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Hungary boat tragedy captain already under investigation over earlier accident

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Budapest (AFP)

The captain of a river cruise ship involved in a deadly collision last week with a smaller sightseeing boat in Budapest is already under investigation over another accident in April, Hungarian prosecutors said Thursday, as the toll rose to 17.

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 another Viking ship captained by the same man, named as Yuriy C., collided with an oil tanker near the Dutch city of Terneuzen on April 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.

Prosecutors also said 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 17 after the bodies of two more South Korean tourists were identified, leaving 11 people still missing from the occupants of the Mermaid sightseeing vessel -- nine South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members.

The Mermaid overturned and sank on May 29 seconds after its collision with the Viking Sigyn on a busy stretch of the Danube river in the heart of Budapest.

Only seven people are known to have survived the sinking.

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.

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