Colliding ship backed up, then kept on
The river cruiser that rammed into a smaller sightseeing boat on Hungary’s Danube River, leaving at least seven Koreans dead and 21 others missing, was shown in a video released Saturday to have proceeded after the collision but almost immediately backed up to the site of the accident for about 20 seconds - before proceeding again.
It was the first time that a video of the accident showed the Swiss-operated river cruise ship, the Viking Sigyn, returning to the spot of the collision after its bow came into contact with the rear quarter of the smaller boat, named the Hableany, or Mermaid, causing it to capsize under the Margaret Bridge in Budapest during a rainstorm at 9:05 p.m. last Wednesday.
The Mermaid sank within seven seconds after the collision, Hungarian police said. Nobody on the Viking Sigyn was injured.
The video, which runs for seven minutes and 22 seconds, was released by a Hungarian group of cruise ship operators. A previous video released by Hungary’s police last Thursday did not show the Viking Sigyn sailing back to the collision site, apparently due in part to the camera’s angle.
The second video was filmed from the other side of Margaret Bridge, and shows ships on the Danube before and after they passed the bridge, as well as going under it. The earlier footage from the police showed the ships right before they passed the bridge and while they were going under it.
The video raises at least one serious question: Why the captain of the Viking Sigyn, a 64-year-old Ukrainian identified only as Yuri C., didn’t report the accident to authorities fast enough. It is unknown when exactly he was aware that his ship hit and sank a much smaller boat that night, but Hungarian police said they received their first emergency call on the case at 9:15 p.m., 10 minutes after the boat capsized, from a passenger on another sightseeing boat nearby.
Some passengers on the Viking Sigyn have told media they saw people in the water screaming for help.
The captain, who was taken into custody on Thursday night, has denied violating any rules or committing any offenses.
On Saturday, a Hungarian court ordered a formal arrest of the captain for 30 days, but said he could be released on bail on the condition he wears a tracking device and stays in Budapest. Hungarian prosecutors are appealing that decision to keep him detained.
The Associated Press reported that the captain’s lawyer, Gabor Elo, said there are no grounds to consider his client a suspect in the case and argued that the prosecution’s request for the arrest was motivated only by the fact that the captain is a Ukrainian citizen.
Elo was cited by the AP as saying that his client was “very sorry” that he was involved in such an accident.
The Mermaid was carrying 33 Koreans and two Hungarian crew members on the Danube when it capsized, mostly family members who were traveling through six countries in the region. They were supposed to fly back to Korea yesterday. Hungarian rescuers were able to bring 14 people to shore, though seven of them were confirmed dead.
The remaining 19 Koreans and two Hungarians still remain unaccounted for.
All seven passengers who were confirmed dead were identified over the weekend based on their finger and palm prints.
The Korean government dispatched teams of officials from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Korea Coast Guard, National Police Agency, National Fire Agency and National Intelligence Service to help with rescue operations, but very little could be done so far because of fast currents and extremely poor underwater visibility in the Danube.
Hungarian and Korean authorities believe that many dead bodies could be found within the Mermaid if they salvage the boat, given that most passengers were inside the boat when the collision occurred and didn’t have time to flee.
Yet it could take two weeks for the boat to be salvaged, Korean officials said. Col. Song Shun-keun, Korea’s defense attache in Budapest who’s in charge of overseeing Korea’s rescue operations on the maritime accident, said underwater conditions in the Danube River are worse than those at the time of the 2014 Sewol ferry tragedy, saying the currents were a lot faster and underwater visibility was “near zero.”
The river is now flowing at a speed of 9 kilometers per hour (6 miles per hour) to 12 kilometers per hour, he said, meaning that missing bodies could have floated more than 500 kilometers (311 miles) away from the collision point, near the Hungarian borders between Serbia or Romania, through which the Danube flows.
The boat now lies 8.1 meters (26 feet, 7 inches) to 9.3 meters deep on the riverbed near the Margaret Bridge. The river is nearly three times deeper than its usual depth, said Song. That, he continued, complicates divers’ efforts to reach the Mermaid.
Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who arrived in Budapest last Friday to visit the site of the accident, returned to Seoul on Sunday afternoon. Kang told reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport that the currents were so fast that divers didn’t dare go underwater to search for the missing bodies. Korea’s top envoy said she expected the currents to slow down early this week. First Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho said the government would cooperate with the victims’ families and Very Good Tour, the Seoul-based travel agency that operated the fatal tour, to organize funerals for the dead passengers.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, PARK TAE-IN [firstname.lastname@example.org]