Viking cruise ship captain charged over deadly collision on the River Danube

BUDAPEST, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Hungarian prosecutors on Thursday charged the Ukrainian captain of a Swiss cruise liner which hit and sank another boat in May with misconduct leading to mass casualties and 35 counts of failing to provide help in a disaster which killed 27 people.

The smaller tourist boat Mermaid, with 35 people on board, sank after being hit by the river cruiser in Budapest under a bridge during heavy rain.

Twenty five of those killed were South Koreans. The Mermaid's captain and its crew member also died. One Korean is still missing. It was the worst disaster on the Danube in more than half a century.

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Cruise ship collision on the River Danube
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Cruise ship collision on the River Danube
A barge arrives with the inspected wreckage of the Hableany sightseeing boat to a guarded dock in northern in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, June 13, 2019, two days after the wreckage was salvaged from the riverbed. A Budapest court says that the Ukrainian cruise ship captain suspected of responsibility in a deadly collision with a sightseeing boat on the Danube River has been released on bail. The captain's Viking Sigyn collided with the Hableany (Mermaid) on May 29. (Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP)
A crane lifts the sightseeing boat out of the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Eight people are still missing from the May 29 collision between the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat and the Viking Sigyn river cruise ship at Budapest's Margit Bridge. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2019 file photo, a crane places the wreckage of the sightseeing boat on a transporting barge at Margaret Bridge, the scene of the fatal boat accident in Budapest, Hungary. Hungarian prosecutors say they have charged the captain of a cruise ship involved in a May 2019 collision on the Danube River in which 28 people were killed. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP, file)
A barge carries the sightseeing boat past the house of parliament on the Danube river after it was lifted from riverbed in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Four people are still missing from the May 29 collision between the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat and the Viking Sigyn river cruise ship near to Budapest's Margit Bridge. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
A crane lifts the sightseeing boat out of the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Eight people are still missing from the May 29 collision between the Hableany (Mermaid) sightseeing boat and the Viking Sigyn river cruise ship at Budapest's Margit Bridge. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2019 file photo, a body found in the shipwreck is transported to land during the recovery operation at Margaret Bridge, the scene of the fatal boat accident in Budapest, Hungary. Hungarian prosecutors say they have charged the captain of a cruise ship involved in a May 2019 collision on the Danube River in which 28 people were killed. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP, file)
A woman throws a flower from the Margaret Bridge during a search operation on the River Danube in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 30, 2019, following a collision of a hotel ship and a smaller cruise ship on the previous evening. The cruise ship sank with thirty-three South Korean passengers and two Hungarian staff on board. The shipwreck has been found at Margaret Bridge. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP)
Members of the Taekwondo Division of the Ujpest Gymnastics Association (UTE) throw flowers into the Danube river from the Margaret Bridge to commemorate the victims of the capsized sightseeing boat in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, June 13, 2019, two days after the wreckage was salvaged from the riverbed. The sightseeing boat carrying 33 South Korean tourists sank on collision with a large river cruise ship on 29 May. (Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP)
The Viking Sigyn hotel ship is moored following a collision with a sightseeing boat in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 30, 2019. A massive search was underway on the Danube River in downtown Budapest for over a dozen people missing after a sightseeing boat with 33 South Korean tourists sank after colliding with another vessel during an evening downpour. Seven people are confirmed dead, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
Accompanied by his lawyer Gabor M Toth (R), the captain of the Swiss Viking Sigyn cruise vessel Yuriy C (L) from Ukraine steps out from the building of Budapest jail on June 13, 2019 after he was released on bail following a court order. - The death toll from a Budapest tourist boat sinking rose to 25 with a man's body found about 100 kilometres from the accident site, police said on June 13, 2019. The Mermaid capsized seconds after colliding with the bigger river cruise vessel on a busy stretch of the Danube in the heart of the Hungarian capital on May 29. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Accompanied by his lawyer Gabor M Toth (R), the captain of the Swiss Viking Sigyn cruise vessel Yuriy C (L) from Ukraine steps out from the building of Budapest jail on June 13, 2019 after he was released on bail following a court order. - The death toll from a Budapest tourist boat sinking rose to 25 with a man's body found about 100 kilometres from the accident site, police said on June 13, 2019. The Mermaid capsized seconds after colliding with the bigger river cruise vessel on a busy stretch of the Danube in the heart of the Hungarian capital on May 29. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)
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The smaller boat, the Mermaid, overtook the cruise ship and had the right of way as it attempted to sail under the bridge, prosecutors said. Nonetheless, the captain of the cruiser accelerated, even though the small boat was in clear view and also visible on the radar.

"The captain failed to pay sufficient attention, he did not focus on steering the ship for several minutes," the prosecutors said, adding that the captain failed to keep a safe distance and did not send the radio and sound signals needed when overtaking.

"(After the collision) the Mermaid got fully submerged, under water, within about 30 seconds, and sank."

Police have identified the captain as 64-year-old C. Yuriy from Odessa, Ukraine. His lawyers have previously said he was devastated but did nothing wrong.

The liner's owner, Swiss-based Viking Cruises Ltd, has said it was cooperating with Hungarian investigators.

Prosecutors said on Thursday that the charges against the captain, if proven guilty, could lead to two to 11 years in prison.

They also asked the Pest Central District Court to convict the captain and sentence him to nine years in prison along with a nine-year ban on operating waterborne vessels if he pleads guilty at a preliminary hearing and renounces a trial.

The captain was recently released from detention but must wear an electronic tracking device and is not allowed to leave his designated residence without permission.

The Mermaid was raised out of the Danube by a huge crane on June 11. Some of the victims' bodies were recovered weeks after the crash more than 62 miles downstream.

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