Does the recent river cruise accident in Budapest point to structural problems with safety?

5 Jun 2019
Budapest Margít Bridge

Photo Credit: Jose A (Flickr) under CC BY 2.0

At the ETF we were shocked and saddened to hear about the tragic accident on the Danube in Budapest last Wednesday 29 May 2019. At least 11 people have drowned and 17 are still missing after a Viking River Cruise vessel hit the Hableány sightseeing vessel with 35 people on board. We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims who drowned on the Danube.

The incident occurred in heavy rain on a busy stretch of the Danube at Margít Island, where the smaller boat capsized and sank immediately when hit by the Sigyn, a river-cruise vessel operated by the Swiss company Viking. The accident is still under investigation by the Hungarian authorities and a Budapest judge has put the Ukrainian captain of the Sigyn under arrest.

We have no further information about the investigation, but this is already the 4th accident of the year and the 2019 season is only just getting started. We see this as a clear indication that Europe’s river cruise sector is facing structural issues with safety.

Indeed, river cruises are a priority for the ETF’s Inland Waterways Section because the industry presents a business model where profits are maximised at the cost of decent working conditions for the crewmembers. Do we now see evidence that the drive for profits is also putting safety at risk? Our affiliate Nautilus certainly worries that manning requirements are sometimes broken because of staff shortages or to cut costs.

More generally, although we agree that captains carry responsibility for the safety of their passengers and others on the water, we question the tendency to criminalise maritime workers after accidents. We should rather looking into the structural factors that cause them and try to create a Just Culture that allows everyone to raise concerns.