March 11, 2020 / 9:11 AM / 22 days ago

Danube boat captain goes on trial over crash that killed 27 in Budapest

Judge Leona Nemeth is seen before a trial of the Ukrainian captain of a Swiss cruise liner, charged with gross negligence leading to mass casualties after his ship collided with a tourist boat on the river Danube last May, killing 28 people, Budapest, Hungary March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A boat captain involved in the worst accident in more than half a century on the Danube River went on trial in Hungary on Wednesday over the crash in Budapest that killed 25 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew last year.

The Mermaid boat sank after a large cruise liner hit it from behind under a bridge in the Hungarian capital during torrential rain on May 29. Seven survivors were rescued from the river, but one woman is still missing.

Hungarian prosecutors said on Wednesday that the Ukrainian captain, Yuri Chaplinsky from Odessa, failed to pay sufficient attention and did not properly focus on steering the ship for several minutes during the downpour.

Chaplinsky, 64, has denied wrongdoing. He had worked on the river for more than 40 years, 30 of them as a boat captain. Prosecutors formally charged him in November.

River boats, from 100-room luxury liners to smaller, rickety vessels have become common sights in the Hungarian capital as tourism has boomed in recent years.

The collision turned the Mermaid crosswise in front of the much larger Viking cruiser, and it sank within about 30 seconds, according to video footage released by police last year.

The cruise liner’s owner, Swiss-based Viking Cruises Ltd, has said it is cooperating with Hungarian investigators.

Another Viking captain may be guilty of criminal negligence by allegedly failing to offer assistance, daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet reported on Tuesday, citing court documents. He ignored information on the crash and sailed right through the scene, the cited court documents said.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Peter Graff and Pravin Char

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