Yangtze River Operators in US Assure Safety
PHOTO: Yangtze River cruises marketed in the U.S. adhere to high safety standards, operators say. (Courtesy of Victoria Cruises)
Yangtze River cruise operators that market in the U.S. expressed deep sympathy over the June 1 Eastern Star sinking in China, but say their ships and passengers are safe in the region and the tragedy should not deter Americans from traveling there.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the 458 Chinese passengers and we pray for their safe rescue,” said James Pi, chairman of U.S.-based Victoria Cruises. The company’s seven Yangtze River ships are operating safely, he said.
Despite the heavy rain and wind, Pi said the Victoria fleet “has not experienced out-of-the-ordinary navigation issues. The Victoria Sophia, which was downstream from the Eastern Star in nearby Wuhan when the tragedy occurred, is sailing on schedule and reports manageable conditions.”
Century Cruises, which operates ships sold by various tour operators including Uniworld and Avalon Waterways, said its fleet has maintained normal schedules.
The location where the Eastern Star went down “is not within our regular cruise routine between Chongqing and Yichang; it’s actually further downstream close to Wuhan, Hubei Province,” Century Cruises said in a statement. The Eastern Star sails from Nanjing to Chongqing, a route far from the typical vacation itinerary, although Victoria operates a few seasonal voyages in that area.
Century and New York-based Victoria say their ships operate at higher standards than domestic vessels that cater to a mostly Chinese market.
Century Sales Manager Jack Xiong said the domestic Eastern Star is not authorized to sell in overseas markets. “Instead, all Century ships have been authorized by the Ministry of Communication and China National Tourism Bureau to market worldwide,” a company statement said. “In addition, Century ships are recognized as officially international five-star river cruise ships. Eastern Star, however, is not.”
Victoria Cruises executives say it’s too early to determine exactly what went wrong on the Eastern Star — although the captain has said the doomed ship encountered a tornado — but that the tragedy underscores the need for higher safety and inspection standards.
“In recent years, Victoria Cruises has faced increased competition from local Chinese companies who are not bound by the same Western standards,” Victoria said. “As the only American-managed line on the Yangtze River credited with pioneering Three Gorges river cruises in Western markets, Victoria Cruises has maintained strict safety standards on all of its ships, which feature double-bottom hulls with a high tonnage and have been ranked ‘A’ class by the Yangtze River Administration of Navigational Affairs.”
The ships have been “designed to withstand any type of weather conditions along the Yangtze,” Victoria said, while its captains and crew “all adhere strictly to the safety requirements of the navigation authority.”
The Eastern Star is slightly over 2,000 tons in size and 250 feet long with a capacity of 550 passengers. In comparison, Victoria’s smallest vessel is almost twice that size at 3,868 tons and longer at 280 feet, but only accommodates 198 passengers, less than half as many as the Eastern Star.
Victoria assures prospective guests of the safety of Yangtze cruising and encourages travel agents to book China trips through U.S.-based tour operators who typically work with reputable ground partners. Victoria Cruises are available through tour operators including Ritz Tours, Orient Flexi-Pax, Pacific Delight, Travcoa, and Gate 1.
Another high-end tour operator, Tauck, offers a land-cruise itinerary in China that includes a three-night cruise on Sanctuary’s Yangzi Explorer. “However, we don’t cruise anywhere within 200 miles of where the Eastern Star incident took place, and our sailings haven’t in any way been impacted,” Tauck said.
American travelers and their travel professionals should not hesitate to book Yangtze River cruises, the U.S. operators say. “Our message is that we’ve been sailing for 21 years, and it’s always been and will continue to be safe to sail on a Victoria ship,” said Larry Greenman, manager of public relations and customer service for Victoria Cruises.
More by Theresa Norton
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