BUDAPEST: The captain of a Budapest river cruise ship involved in a deadly collision with a sightseeing boat last week is already under investigation over another accident in April, Hungarian prosecutors said on Thursday (Jun 6).
The death toll from the May 29 accident rose to 19 on Thursday after four more bodies were identified from the Mermaid tourist boat which sank seconds after colliding with the Viking Sigyn on a busy stretch of the Danube river.
After last week's crash, the 64-year-old Ukrainian captain of the larger Viking Sigyn ship was arrested on suspicion of "endangering waterborne traffic resulting in multiple deaths".
Hungarian press reports said the same man, identified only as Yuriy C., was being investigated over the collision of another Viking ship, the Idun, with a chemicals tanker near the Dutch city of Terneuzen on Apr 1.
"He is being treated as a suspect in Holland," the Metropolitan Chief Prosecutor's Office told AFP in a statement, citing information from the EU judicial agency Eurojust, but without confirming the incident they were referring to.
In a statement sent to AFP on Thursday, Viking said: "We can confirm that even though the captain of the Viking Sigyn was onboard the Viking Idun on April 1, he was not serving as the ship's captain at the time of the incident."
"We are unable to comment further while the investigations of both incidents are ongoing," the statement said.
At the time of the April collision, the Idun had 43 crew and 137 passengers on board. Several passengers were injured.
Dutch authorities are still investigating the circumstances of that collision.
Hungarian prosecutors also said on Thursday that the captain was suspected of "deleting data from his telephone after the collision" in Budapest.
The captain's lawyers could not be reached for comment on Thursday but said in a statement issued last Friday that he was "devastated" by the accident and insisted that he did not make any errors.
Meanwhile the death toll rose to 19 after the bodies of three more South Korean tourists and a Hungarian crew member were identified, leaving nine people still missing from the occupants of the Mermaid sightseeing vessel - eight South Koreans and another Hungarian crew member.
Only seven people are known to have survived the accident.
Divers have been unable to enter the sunken boat due to the strong current in a river swollen after weeks of rain.
A barge carrying a crane powerful enough to lift the Mermaid arrived in Budapest Wednesday but was to remain docked in the north of the city until the river level subsides enough to allow it to pass under several bridges to reach the accident scene.
Experts said the crane was unlikely to begin the salvage operation before the weekend.
The Viking Sigyn left Budapest with a new captain last Friday but Seoul has reportedly asked Hungarian authorities to return the ship to Budapest for the duration of the investigation.