Viking Cruise’s Mississippi River plans in jeopardy

Two years ago, Viking River Cruises announced with great fanfare its intention to bring its popular river cruising experience to the upper Mississippi River valley, including several stops in cities and towns in the Quad Cities region.

In the intervening two years, there has been little in the way of updates from the Norwegian cruise line nor a timeline for when boats might arrive.

Now, it appears, they may not arrive at all. Or at least not any time soon.

The first community to hear of the change of plans was Ft. Madison, whose leaders have remained in pretty steady contact with the company since the 2015 announcement. Earlier this week, said City Manager David Varley, officials received a short, two-sentence statement from the company in response to a query about the timeline.

"Viking has terminated current discussions to build vessels in a US shipyard for Mississippi River and U.S. coastal cruising," it read. "As the details were being refined, it became apparent the economics did not meet Viking's goals."

The change in course appears to be due to a relatively obscure U.S. law called the Jones Act, which requires ships sailing between U.S. ports or on inland rivers to be built in the U.S. and operated by American crews.

Varley noted that it likely would cost the company nearly twice as much to build its ships in an American shipyard and noted it already has a contract with a European shipbuilder. In addition, the current political climate in the U.S. makes it unlikely a variance to the Jones Act  allowing Viking to use European-built vessels, would be approved.

"Hopefully, someday they'll be able to work something out, but right now it doesn't look promising," said Varley.

The notoriously taciturn company has said little about the developments. Reached Friday, Dec. 8, a Viking spokesman offered this statement as the company's only comment on the situation:

“At this point we do not have any additional details to share but we continue to work on the Mississippi project.”

Asked whether that meant the company still intends to press forward with the project, the spokesman declined to comment further.