Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is on a Russian river cruise on the Viking Pakhomov, a 210-passenger ship that was just renovated. Her first dispatch follows.
Just as salvage crews on Friday were bringing up the wreckage of the Bulgaria, the ship that sank nearly two weeks ago on the eastern Volga River, the newly renovated Viking Pakhomov set sail from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
At the welcome dinner, there was little talk among the passengers on the Pakhomov about safety and security in the wake of the tragic sinking that claimed at least 114 lives.
But behind the scenes, Viking River Cruises' operations team has been working with Russian regulators to ensure that the ship more than satisfies safety requirements.
Immediately following the sinking of the Bulgaria, Russian authorities inspected Viking’s four Russian river-cruise vessels, said Dmitry Ryabov, general director of the company's Russian fleet.
"Basically, there was no need to inspect them," he said.
Ryabov explained that despite what appears to have been little oversight in the case of the outdated double-decker Bulgaria, which was carrying more than 200 passengers when it shouldn't have been transporting more than 120, Viking's ships are inspected regularly.
"Russian regulators are very strict," he said, stricter than in other countries in Europe.
I find that the Viking vessels instill a certain degree of confidence. The ships, the staff, the whole Russian operation appear to be a very well-oiled machine.
With four vessels running up and down the Volga, one gets the sense that Viking has experience and knows what it's doing in the Russian river outback.
And while there is a life vest in the closet in my stateroom and an emergency-evacuation layout map on the back of my stateroom door, what instills the most confidence is that Viking, with so much invested in the Russian river-cruise market, has everything to lose if anything were to go wrong.
And so far, it’s smooth sailing.