Posted by: cruise2 | 8 June, 2015

China’s Yangtze Cruise Trades

by Kevin Griffin of our London office writing for cybercruises.com

The loss of the 534-berth Dong Fang Zhi Xing (also reported as Eastern Star) last week on the Yangtze exposed a split in the Chinese river cruise market that has been in place for some years. This ship was one of a fleet of forty-four “domestic” river cruise ships operated by eight companies in the bargain basement sector carrying almost exclusively Chinese passengers.

The 2,200-ton 250-foot Dong Fang Zhi Xing had begun a 13-day cruise in Nanjing on May 28, with its customers paying the equivalent of US $161 each for a 1,100-mile cruise to Chongqing, organised by Shanghai’s Xiehe Travel Corporation. On June 1, the vessel capsized in 49 feet of water near Jiamli, in Hubei province, with the loss of 431 lives and eleven still missing.

The owner of the 1994-built ship, the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation, has been ordered to suspend operation of sister ship Dong Fang Zhi Zhu and submit its entire fleet to new safety checks. Dong Fang Zhi Xing was one of six vessels in this fleet that served the domestic Chinese market.

These ships carry first class (2-berth cabins), second class (4-berth bunk beds) and third class (6-berth bunk beds) passengers, with the last two having shared facilities, and they serve only Chinese food. Food is also available for purchase at the various stops along the way. They do not supply towels, toiletries or toilet paper, so one brings one’s own, but first class comes equipped with en suite western toilets, shared by a shower in the same stall.

Victoria Cruises' 10,680-ton 439-foot Victoria Jenna

Victoria Cruises’ 10,680-ton 439-foot Victoria Jenna

Another twelve companies operate about forty-five vessels in the “foreign” luxury segment.
Unlike the local Chinese vessels, which have no seating except in the dining room, these ships have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, westernised restaurants, nightclubs, bars and all the usual comforts of a cruise ship. Prices start at around US $400 for a 2-night, 3-day cruise that goes to Yichang for a visit to the Three Gorges Dam.

China may be making great strides in the world, but the extent to which passengers are crammed into these domestic vessels is evidenced by the fact that the Dong Fang Zhi Xing had a passenger space ratio (PSR) of only 4 gross tons per passenger. Gross tons for ships are a measurement of volume or space within the ship.

By comparison, one of the smallest of European cruise ships, Majestic International’s 10,417-ton Ocean Majesty, has a PSR of 19.5, almost five times as much space per passenger, while P&O’s Britannia offers almost ten times the space, with a PSR of 38.7.

On the Yangtze, Victoria Cruises’ 10,680-ton 439-foot Victoria Jenna, built in 2009 and one of the so-called “foreign” fleet, carries 378 passengers and has a PSR of 28, with every cabin having a private balcony.

Century Paragon  (Photo courtesy Yangtzeboats at Shipspotting.com)

Century Paragon (Photo courtesy Yangtzeboats at Shipspotting.com)

About a million passengers a year take a Yangtze River cruise to visit the Three Gorges area, of which about 150,000 are foreigners.

Chief among the “western” operators (the ships are all Chinese, although some have been built in Germany, for example) are APT Waterways, Avalon Waterways, Century Cruises, China Regal Cruises, Orient Royal Cruises, Victoria Cruises and Viking River Cruises.

While a full investigation of last week’s disaster will be held in China, some westerners have been known to travel in the first class of the local ships, but the recommendation is that if you are thinking of cruising the Yangtze this year, then stick to one of the“western” operators.

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