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Cruise ship on the Danube in front of Melk Abbey and autumn forest on the bank
More and more cruise ships travel the Danube, like here in front of Melk Abbey. Image: Tomas Marek

ECJ clarifies ship passenger rights

Austria is not located by the sea, but in our tourism country passenger transport by ship is a growth sector. Apart from the pure transport of day trippers, there are numerous package tours offered by shipping companies that operate river cruises and charter traffic. Domestic agencies have the ports of Passau, Linz, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in their portfolio for their cruises.

In the case of cruises on inland waterways, accommodation and gastronomy on board are often combined with music or dance events, cycling excursions, admission to cultural events at the ports of call, theme evenings or wine tastings and other culinary events. If there are cancellations or changes by organisers during the implementation of the ship tours, there has been a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice since September 2021.

Inland navigation is a relevant tourism sector in Austria

In the high season, more than 70 cruise ships are underway on the Austrian stretch of the Danube. The Austrian Danube region has more than 14 million overnight stays and, with around 6.5 million arrivals, is of enormous importance for Austrian tourism. (Source: ARGE Donau - the figures are from the period before the Covid pandemic) Passenger navigation on the Austrian Danube has a significant share of the total European Danube navigation with about 1.4 million passengers per year (2019: approx.740,000 in regular service, approx. 535,000 cruise passengers and 194,000 theme, special and charter trips). Austrian cruise traffic in particular had a strong growth rate of over 15% before Covid and 9 new cruise ships with larger passenger capacities were launched. (Source: viadonau Annual Report 2019)

Pictogram about "On the move by boat"

On the move by boat

ECJ ruling clarifies passenger rights in shipping

Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice in a dispute between Irish Ferries and the Irish National Transport Authority (NTA), the ECJ clarified the European-wide rights of passengers in maritime and inland waterway transport in its ruling C-570/19.

The Irish company had ordered new ships for its ferry service between Dublin and Cherbourg in France and had already sold tickets for the future trips. However, these ships were not completed in time. The complaint by the regulator was about whether the efforts of Irish Ferries had been sufficient to organise replacement transport and to inform passengers adequately, as the sold journeys could not be carried out as planned. In the view of the private company Irish Ferries, the regulatory authority had imposed a disproportionately high penalty. However, the ECJ ruled in the specific case that EU Regulation No 1177/2010, which regulates passenger rights in maritime transport, had been correctly applied by the Irish regulator.

The following points now define more precisely the obligations of providers of passenger transport by water and bind national courts to make corresponding rulings in similar situations:

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Clear EU regulations

  • Where a passenger service is cancelled and there is no alternative service on the same route, the carrier is required to offer to the passenger, by virtue of the passenger’s right to re-routing under comparable conditions at the earliest opportunity to the final destination provided for in that provision, an alternative service that follows a different itinerary from that of the cancelled service or a maritime service coupled with other modes of transport, such as rail or road transport, and is required to bear any additional costs incurred by the passenger in re-routing to the final destination.
  • Where a carrier cancels a passenger service giving several weeks’ notice before the originally scheduled departure, a passenger has a right to compensation where he or she decides to be re-routed at the earliest opportunity or to postpone the journey to a later date and that passenger arrives at the originally scheduled final destination with a delay that exceeds the thresholds laid down in Article 19 of that regulation. By contrast, where a passenger decides to be reimbursed for the ticket price, he or she does not have such a right to compensation under that article.
  • The concept of ‘ticket price’ includes the costs relating to the additional optional services chosen by the passenger, such as the booking of a cabin or a kennel, or access to premium lounges.
  • The late delivery of a passenger transport vessel which led to the cancellation of all sailings to be operated by that vessel in the context of a new maritime route does not fall within the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
  • Article 24 of Regulation No 1177/2010 does not require a passenger who requests compensation under Article 19 of that regulation to submit his or her request in the form of a complaint to the carrier within two months from the date on which the service was performed or when a service should have been performed.
  • The competence of a national body responsible for the enforcement of that regulation designated by a Member State covers not only the passenger service provided from a port situated in the territory of that Member State, but also a passenger service provided from a port situated in the territory of another Member State to a port situated in the territory of the first Member State where the latter service is part of a return journey which has been entirely cancelled.


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