EDITORIAL | A dangerous culture at Viking Cruises

EDITORIAL | A dangerous culture at Viking Cruises

Photo: Viking Cruises
Photo: Viking Cruises

I am loathe to kick a man, or a company, when he or it is down. However, in the case of Basel, Switzerland-based Viking Cruises, I feel it is necessary to make an exception. Given its appalling recent accident record, Viking Cruises is in dire need of a very powerful “wake up” kick. It needs to very quickly develop a strong safety culture throughout the company. A dramatic overhaul of its general corporate culture would be valuable also.

On its website, Viking promotes itself as, variously, the “World’s #1 Cruise Line” and, “World’s leading river cruise company”. However, as of June 10, there is no mention on its websites of any of the three “accidents“ that have befallen three of its ships over the three months to the end of May 2019. Disgracefully, there is no apology to, not even a mention of, the victims of the collision between Viking’s Viking Sigyn, a river cruise vessel and the much smaller tourist ferry Hableany on the River Danube in Budapest on May 29. Nor is there any mention of the tragic September 2016 accident when two of its crew members were killed when Viking Freya allided with a bridge at Erlangen in Germany

For the very few of you who may have missed reports of the Viking Sigyn collision, it resulted in the deaths of about 28 innocent, mainly South Korean, tourists. The captain of the Viking River Cruises ship is in Hungarian police custody. He continues to deny responsibility despite very clear social media video reports showing the Viking Sigyn running down, colliding with, and capsizing the Hableany on the comparatively narrow and busy but fast running Danube. His employer, naturally, hides behind its lawyer’s skirts and responded to media questions with the usual: ”We are unable to comment further while the investigations of both incidents are ongoing”.

Such corporate callousness is inexcusable.

The phrase “both incidents” refers to the allegation that the captain of the Viking Sigyn was aboard another of the company’s ships, the Viking Idun, which collided with a chemical tanker Chemical Marketer in the Western Scheldt estuary in the Netherlands almost exactly a month previously. Fortunately, no fatalities resulted from that collision although five passengers and a crew member of the Viking Idun suffered minor injuries. Whatever, the captain, like his employer, is obviously a slow learner.

As if that wasn’t enough, Viking Cruises hit the headlines five weeks before the Viking Idun “accident” with reports of its nearly new cruise ship Viking Sky losing power completely in a storm off the coast of Norway on March 23. In that “accident”, some 479 passengers, most of whom were presumably elderly, had to be winched off the ship by helicopters in the storm. The ship, fortunately, eventually made port under its own power but accompanied by a tug. Dozens of passengers were injured with some requiring hospitalisation. Very fortunately, there were no fatalities.

Viking Cruises was founded in 1997 and has grown very rapidly, probably too rapidly. Viking River Cruises had a fleet of 62 vessels in 2017 and Viking Ocean Cruises currently has a fleet of six 48,000GT vessels with a further 11 on order at Fincantieri. That is a very big fleet in anyone’s language, especially for one that is only 22 years old. The company is believed to have about 5,000 employees.

The company appears to be suffering from a bad case of hubris, overreach and arrogance. That happens in shipping, particularly passenger shipping, which makes it particularly dangerous and worrying. Viking obviously needs to consolidate both substantially and soon. Its officers and crews plainly need better training and discipline. The wider company needs to develop a safety culture very, very quickly before it destroys itself along with more innocent victims. Plainly, its wider corporate culture leaves much to be desired. It cannot afford to wait for the courts to decide the rights or wrongs of these “accidents”.

Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.