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Police Arrest Cruise Ship Captain After Deadly Collision in Hungary

PortandTerminal.com, June 2, 2019

A Hungarian court on Saturday ordered the arrest of the captain of a passenger ship that collided with a pleasure boat that capsized on the Danube, killing South Korean tourists on board.

The Hungarian Parliament building is a highlight of tourists visits to the capital city of Budapest

For the South Korean tourists aboard the Mermaid, an 89-foot double-decker boat, it was one of the most anticipated parts of their Danube river cruise: sailing past the majestic Hungarian Parliament building lit up at night.

The boat was passing under the Margaret Bridge on Wednesday night when a much larger ship, the 442-foot Viking Sigyn, appeared to race up to the rear of the smaller vessel, clipping its stern and sending it spinning, according to video footage released by the police.

Flood waters have prevented attempts to reach the submerged boat on Saturday, three days after it sank in the Hungarian capital of Budapest with 28 people feared dead, nearly all of them from South Korea.

Tragedy touches raw nerve in Korea

In April 2014, the Sewol ferry/Ro-Ro ship sank killing 304 people, most of whom were high school classmates on a field trip together

The ferry sinking in Hungary has touched a raw nerve in South Korea, 5 years after the Sewol tragedy that killed 304 people, most of them teens out on a school fieldtrip together. The grief is compounded by claims by some South Korean tour agents and travellers that there were past safety issues on the Danube River where the accident in Hungary happened last week.

Viking Cruise’s Captain

The Viking Sigyn pictured above collided with a much smaller tourist ferry carrying the South Korean visitors to Budapest on a night tour of the city’s sights

The Ukrainian captain of the cruise ship, who denies having broken any rules or committing a criminal offence, was taken into custody by Hungarian police on Thursday.

No formal charges have been brought against the 64-year-old, identified by Hungarian police as C. Yuriy from Odessa, but his arrest by a Budapest municipal court in effect means he will not leave the city while the case is pending.

The court ordered his arrest for one month with the possibility of release on a 15 million forint ($50,000) bail, prosecution deputy spokesman Ferenc Rab told Reuters.

It is so far unclear what caused the accident, in which the 440-foot (135-metre) cruise ship hit and sank the smaller pleasure boat on Wednesday night.

The Danube River’s high water levels, which have stymied efforts to reach a sunken tour boat where 21 missing people could be trapped, are falling.

Water levels are expected to peak later on Saturday and the current depth of the river, just short of 6 meters (20 ft) should fall to about 4 meters by mid-week, the National Water Authority said in a statement.

That would leave the wreckage very close to the surface, according to sonar imaging, and should make it easier to search it for bodies and prepare to remove it from the riverbed, something divers have been unable to do under the current hostile conditions.

Prosecutors appealed against the bail option, Rab said, so the captain of the cruise ship will stay behind bars until the court rules on the appeal in the next weeks.

The captain’s lawyers said there was insufficient evidence to keep the captain locked up.

“Once he is released on bail he will not be able to leave the boundaries of Budapest,” attorney Gabor Elo said, adding there would be an electronic tracking device on the captain.

He still feels distraught over the number of victims this accident produced and asked us to convey his condolences to the families of the victims.

Captain’s lawyer

The captain was not at fault and there was not enough evidence to keep him locked up, the lawyer added.

“He committed no navigational error,” Elo said. “A lot of data is missing from the procedure here, barring us from declaring who is at fault and to what extent. Was it one captain or the other, were there external circumstances?”

A spokesman for Swiss-based Viking Cruises, which owns the larger vessel, said in a statement that it was supporting and cooperating with accident investigators.

“We are deeply saddened by the incident and our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were impacted and as well as to their families,” the spokesman said on Friday.

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