Viking River Cruises mum on most recent accident

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Regensburg, Germany
The damaged lock in Riedenburg is located between the German cities of Nuremberg and Regensburg, pictured. Photo Credit: Peter STein/Shutterstock

Following a series of accidents that included a deadly river boat collision on the Danube and a dramatic evacuation of passengers from a broken-down ocean liner in dangerous seas, Viking has gone silent about reports that one of its river ships hit a lock in Germany, shutting down part of the Main-Danube canal to all traffic.

For river cruise lines, the closure mostly affected what one executive estimated are about 25 sailings a week between Amsterdam and Budapest, forcing operators to alter their itineraries, swap passengers between ships or put guests on buses.

According to reports in the German media and from on-the-ground operations officials from other river cruise lines, a Viking ship was sailing upriver on June 5 when it hit the wall of a lock at Riedenburg, damaging it so badly that the lock could not be closed. The damaged lock is located between Regensburg and Nuremberg, which are stops on 14-day itineraries that most lines offer.

Local media reports said it was the Viking Var. But travel advisor Ruth DeMuth with TripGuy Travel, who said she was on the Var that day, said it was the Viking ship ahead of them, the Viking Tir, that hit the lock.

"They were stuck in the lock for  a bit, finally were able to get loose and back out of the lock, and they ended up parking behind us," she said. "I spoke with passengers from that ship the next morning and they reported the hit was hard enough that it knocked over glasses of wine but no one was hurt.  I did not go down to look at their ship but other guests reported seeing damage to the Tir."

Viking has declined repeated requests for confirmation of or comment on the incident. And on a Viking web page offering passengers updates about its cruises, the company said only that sailings between Regensburg and Nuremberg were temporarily restricted "due to repair work being performed on the lock at Riedenburg."

DeMuth said at the site of the accident, there were differing accounts "whether it was the ship's fault by running into the corner of the lock or whether the lock operator started closing the gate too early, pushing the ship out of position and causing it to get 'stuck' for a bit. "

The incident was the fifth involving one of Viking's ships since last fall and the fourth involving a European river vessel.

In late March, engine failures on the Viking Sky ocean liner forced a lengthy and dramatic helicopter evacuation in rough seas off the coast of Norway.

A little more than a week later, the Viking Idun river ship collided with a cargo vessel while sailing through Belgium on April 1.

Last month, the Viking Sigyn hit a small tour boat during a stormy nighttime cruise along a crowded stretch of the Danube in Budapest, killing 19 South Korean tourists and a Hungarian crewman. Seven people were rescued, eight are still missing, and the Viking captain was placed under arrest.

Last fall, the Viking Tor failed to retract its wheelhouse far enough and hit the bridge at the Riedenburg lock, destroying the wheelhouse.

No Viking river cruise passengers have been injured in the accidents, but two Viking crew members were killed in September 2016 in a wheelhouse accident similar to last year's incident with the Viking Tor, according to the German media outlet Cruisetricks.de.

It was unclear how long the repairs to the lock damaged in the latest accident would take. Initial reports estimated that repairs could take up to three weeks, but more recent reports indicated officials hoped to have the canal reopened as early as June 14.

Meantime, river lines were contacting customers and adjusting their itineraries to do ship swaps or avoid the area until the lock reopens.

Cruisetricks.de said about 30 freight and passenger ships pass through the lock every day. 

Pamela Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways, said her staff estimated about 25 passenger ships make the 14-day sailing between Amsterdam and Budapest each week.

While some lines have been able to anchor ships on both sides of the lock and swap passengers to minimize itinerary changes, Hoffee said Avalon's schedules and ship positionings have not allowed for that. So, in addition to offering refunds or the ability to rebook on later sailings, she said Avalon has developed options that involve a few nights in a hotel in Regensburg and slightly different sailing schedules to minimize disruptions and maximize sailing time.

"We've tried to make the best of the situation," she said. " We've got a lot of different options."
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This report was updated on June 13 with information from a travel agent who was on a Viking ship when the accident happened.

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