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Ukrainian boat captain found guilty in Hungary over fatal 2019 Danube collision

Tourist boat the Hableany, carrying mostly South Korean tourists, sank after being struck by another vessel beneath Budapest’s Margit Bridge.

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The captain of a river cruise boat that collided with another vessel in Hungary’s capital in 2019, killing at least 27 people, has been found guilty of negligence leading to a fatal mass catastrophe and sentenced to five years and six months in prison.

Judge Leona Nemeth with the Pest Central District Court found that the negligence of the Ukrainian captain, Yuriy Chaplinsky, had caused his river cruise boat, the Viking Sigyn, to collide with the tourist boat Hableany (Mermaid) from behind, causing it to sink into the Danube River within seconds.

The court acquitted Chaplinsky of 35 counts of failure to render aid. He may appeal.

The collision occurred May 29 2019, when the Hableany, carrying mostly South Korean tourists, sank after being struck beneath Budapest’s Margit Bridge by the much larger Viking Sigyn.

Seven South Koreans were rescued from the water in the heavy rain following the collision, and 27 people died including the two-member Hungarian crew. One South Korean is still unaccounted for.

Some of the victims’ bodies were found weeks after the crash more than 100km (60 miles) downstream.

The Hableany spent more than 12 days underwater at the collision site near the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament building, before being lifted from the river bed by a floating crane.

Hungary Boat Disaster Verdict
Judge Leona Nemeth announces the verdict in the deadly collision of the Hableany sightseeing boat in Pest Central District Court in Budapest, Hungary (Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP/PA)

Chaplinsky, the captain of the Viking Sigyn, had been in police custody since the collision, including being remanded to house arrest in Hungary since 2020. Part of the time Chaplinksy has already served will count toward his five-year sentence.

In a final statement before the verdict Tuesday, Chaplinksy called the collision a “horrible tragedy” and said that the deaths of “so many innocent victims” kept him awake at night.

“This will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Three employees of 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.

After the proceedings, Zsolt Sogor, a lawyer with the prosecution, said the verdict was in line with legal requirements, but that prosecutors believed Chaplinsky was liable for failing to render aid to the Hableany after the collision.

“I feel sorry for this person. He really did commit (this act) negligently,” Mr Sogor said. “But our opinion differs from that of the court in that according to our perspective, the captain of a ship must act. It’s not enough that his sailors go and perform a rescue. He should have co-ordinated the entire rescue to save human lives.

“We will see what happens during the appeal. It’s possible (the sentence) will be harsher, but one thing is for sure, it won’t be reduced,” he said.

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