Speculation swirls after cruise tragedy

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Speculation and accusations continued to swirl on Friday following a collision on the Danube between a Hungarian sightseeing boat and a river cruise vessel from Norwegian-owned Viking Cruises. The arrest of Viking Cruises’ captain raised more questions, as the search went on for 28 people on the sightseeing boat who are missing and presumed drowned.

River cruising along the Danube is popular, not least here at Budapest, where Viking River Cruises has its own pier and sails regularly. This photo was taken before the tragic collision between a Viking vessel and a sightseeing boat in rainy weather Wednesday night. PHOTO: Viking River Cruises

Contradictory reports kept coming out of Budapest, not least after Hungarian authorities themselves had stated that the smaller vessel, with 33 South Korean tourists and their guides plus two Hungarian crew members on board, had swung in front of the much larger Viking Sigyn.

Viking Cruises’ river-going  vessel then collided in heavy rain with the sightseeing boat Hableany, which witnesses say sank withing just a few seconds. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that it was carrying 30 South Korean tourists, their two guides and a photographer plus two Hungarian crew members.

Hungarian police released surveillance camera video showing how the two vessels were sailing up the Danube after dark, a popular time to see Budapest’s ornate buildings and bridges illuminated at night. One former high-profile journalist and correspondent for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Terje Svabø, was on board another river cruise vessel at the time and told Norwegian media that the river is often crowded with vessels. He reported being out on deck, suddenly being overwhelmed by a strong smell of diesel fuel and then seeing people and wreckage from the sightseeing boat in the water.

Only seven people on board the smaller boat were rescued at the scene. Strong currents in the chilly river are feared to have quickly swept 28 victims downstream, making search efforts extremely difficult.

Hungarian police announced they had opened an investigation into the collision and “an unidentified culprit” allegedly guilty of “a criminal act.” That raised more questions about the arrest of the Ukrainian captain on board the Viking Sigyn. News bureau AP reported he was was arrested Thursday night after being questioned.

Norwegian media were unable to obtain any comment from Viking Cruises’ Norwegian owner Torstein Hagen, who faces his third major, and now fatal, accident in just two months. It was one of his ocean-going cruiseships, the Viking Sky, that sailed into stormy seas off the Norwegian coast in late March, forcing the evacuation of many elderly passengers by helicopter when the ship lost power and nearly grounded.  In early April, another of Viking Cruises’ river-going vessels, the Viking Idun, collided with an oil tanker in the Netherlands.

There was no loss of life in either “incident,” as Viking Cruises has referred to the accidents. American lawyers have nonetheless filed a class-action lawsuit against Viking Cruises that claims compensation for “severe distress, pain and suffering” in the Viking Sky drama. There was little comment from Viking Cruises itself following the collision in the Danube Wednesday night, apart from a confirmation of the latest “incident,” while media attempts to obtain further information from either the Swiss-based Hagen or his staff were unsuccessful.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund