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Viking on the Mississippi

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Home >> Viking on the Mississippi

According to the Internet, Viking River Cruises may have plans for a longship cruise on the Mississippi. The rumor started on 21.3. with an article by Phil Reimer on canada.com

Richard Marnell, a marketing and advertising executive for Viking — the largest river cruise line in the world, said “If we do put a ship on a U.S. river, it will be one of our European-type vessels.”

This was picked up by Travel Weekly on the next day. The seatrader link mentioned does not work any more. But, CEO Hagen seems to imply that Viking - granted they'll go on the Mississippi - will use one of their longship (or modern) designs.

The Mississippi is "a nice place to be," Hagen told Seatrade. "We can show the Americans what a river ship should really look like."

About 2 weeks later, the Travel Weekly had another article on the topic.

"The Longship design has shown to be a great way to see Europe,” Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking, wrote in an email. “The Viking vessel on the Mississippi will provide a great way to see [and] explore in comfort.”

Though this blog mainly focuses on the european rivers, let's just have a look at the situation on the other side of the pond. The river and the US legal system will provide some serious obstacles. First, let's have a look at the market and cruise lines operating the Mississippi, their ships, then the big problems:

For various reasons, there been no cruises on the Mississippi for a few years. Now, since 2011 there are cruise lines offering tours on the river again. Among them American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steam Boat Company. Tauck, Avalon Waterways charter their vessels from time to time. Mississippi River Explorer, a barge with a tug boat stopped operation in 2009. Even if most boats today still look like paddle wheelers, they use modern propulsion systems.

What about the problems I've mentioned:

The Mississippi is very wide, a lot of locks regulate water flow and make the river accessible for ocean going vessels as far upstream as Baton Rouge. But at some ports the banks are really flat, for example St. Louis River Front. That's why most paddle wheelers have a flat bottom, run their front aground in order for their passengers to disembark. See more paddle wheelers here. You'll notice, these ships either have a flat front and ramp or a long gangway at their front. While all european river ships have their gangway in the center, between the restaurant / lounge and their cabin section. So you can not just transport a european vessel (designed for piers or pontons) to the Mississippi without getting some problems. So if Viking sees the Mississippi river as a show case for their long ships (and european products), it would be not so clever to show a modified vessel to their potential customers.

Actually you can not transport any vessel from another country to the Mississippi. Viking would have to follow the Passenger Vessel Service Act

No foreign vessels shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 (now $300) for each passenger so transported and landed.

and the Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act)

Section 27, better known as the Jones Act, deals with cabotage (i.e., coastal shipping) and requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents.

In fact the ship has to be built by a ship yard in the US, has to be US flagged, owned by a US company and it's crew have to be US citizens or permanent residents. So Viking would have to build a long ship in the US and would have to pay union scale wages to its crew. In Europe, most ships are built in the Netherlands & Germany, but the crews are from Eastern Europe or the Far East. Hence these two laws protecting the US home market might cause a few problems for the calculations and business plan.

The rumor has died down a bit, so we don't know if it is true. But if Viking really has these plans, let's hope they do their homeworks.