject air or hot water (into the fingertip) and then fill up the fingerprint and then we can collect (the print),” he said. “If water temperature is below 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) it is possible within 3 months to collect a person’s fingerprint.”
Once a fingerprint is registered and sent to Seoul, it takes roughly one hour to get a name.
“We only hope that the still-missing 11 (Korean) bodies are found and we will solve this situation,” he said.
The only passenger who will need to be identified via DNA is a six year-old child, whose fingerprint is not yet in the database, he said. The child’s body has not yet been recovered.
The disaster, the worst accident on the River Danube in more than half a century, occurred in heavy rain. In the week since, flooding on the river has receded, allowing divers to reach the wreck and recover some of the bodies. Corpses have also began to surface at the wreck site and further downstream.
The cause of the accident has not yet been established and police are investigating.
Swiss-based Viking Cruises Ltd which owns the larger vessel, said last week it was cooperating with investigators and could not comment while a criminal case was under way. The operator of the capsized vessel has not responded to requests for comment.
News website Atlatszo.hu said police have interviewed close to 300 witnesses and analyzed 40 CCTV recordings. Police spokesman Kristof Gal said that was a plausible ballpark figure, without confirming the precise numbers.
Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Frances Kerry