Ukrainian Captain Apologizes, Expresses Deep Regret for Budapest Boat Accident That Claimed 27 Lives
In 2019, a catastrophe struck the Danube River when a Swiss cruise liner collided with a smaller tourist boat. The tragedy, which occurred under a bridge during heavy rainfall, resulted in the sinking of the smaller vessel, named Mermaid, and the unfortunate demise of 25 South Korean tourists and two crew members on board. The captain of the Swiss ship, a Ukrainian, is now on trial in Hungary, charged with gross negligence leading to mass casualties.
Charged for Gross Negligence and Endangerment under River Code
The Ukrainian captain, Yuriy Chaplinsky, stands accused of endangerment under the river code, which led to the numerous deaths. It was alleged that Chaplinsky was distracted for personal reasons during the crucial first five minutes after his ship, the Viking Sigyn, left its mooring. The prosecution also alleges that no attempt was made to make radio contact with the smaller boat and no alarm signal to other ships was given. Besides the main charge, Chaplinsky also faces 35 other charges, including failure to assist a person in danger.
On May 29, 2019, CCTV footage shows the 135-meter long cruise boat colliding with the smaller 26-meter vessel near the Margit Bridge in the center of Budapest. Due to the collision, the Mermaid tour boat is believed to have sunk in less than 60 seconds. The Prosecutor’s Office argues that the captain of the Viking Sigyn had been distracted for at least five minutes before the crash. He is accused of negligently ignoring how dangerously close the two vessels were and failing to slow down and change course in time.
The Aftermath and Search Operation
The collision led to an extensive search operation. The vessel was raised out of the Danube by a massive floating crane on June 11, with the assistance of divers from South Korea. Some of the victims’ bodies were found weeks after the crash, more than 100 kilometers away from Budapest. The bodies of 27 victims were later found during weeks of searching, but one person remains missing until today.
The trial, which commenced on September 26, 2023, is an important step towards holding the captain accountable for the accident and delivering justice for the victims and their families. Judge Leona Nemeth presides over the court, and the verdict is expected to be delivered on the same day.
Chaplinsky’s Defense and Remorse
In court, Chaplinsky expressed deep remorse over the incident. However, he denied responsibility for the collision. Despite the charges and the prosecution’s arguments, Chaplinsky opted for a trial, refusing to plead guilty. His defense seeks testimony from a long list of witnesses, including some who would reportedly contradict the prosecutors’ claim that the captain didn’t quickly order his crew to begin rescue attempts of the people on the Mermaid.
In a separate case, prosecutors are also investigating the captain of a sister cruise boat, the Viking Idun, which arrived at the scene shortly after the crash. The captain, who has not been identified, is suspected of failing to stop and provide assistance to anyone in the water who may have been in need of rescue.
Reflection on the Tragedy
This collision is the most serious shipping accident to occur in Hungary in recent decades. The trial of Chaplinsky is a stark reminder of the heavy responsibility borne by those in charge of navigating these waters. It highlights the importance of adhering to safety protocols, the consequences of negligence, and the dire need for immediate assistance in the aftermath of such accidents.
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