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A week-long strike by lock keepers is disrupting river cruises in Germany just a month after flooding in the country led to dozens of cancellations.
The walk-out, in response to the proposed centralisation of the country’s regional waterways and shipping offices, which threatens 3,000 jobs, is forcing tour operators to switch to land-based itineraries and put guests up in hotels.
With September elections looming in Germany, strikers have chosen the height of the summer cruising period to make their cause heard.
The strike, which is due to end at midnight on Thursday, is complicated by the fact that some locks are operated by civil servants, who are forbidden to strike; and others by company employees. The regions worst affected are Bavaria, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, areas which were also affected by flooding last month.
Avalon Waterways said six of its ships could be affected between the area of Mainz and Passau. Viking has made minor alterations to two sailings, with passengers swapping to sister ships on the other side of some locks. “We have contingency plans in place should the situation worsen,” said a spokesperson. Titan said nothing has been flagged to its operations team as an issue. Scenic Tours has three ships in the area.
“Logistics have become an hour-by-hour operation,” said Simon Whittle, Scenic Tours marketing director. “On some parts of the German waterways there are locks in place every 20 or 30 miles. A lock will open at 2pm today in Bavaria because a civil servant is manning that particular shift but there’s no point getting passengers stuck between two locks where there is no mooring.”
Pat Richardson, a Telegraph Travel cruise writer, was travelling on board Avalon Panorama from Amsterdam to Budapest when news of the strike reached passengers.
“Things were moving slowly on the Main on Monday,” she said. “At first we put it down the glorious weather – everywhere we went families were picnicking by the riverbank and enjoying the sunshine.
“Then we noticed we were spending a long time in the locks and that our cruise director was spending a lot of time on his mobile. We did our excursion to the Prince-Bishop’s residence in Wurzburg (the decision was made not to spoil passengers’ appreciation of the magnificent Tiepolos) and it wasn’t until 7pm that the captain told us what was happening.”
Most passengers on-board are from Australia and New Zealand and none have complained, according to Richardson.
“We are travelling to Bamberg now by coach and while we would prefer the breeze to the air-con, people are amazed at how efficient it has all been. It is not easy to come by 85 hotel rooms at this time of year. ”
Passau will be left out of the Avalon itinerary due to the logistics of getting there by coach. Panorama passengers will moor elsewhere for three days, or until the strike is called off, taking excursions from there.
A handful of older passengers have opted to stay on board even though the ship is not going anywhere. “Nobody loses out financially – those who don’t want to take excursions by coach will be refunded,” she added.
Scenic says it has its own fleet of coaches in the region so impact will be lessened. “We are operating as close to normal as we can,” said Mr Whittle.
Avalon has arranged for its passengers to travel on to Austria from Linz by local boat, through the scenic Wachau Valley. “Our ship will steam empty through the Main-Danube making no stops and if it is not able to reach Vienna in time we will travel by coach to Bratislava,” says Richardson.
Mr Whittle added that while progress is slow even making up an hours can be the difference between a “four-hour day turning into a six-hour one.”