Drought Disrupts European Cruises

After a sustained period of dryness, recent rain has returned some waterways in Europe to navigable levels, but power and crop failures persist.

By: M. J. Smith

A heat wave and severe drought have lingered over much of Europe this summer, stalling some cruises on the Continent’s largest rivers and creating uncomfortable days for tourists and locals alike.

Viking River Cruises said four of its ships were caught in low waters on the Rhine-Danube and Elbe routes in mid-July, although rain last week returned parts of the rivers to navigable levels for all but the heaviest barges.

“We’ve dealt with it head-on,” said Jeffrey S. Dash, Viking Rivers’ president, as he described meeting with 120 passengers who missed their scheduled embarkation in Amsterdam.

Dash said that, during the worst stretch, three Viking ships were stalled by water levels near Passau, Germany. “Two ships made it by and one didn’t,” he said.

Patrick Clark, vice president of sales for Uniworld, said one of its Danube cruises had worried about the dropping water levels and bypassed Passau. “Then the rain started and the water went up 30 centimeters,” he said. The Danube still is reported to be at record low levels in parts of Eastern Europe.

Both companies used motor coaches to take passengers on scheduled tours.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” Clark said, explaining that Uniworld’s schedule has avoided some problems. Its Elbe cruises are not scheduled until fall. Italy’s Po River is at its lowest levels in decades, but the river often drops during the summer so the company changes its Cremona-to-Venice route to a Venice round trip.

The problems are blamed on weeks of 90-degree heat combined with what some meteorologists have described as a 100-year drought.

European and U.S. news reports have said that Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Austria are hardest hit, with some countries experiencing their first summer blackouts in decades due to a shortage of hydroelectric power. In France, wildfires along the parched Riviera have forced evacuations and rationing of water was being considered in some areas of Italy.

Farmers say harvests may be 60 percent below normal, resulting in shortages, higher prices and overall losses of more than $5.7 billion.