Victoria, Century Cruises assure their Yangtze vessels are safe

The Victoria Sophia was not far from the Eastern Star when the latter ship capsized on the Yangtze.

As search and rescue efforts continued Tuesday following the capsizing of the Chinese river cruise vessel Eastern Star on the Yangtze River, two of the largest Yangtze River cruise operators serving the U.S. market said that their passengers and vessels are safe.

“Despite heavy rain and wind, Victoria Cruises’ fleet had 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,” New York-based Victoria Cruises said in a statement.

While it’s too early to determine exactly what went wrong on the Eastern Star, Victoria Cruises executives said the tragedy underscores the need for higher safety and inspection standards on the Yangtze.

The Eastern Star was a much smaller vessel in comparison to most of the Victoria ships, yet it was carrying nearly double the number of passengers that Victoria vessels carry, according to Victoria Cruises.

The Eastern Star, at 2,200 gross tons, was carrying 405 passengers, five travel agents and 47 crew members for a total of 457 people aboard when it capsized. By comparison, the smallest vessel in the Victoria fleet is the 198-passenger Victoria Grace, which is 3,868 gross tons. The largest ship in the Victoria fleet is the 378-passenger Victoria Jenna, which measures 10,680 gross tons.

Chinese river cruise line Century Cruises, which provides charters for several U.S. river cruise companies and tour operators including Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Avalon Waterways, said that its vessels do not normally sail on the stretch of river where the Eastern Star capsized.

Century Cruises vessels normally travel between Chongqing and Yichang, and the capsizing took place further downstream near Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, noted Richard Xie, director of marketing and sales for Century.

Century also said that its vessels have a much larger gross tonnage-to-passenger ratio than the Eastern Star. The smallest vessel in the Century fleet is the 186-passenger Century Star at 4,255 gross tons. And the two largest vessels in the fleet, the 398-passenger Century Legend and Century Paragon, each measure 12,516 gross tons.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the Chinese passengers [onboard the Eastern Star] as we pray for their safe rescue,” James Pi, chairman of Victoria Cruises, said in a statement. Rescue attempts are underway with many pitching in to support emergency workers, including local fishing boats.

“This is just too sad,” said Xie. “We feel sorry for those who have not been rescued and make the best wish to all of them.”

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