Maritime professionals’ union, Nautilus International (NI), has called for an independent inquiry ahead of the upcoming trial of a Master at the centre of allegations over Budapest river cruise fatalities.
The Ukrainian Master of Swiss river cruise vessel ‘Viking Sigyn’ was arrested following a collision with a day trip sightseeing boat – ‘Hableany’ (Mermaid) – on the Danube River in May, 2019, when 29 passengers died.
A preliminary hearing of his trial is due to take place on 13th March in Budapest.
‘Viking Sigyn’s’ Master, who has been held in prison since the accident, faces a sentence of up to nine years if he enters a guilty plea but if the case goes to trial, he could be sentenced to 14 years.
Nautilus has urged the authorities to launch an independent enquiry into the case, as observers have consistently complained of numerous inconsistencies in the legal and media coverage of the accident.
Immediately after the incident, it was claimed that the Master had previously been involved in an accident in Holland, with reports saying he subsequently deleted mobile phone data. Both allegations proved to be untrue.
The Forum Inland Shipping (FIS) – a group of experts from the European inland navigation industry – believed there has been a ‘clear prejudgement of the Ukrainian captain from the beginning of the investigation, which also serves to suppress unpleasant questions about possible omissions by companies and authorities’.
Holger Schatz, NI’s Swiss national organiser, said: “Too many outdated and unfit day trip vessels ships have been allowed on the Danube in Budapest and as such, it is important that the details of this case is reviewed, and the Master granted a fair trial.
“In its analysis of the omissions in this case, the FIS points out further inconsistencies that it says have not been sufficiently investigated. An independent expert investigation into shipping accidents – as is customary in Switzerland – has not yet been set up and the original intention of conducting the trial in London, due to the international dimension has also been abandoned in favour of a trial in Hungary.
“The Hungarian authorities should set up an independent commission of inquiry and let the trial take place outside Hungary,” he stressed.
Nautilus has also urged international authorities and politicians to exert appropriate influence on the Hungarian authorities, as it continues to campaign for the fair treatment of seafarers.
In 2019, a study conducted by the Union found almost 90% of seafarers are concerned by the prospect of criminalisation and two thirds said it impacted on the way they felt about working in shipping.