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Courtroom in Budapest: Judge Leona Nemeth reads out the verdict

Photo: Noemi Bruzak / MTI / AP

More than four years after a shipwreck on the Danube in Budapest with at least 27 fatalities, a court in the Hungarian capital has sentenced the captain of a cruise ship involved to five and a half years in prison. It found the 68-year-old Ukrainian guilty of endangering shipping traffic resulting in death. He was acquitted of the charge of failing to render assistance.

On May 29, 2019, the ship "Viking Sigyn", piloted by the Ukrainian, rammed a smaller excursion boat while overtaking. On board the "Mermaid" were 33 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew members. The excursion boat sank, killing at least 25 passengers and both crew members. Only seven occupants were rescued, and one South Korean woman is still missing. It was the worst shipwreck in Hungary's post-war history.

"I can't rest for a minute because of the memories of that terrible tragedy"

Before the verdict was announced, the captain of the "Viking Sigyn" expressed his "great regret" about the accident. I can't rest for a minute because of the memories of that terrible tragedy. I can't sleep at night because of it," he said in the courtroom.

Footage from surveillance cameras showed how the Danube cruise ship "Viking Sigyn" approached the excursion boat "Mermaid" at great speed on a section of the Danube in the city center of Budapest that was popular with tourists and then rammed it while overtaking. The smaller boat sank within a few seconds.

The public prosecutor's office had accused the captain of the 2000,<>-ton "Viking Sigyn" that he had not concentrated on his duties for at least five minutes before the accident and therefore had not noticed how close he was to the other ship. After the collision, he did not fulfill his duty to help the drowning people.

Appeal announced

In the trial, which began in March 2020, the captain denied the allegations. He did not notice the smaller boat and suspected a collision with driftwood, he said in a written statement, according to the Hungarian newspaper "Blikk". When he realized what had happened, he suffered a shock and left the command to his second officer.

His lawyer had demanded that his client be acquitted of all charges. He blamed the captain of the "Mermaid" alone for the tragedy.

Both the prosecutor and the defense announced that they would appeal the verdict.