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Hungary: Cruise ship captain also part of April collision

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Ukrainian captain of the cruise ship involved in last week's deadly collision with a sightseeing boat on the Danube River was also involved in a crash in the Netherlands on April 1, Budapest's Chief Prosecution Office said Thursday.

The news came as Hungarian authorities revealed that the number of South Korean tourists killed in the incident has risen to 17. Rescue and recovery efforts continue for nine other South Koreans and the two-man Hungarian crew aboard the Hableany (Mermaid) that sunk within seconds of being hit by the 95-cabin river cruise ship.

Only seven people, all from the 33-member tourist group, are known to have survived the May 29 catastrophe. On Thursday, Hungarian police announced the recovery of the bodies of two South Korean men. One was found about 2 miles from the Margit Bridge, the scene of the collision near the Hungarian Parliament building in the capital Budapest while the other was located around 3.5 miles downstream.

The 64-year-old captain of the Viking Sigyn cruise ship was formally arrested for 30 days in Budapest on Saturday, suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident. He remains in custody while an appeals court rules on prosecutors' objections to his release on bail of 15 million forints ($52,770).

Prosecutors also said the captain, identified earlier as Yuriy C., referencing his first name and the initial letter of his last name, erased data from his mobile phone after the Budapest collision, though they could not confirm that the missing information was related to their investigation.

The Viking's owners did not reply to a request for comment. Citing their ongoing probe, the Dutch Safety Board would not confirm if the captain of the Viking Idun, the Sigyn's sister ship, which collided with a tanker, the Chemical Marketer, on April 1 on the Western Scheldt waterway near the southern Dutch town of Terneuzen, was also the man being held as a suspect in Hungary.

According to the safety board's website, the accident happened shortly after midnight on April 1. The cruise ship was carrying 137 passengers and 43 crew members when it collided with a Maltese chemical tanker. The site said "a number of passengers were slightly injured and the damage to both ships was considerable."

A huge floating crane to be used to raise the Hableany from the Danube floor, the Adam Clark, has been waiting since Wednesday afternoon in north Budapest. Nandor Jasenszky, a spokesman for the rescue team, said divers were setting up harnesses and lifting points on the sunken tour boat, with preparations expected to be concluded by Friday. The crane will only be able to begin the lift when Danube water levels fall.

After falling significantly in the first days of the week, the Danube has risen several inches over the past 24 hours and is expected to rise a bit more until around midday Friday — due to melting snow in its upper basin — before falling again.

The identification of the South Korean victims was being conducted with the cooperation of South Korean police. Its chief superintendent, Im Byung-ho, said new techniques have made it possible to lift fingerprints off bodies that have been in the water even as long as three months.

Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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