A Hungarian court on Saturday June 1st ordered the arrest of the captain of passenger cruiser Viking Sigyn (MMSI 269057695), which collided with pleasure boat Hableany on the Danube late on May 29th, resulting in the sinking of the latter.
Flood waters were stopping attempts to reach the submerged boat on Saturday, three days after it sank with 28 people feared dead, nearly all of them from South Korea.
No formal charges have been brought against the 64-year-old captain, identified by Hungarian police as a Mr C Yuriy from Odessa. His arrest by a Budapest municipal court effectively means he cannot leave the city while the case is pending.
The court ordered his arrest for one month, although it left open the possibility of release on HUF15m ($50,000) bail, prosecution deputy spokesman Ferenc Rab told Reuters.
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 him locked up. The captain denied having broken any rules or committing a criminal office, said his lawyer in a statement cited by state news agency MTI on Friday.
The lawyer said that treating the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain as a suspect was premature, and at the moment was based on nothing more than a theory. The lawyer noted that experts’ opinions were not yet available.
As a result of the accident the 135-metre cruise ship hit and sank the smaller pleasure boat. Water levels were expected to peak later on Saturday, with the current depth of the river, just short of 6 metres, falling to about 4 metres by mid-week. That would leave the wreckage close to the surface and should make it easier to search it for bodies before preparing to remove it from the riverbed.
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.
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.
The accident happened close to the Parliament building and the Magrit Bridge in torrential rain.
The smaller ship capsized before sinking in just seven seconds on a fast-moving stretch of the river which had been swollen by heavy rain throughout May.
One person was found some two miles from the scene of the crash. The chances of finding further survivors were considered virtually zero because of the water temperature and the strong currents in the river.
The wreckage of the 70-year-old Hableany, which was refurbished in the 1980s, was found on the river bottom after several hours of searching near the bridge, which is one of the main crossings connecting Buda and Pest.
A crane ship has docked near the wreck in preparation for recovery operations. Viking Sigyn berthed on the River Danube in downtown Budapest following the collision. Abrasions could be seen on the hull.
Three of the seven bodies were found several kilometres south of the disaster site. The search for the 21 missing was extended into Serbia, given the fast-flowing current.
A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families. The team including 25 members from the country’s national fire agency, navy and coast guard.
The sunken ship was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, said Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for vessel owner Panorama Deck. The South Koreans’ tour agency, Very Good Tour, said the boat trip was part of a package tour to Europe. The tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return on June 1st. Most of them were family groups.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban told his South Korean counterpart Moon that more than 200 divers and medical staff were involved in the rescue efforts and that officials were planning to locate and hoist the sunken ship.
A further 38 relatives of the South Korean tourists who were on board the sightseeing boat were flown in on four flights that arrived in Budapest on May 31st.
According to initial investigations and video surveillance, the two ships were heading north on May 29th at 21:05 local time. When they arrived between two pillars of the Margit Bridge, for some reason the Hableány turned in front of the approaching Viking Sigyn, overturned and sank in about seven seconds. The two vessels were traveling closely side by side as they approached the bridge. The river was busy with boats of different sizes traveling in both directions. The captains of both vessels were experienced professionals employed for a long time by their respective companies.
Several people fell into the water from the ‘Hableány’, and the all survivors had been on an upper deck. The rescue operations were hampered by the rain and the fast flow of the rising Danube.