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Captain sentenced to jail over 2019 Danube boat collision

September 26, 2023

Some 27 people were killed when a cruise ship hit a smaller boat in Hungary in 2019. A court has now found the Ukrainian captain guilty of negligence.

A crane lifts a shipwreck out of the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary, in June 2019.
Only seven of the 35 people aboard the Hableany sightseeing boat survived the crashImage: Darko Bandic/AP Photo/picture alliance

The captain of a Swiss cruise liner was sentenced to 5 and a half years in prison by a Hungarian court on Tuesday over a 2019 crash.

Yuriy C., a Ukrainian national, was found guilty of negligence for his role in what has been called the deadliest shipping accident in Hungary's history.

His cruise ship hit and sank a smaller tourist boat on the River Danube in Budapest, killing 25 South Korean tourists and two crew members.

What happened on the Danube in 2019?

On the evening of May 29, 2019, the cruise liner Viking Sigyn collided with a smaller tourist boat called Hableany, Hungarian for Mermaid, near a bridge in Budapest.

The Mermaid sank in less than a minute, killing 27 of the 35 people on board. One South Korean tourist is still missing.

During the trial, the Ukrainian captain admitted he had "not seen the ship."

Several camera recordings proved the captain could have noticed the other vessel before the crash, the court found, either with the bare eye or on the ship's radar.

"However, the captain merely switched on the radar equipment, but did not use it at the time of the accident," the presiding judge said on Tuesday, according to Hungarian media.

A judge reads a verdict in a court room in Hungary, several people are standing around her listening.
The court found the captain guilty of negligence but acquitted him on charges of failing to provide helpImage: Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP/picture alliance

Captain 'haunted by memories'

The captain's lawyer argued that the accident was caused by the Mermaid, which had not given right of way to the larger cruise ship.

But the court found Yuriy C. guilty of "negligence posing a threat to water transport." He was acquitted on 35 charges of failing to provide help.

The ship's captain has been in custody since 2019, which counts toward his sentence. He can now appeal the court's decision.

In his closing remarks on Tuesday, Yuriy C. said he was "deeply sorry" about what happened. "The memories of this tragedy keep haunting me," he said.

fg/fb (AFP, Reuters, DW sources)