Viking River Cruises is pushing ahead with plans to enter the U.S. market with vessels built by Edison Chouest Offshore, a cruise line representative recently told the Dubuque, Iowa, city council.
The global giant could start service in 2021 and by 2027 would have six vessels carrying 103,431 passengers on the Mississippi River, according to a chart Viking consultant David Simmons showed the city council last month.
The five-story vessels, which Simmons termed a “long ship on steroids,” will carry close to 400 passengers. Drawings were blocked from view. Itineraries will be roundtrip from New Orleans, New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn. Viking won’t offer Ohio River itineraries for the first six years.
“Edison Chouest is the company that’s going to be building and owning the vessel and chartering it to Viking to operate,” he said. Switzerland-based Viking earlier said that the vessels, costing $90 million to $100 million each, would be built at U.S. yards, crewed by U.S. citizens, owned by an investment management firm and time-chartered to Viking “in full compliance with maritime laws.” Simmons told the council that Viking has “no intention of trying to change the law.”
Galliano, La.-based Edison Chouest said in a statement to WorkBoat, “We are not building a river cruise vessel at this time.”
ECO operates a fleet of over 200 offshore service vessels, tugs and other vessels and owns and operates four shipyards in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and one in Brazil. Four years ago, ECO and Bollinger Shipyards chairman Ben Bordelon acquired all the assets and stock of Bollinger, which had 10 yards in the Gulf building OSVs, oceangoing barges, tugs, military boats and other vessels.
The booming passenger vessel market has attracted the attention of yards that have concentrated on other workboat segments.
Viking, with 64 vessels and seven under construction, accounts for 49% of Europe’s river cruise business, Simmons said. Its rationale for being on the Mississippi is that the market is “well underserved.”
Viking first hinted at its U.S. plans in 2013 soon after American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co. started regular overnight inland river cruising. In early 2015 Viking said it would launch six Mississippi River vessels over three years starting in 2017 from New Orleans, which would be their home port. Existing operators said they’d welcome the competition, figuring they’d all benefit from Viking’s considerable marketing muscle.
Then late last year Viking told Mississippi River communities that talks about building in the U.S. had broken off. “Viking has terminated current discussions to build vessels in a U.S. shipyard for Mississippi River and U.S. coastal cruising. As details were being refined, it became apparent the economics did not meet Viking’s goals,” the company said in a statement to Hannibal, Mo., and Fort Madison, Iowa.
Now things appear to be back on track. “It’s going so fast now that I believe announcements are around the corner,” Simmons told the Dubuque city council. “The brochure is done. The schedule is done. The charter agreement is done. I just can’t give you an exact date.”