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Hungary Commemorates First Anniversary of Tragic Hableány Boat Collision on Danube

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.05.29.

One of Europe’s most devastating boating accidents happened exactly one year ago in Budapest. The incident claimed at least 25 lives, while one South Korean tourist is still missing. Commemorations began Friday in Budapest near Margaret Bridge to pay respects to the victims.

Exactly a year ago, on May 29th, the Viking Sigyn cruise ship collided with the Hableány (Mermaid) sightseeing boat on the heavily flooded Danube River in Budapest, which then capsized and sunk in just mere seconds.

The tragedy was one of the most devastating shipwrecks that took place on Europe’s longest river, the Danube. Hableány had 33 South Korean tourists on board and a crew of two Hungarians. Seven tourists were rescued from the water after the collision but the rest of them didn’t survive. A female South Korean passenger is missing to this day.

Crane vessel Clark Ádám raising the Hableány on 11 June, 2019. Photo: Balázs Mohai

The shipwreck was found at the bottom of the river the next day, and the police ordered a partial restriction on boating on the river.

Due to the high water level, the wreck was inaccessible to divers for days after the tragedy, even with the most advanced equipment. As flooding on the river receded, divers were able to recover some of the bodies, but others were carried away and began to surface further downstream in other parts of the country such as Érd, Ercs, and Kulcs.

No Warning Sign Given by Viking Captain before Deadly Collision

It had initially been unclear what caused the accident but the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain of the Viking Sigyn, a Swiss-registered cruise ship, was detained and arrested.

The criminal investigation and the testimony of eyewitnesses revealed that the cruiser appeared suddenly and unexpectedly behind the Hableány, and it was clear to those on board that the accident was unavoidable.

Photo: Noémi Bruzák/MTI

The Viking’s bridge recording proved that it was actually a passenger who informed the captain of the accident, despite the cruise ship’s navigation system clearly showing him minutes before the tragedy that the small vessel was passing in front of them.

In November, Budapest’s 6th and 7th district prosecutor pressed charges against the captain, Yuri C, of criminal misconduct leading to mass casualties and 35 counts of failing to provide assistance after the collision.

According to the indictment, the cruise ship’s captain was inattentive, losing focus on steering the ship for several minutes. He further failed to keep a safe distance and signal intention to overtake the sightseeing boat. The captain also failed to meet the obligation of providing assistance after the collision.

Ship Collision – Captain Won’t Waive Right to Trial As Prosecution Proposes 9 Year Prison Sentence

A preparatory meeting for a trial was held not long ago on March 11th, which could not be attended by any of the South Korean survivors or the relatives of the South Korean victims because of the coronavirus pandemic. The captain’s trial was later postponed until September.

Hungary commemorates the tragic day

A commemoration was held today in Budapest near Margaret Bridge on the first anniversary of the tragedy. At the ceremony, a wreath was placed on the river by the crew of the Millennium ship of Panorama Deck, the company that operated Hableány. They also lit 28 candles and sounded the ship’s bell 28 times to commemorate the victims.

Photo: Márton Mónus

Prior to the commemoration, a prayer service was held in honor of the victims.

The Hungarian-Korean Friendship Association also paid tribute to the victims by placing candles, and an arrangement of flowers tied with a ribbon of the national colors on the river. They then tossed flower petals into the river from Margaret Bridge.

At a separate commemoration ceremony, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said the victims and the day of the tragedy would always be remembered. He added that the Budapest Mayor’s Office, the office of the 5th district local government, and the South Korean embassy will jointly erect a memorial paying tribute to the victims.

Choe Kyoo-sik, South Korea’s ambassador to Hungary during the commemoration at the memorial wall at the Pest bridgehead of Margaret Bridge. Photo: Márton Mónus/MTI

Choe Kyoo-sik, South Korea’s ambassador to Hungary, said the embassy would do everything it can to bring comfort to the families of the victims and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and that the families are compensated.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony said the municipal council will do its part in taking the necessary steps, highlighting the need to review boat traffic regulations in light of the accident.

Featured photo by Márton Mónus/MTI