River boat “shipwrecked” on the Danube, passengers evacuated

Late Friday night on the Danube, a cargo ship broke from its anchor and headed straightaway into a river ship.

On an otherwise quiet night, while cruising past wineries on the Danube in Bavaria, Germany, the Avalon Tranquility was struck  by the loaded freighter and was pushed into a stand of rocks that ripped a hole into the hull.

Shortly after dinner, near the town of Winzer, Germany in Lower Bavaria, nearly160 passengers were jolted into reality as the Tranquility veered off-course and into the rocks.   Immediately, the captain maneuvered the vessel to the shore.

Witnessing the event, a Uniworld river ship traveling in the opposite direction came to aid the distressed ship.  Wearing life jackets and congregated on the sundeck, all 157 passengers and 41 crew members were brought aboard and taken to the nearest city that could accommodate their guests.

The passengers, hailing from America, Canada,  Australia and New Zealand, were taken by the assisting river ship to Deggendorf.  A 71 year old passenger, suffering from shock, was taken to  the hospital.

Passengers awaiting rescue aboard Avalon Tranquility. Photo: Birgmann
Passengers awaiting rescue on sundeck aboard Avalon Tranquility. Photo: Birgmann

According to reports by the Passau police, the outer hull was so badly damaged that water immediately flooded the engine room.  Almost 200 rescue workers, including fire, police and water rescue forces from the area, were sent to the scene.  “We had a major alarm,” said local fire  inspector, Leopold Schmid.   “Thanks to the rapid deployment the passengers and crew were rescued unharmed.”  All passengers were taken to hotels in Deggendorf, in the heart of the Bavarian winery district.

All available forces of fire and police departments and water rescue units – a total of about 200 rescue workers – were ordered to the scene of the accident.  At one point, it seemed like the $22 million ship might actually sink.  

Helmut Dugas, of the police command center in Lower Bavaria first reported the incident.   “The divers have done a great job,” said the Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transport, Andreas Scheuer (CSU).   To facilitate the rescue and immediate temporary repair, the Danube was closed to river traffic in both directions.  “We are working flat out to re-open the Federal Danube waterway,” said Scheuer.  At the time of the incident, the Danube had a very strong current and both ships were in a very rocky area.  

Workers try to patch the hole in the hull at the engine room aboard Avalon Tranquility. Photo: dpa
Workers try to patch the hole in the hull at the engine room aboard Avalon Tranquility. Photo: dpa

On Saturday morning, as water continued to leak into the two-foot gaping hole, high capacity pumps were used to keep the ship afloat.  By afternoon, the Tranquility was stabilized and was towed to Vilshofen, near Passau.  Because the engine room was still flooded with nearly fifty inches of water, the soonest the ship could be towed for repair to the shipyard in Linz was probably on Monday.

Ironically, earlier in the afternoon, the same cargo ship was involved in another accident with a tourist boat out for a scenic cruise.   Despite receiving a small tear and subsequent slight leak, the cargo ship was still able to proceed.

If you’ve ever taken a river cruise in Europe,  at the welcome aboard briefing, the captain always jokes that if there should be an accident, the ship will be steered to the shore and you can simply walk off the vessel.  And such was the case aboard the Tranquility.

That particular stretch of the Danube witnesses on average, forty-six accidents a year.  It’s a very twisty and rocky section of the Danube, and in the area of confluence of the Rhine-Main-Danube waterway.  “The expansion is controversial for years because the Danube is especially worthy of protection in Lower Bavaria because of the estuary of the river Isar and other unique habitats,” said Martin Schwarzott, spokesman for a study of the European Union the problematic section between Straubing and Vilshofen can be expanded. Schwarzott went on to say that results of the study are expected by the end of 2012.

In another ironic twist of fate during this event, occurred when the passengers were taken to accommodations in Deggendorf .   After the end of Nazi Germany, Deffendorf was the site of a displaced persons camp for Jewish refugees who had survived the horrors of Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Avalon Waterways Tranquility on the Danube riverThe Avalon Tranquility was built in 2007 and is at home on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, cruising between Amsterdam and Budapest.

Headline photo credit: pnp.de, photographer: Fischer

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2 thoughts on “River boat “shipwrecked” on the Danube, passengers evacuated”

  • Thanks for your comment, John. I don’t think this will in any way have an impact on those who might be planning a European river cruise. It is the best experience isn’t it! And you do feel extremely safe. Enjoy your cruise in November.

  • My wife and I love European river cruises. We are going again this November. These cruises are wonderful at any time of the year. I hope this accident will not cause anyone not to take one of these cruises. These ships are very safe, and very professionally and competently handled. You are much safer on these river ships than on the Ocean Going super ships.

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