It’s a blessing and a curse – the world is increasingly becoming smaller with tourists vying to see the jewels of the globe.
The Danube is one of the most popular destinations for river cruises and is a key embarkation/disembarkation point for lines like APT, Avalon Waterways, Scenic, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld and more.
But add competition with tourist boats and cargo vessels, and you have a roster of ships on this popular waterway that now needs careful management.
The accident on the Danube involving a Viking River Cruise ship and a tourist boat highlights the importance of river management – particularly at places like Budapest, where iconic landmarks make for increasing demand.
The 89-foot Mermaid was carrying 33 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew members when the 442-foot Viking Sigyn collided with her. The boat sank in seven seconds, according to some eyewitnesses, and the bodies of seven tourists were recovered on the night of the disaster and another seven were rescued alive.
Nineteen South Koreans and the crew members are missing – presumed dead. And one body was recovered just at the beginning of this week, more than 100 kilometres downstream from the Hungary’s capital of Budapest. Another one, just last night.
Because of flooding on the Danube, preparations for salvage efforts have only just resumed and divers could be seen entering the water from a pontoon in the river on Monday, while empty body bags were seen on a small boat docked next to the pontoon.
Following the crash, concerns have been raised that the catastrophe was an “accident waiting to happen”, and the river has been congested with tourist boats competing for space to see the Hungarian capital lit up at night.
Sara Macefield, a specialist cruise writer told the UK Telegraph newspaper: “As one of the most popular cities on the Danube, Budapest is a key embarkation/disembarkation point for many river cruise lines and its stunning cityscape makes it arguably the most popular spot for night-time cruising as it is so beautifully illuminated.
“As a result, it has become increasingly busy too. The river cruise industry is currently going through a massive boom [a record 210,400 Britons took a river cruise in 2017] and the rising congestion on the rivers reflects this.”
While cruise lines are building more ships to cope with the increase in demand, lines like Viking, AmaWaterways and Uniworld are redirecting ships to other European waterways to alleviate the pressure on the Danube. And while Viking christened more ships at the beginning of the year, the ships are not just sailing the Danube, but also the Rhine, Main and Douro Rivers.
Another cruise expert, Jane Archer, told the Telegraph that Europe’s rivers may be busy, but are not overcrowded.
“The Danube is certainly busy but it’s not overcrowded and the fact remains that most river ship captains are very, very experienced,” she says.
And the Cruise Lines International Association has pointed out that “the number of river ships on any river is in line with government regulations”.
“We are saddened by the tragic events in Budapest and our thoughts are with those affected and their loved ones,” said a spokesperson from CLIA
“Cruising remains one of the safest and most heavily regulated forms of travel. Worldwide, the number of operational incidents reported in the cruise sector declined by 37% from 2009-2018 despite a 55% increase in capacity over the same period, according to research by GP Wild International.”
The captain of the Viking Sigyn has been arrested. We don’t know enough about what he is alleged to have done to make a judgement yet on what he may have played in this sorry, tragic affair.
But what should happen next is a close examination of those spots along Europe’s waterways that attract most shipping of all kinds – followed by some sensible planning so that all those involving in plying these rivers can have certainty and feel safe.