The cruise industry’s safety record is “second to none”, according to Clia UK & Ireland’s deputy chair.

The cruise sector came under scrutiny earlier this month following three ship collisions in a week, including one incident on the Danube in which 28 people died.

Speaking at Clia’s River Cruise Review, Giles Hawke, who is also Avalon Waterways’ chief executive, said: “Safety is our primary focus. I have worked at ocean lines and river lines and at our meetings it is all about safety and how we can improve safety.

“I can attest that cruise lines are more focused on safety compared to any other transport sector out there.

“There will always be accidents and it is about making sure that we understand how to stop them. These events are few and far between. If this event was the norm then river cruises would not be allowed to happen.

“If you look at ocean cruise and river cruise it is fair to say that their safety records are second to none.”

Viking Sigyn crashed into a tourist boat, the Mermaid, on the Danube on May 29 killing 28 South Korean tourists.

The captain, a 64-year-old Ukrainian national named as Yuriy C, was arrested but denies any wrongdoing. Police are continuing to investigate the incident.

Clia today revealed that the number of river cruises taken by British and Irish passengers in 2018 had reached record levels, but the rate of growth had slowed.

Figures show that 232,300 river cruises were taken last year – up by 21,900, or 10.4% year on year, compared to a 21% hike in 2017 when the annual total jumped by 36,000 to 210,400.

Asked about possible overcrowding on European waterways, Hawke said river cruise passengers were just a “tiny proportion” of overall tourist numbers at destinations.

He said: “River cruise ships are pretty small. It is not like we are taking thousands of passengers onboard. I do not think that overtourism is caused by river cruise. We are doing our bit to ensure that overtourism is much less of an issue.”

He also added that Avalon and other river cruise lines were in constant dialogue with cities and towns at destinations about how they could contribute to the local community.

“I know that Avalon – and other lines – are going into towns and we talk about how we can contribute to them,” Hawke said: “We are very focused on saying that we do not want a theme park, instead we want that authentic experience.”

AmaWaterways’ managing director Stuart Perl said that river cruise ships accounted for just 5% of the overall traffic on European waterways.

On June 2, ocean ship MSC Opera crashed into the dockside and a river vessel in Venice due to a mechanical problem. Four people suffered minor injuries.

Days earlier on May 31, a CMV cruise had to be cancelled after colliding with an unidentified object en route to Norway.