The decision by lower courts to release on bail the captain of a cruise ship which collided with a sightseeing boat in central Budapest in May was unlawful, the Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court, said in a non-binding resolution on Monday.
On May 29, the Viking Sigyn cruise ship collided with a sightseeing boat that had 33 South Korean tourists on board and a crew of two Hungarians. Seven tourists were rescued from the water after the collision and the rest died.
Last month, a binding ruling handed down by a municipal court set the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain’s bail at 15 million forints (EUR 45,800). It obliged the captain to remain in Budapest and appear twice a week in person before the authorities investigating the circumstances of the collision.
The captain was taken into custody on June 1 on suspicion of criminal misconduct.
UPDATE: In its justification, the Kúria said that even the lower courts had said that the grounds for placing the captain under criminal supervision were not met, which, it noted, only applied if the suspect posed a flight risk, but not to the risk of evidence tampering. A suspect can only be released on bail if they are being placed under criminal supervision, the court said. However, it argued, if the lower courts decided not to place the captain under criminal supervision, then they had no grounds to release him on bail, either.
The case went to the supreme court after the prosecutor asked the Kúria to declare the captain’s bail release unlawful, arguing that he posed a flight risk and the Hungarian authorities had no information on his place of residence in Hungary. The prosecutor also underlined the risk of evidence tampering, pointing out that the captain deleted data from his mobile phone after the collision.
The defence countered saying that the captain’s place of residence was in fact known to the authorities and that he had not deleted any data from his phone. The captain’s attorney said at Monday’s hearing that his client had been “made a public enemy” despite his right to enjoy the presumption of innocence.