- In 2019, a river cruise ship collided with a smaller tourist boat on Hungary’s Danube River, causing 27 deaths, mostly South Korean tourists.
- Yuriy Chaplinsky, the Ukrainian captain of the river cruise ship Viking Sigyn, was found responsible for the collision and sentenced to five and a half years behind bars.
- While some of the victims’ bodies were found weeks after the crash, one South Korean woman is still missing.
The captain of a river cruise ship that collided with another vessel in the Hungarian capital in 2019, killing at least 27 people who were mostly South Korean tourists, was found guilty on Tuesday of negligence leading to a fatal mass disaster and sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment.
Judge Leona Nemeth with the Central District Court of Pest found that the negligence of the Ukrainian captain, 68-year-old Yuriy Chaplinsky, had led to his boat, the Viking Sigyn, colliding with the Hableany (Mermaid) tourist boat from behind in the Danube. river, causing the boat to sink within seconds.
In its ruling, the court acquitted Czaplinski of 35 counts of failure to render aid. Both Chaplinksy and the prosecution appealed the court’s decision, and the judge left the defendant under house arrest pending a new trial.
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The collision occurred on May 29, 2019, when the Hableany, carrying 35 people, sank after being rammed under Budapest’s Margit Bridge by the much larger Viking Sigyn.
Seven South Koreans were rescued from the water in the heavy rain after the collision and 27 people were recovered dead, including the two-man Hungarian crew. A South Korean woman is still missing.
Some of the victims’ bodies were found weeks after the crash, more than 60 miles downstream.
The Hableany spent more than 12 days underwater at the site of the collision near the neo-Gothic Hungarian parliament building before being lifted from the riverbed by a floating crane.
Chaplinsky, the captain of the Viking Sigyn, has been in police custody since the collision, including his house arrest in Hungary from 2020. The judge ordered that the time Chaplinsky has already served count towards five and a half of the annual penalty.
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In a closing statement before the verdict on Tuesday, Czaplinski called the crash a “horrible tragedy” and said the deaths of “so many innocent victims” kept him awake at night.
“That will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
Three officials from the South Korean embassy in Budapest were present for the reading of the verdict, but no South Korean family members of the victims attended the hearing.
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After the proceedings, Zsolt Sogor, a prosecuting attorney, said the verdict was in line with legal requirements, but that prosecutors believed Chaplinsky was responsible for failing to render assistance to Hableany after the crash.
“I feel sorry for that person. He really committed (this act) negligently,” Sogor said. “But our opinion differs from that of the court in that in our view the captain of a ship must act. It is not enough that his sailors go to make a rescue. He should have coordinated the whole rescue to save human life .”
“We’ll see what happens on appeal. It’s possible (the sentence) will be tougher, but one thing’s for sure: It won’t be reduced,” he said.