Cruise ship flees US to avoid seizure

A cruise ship that was supposed to dock in Miami, has instead sailed to the Bahamas after a US judge granted an order to seize the vessel as part of a lawsuit over unpaid fuel.

“We all feel we were abducted by luxurious pirates,” passenger Stephen Heard Fales posted on Facebook.

It was unclear how many passengers were aboard, with one news outlet reporting 300 and another, 700. According to the company’s website, the vessel can carry up to 848 passengers.

Crystal announced on January 19, 2022 that it has suspended voyages. ‘Suspending operations will provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward,’ a statement says.

The company has also paused its call centre until further notice.

‘We thank you for your continued loyalty and support during this challenging time. We will continue to update our guests and travel partners on this situation as we can,’ the statement concludes.

The ship was scheduled to land in Miami on Saturday. If it docks there, it will be seized to repay unpaid fuel bills.

Ship-tracking data shows that the ship docked in the Bahamas on Saturday evening, where, says Bloomberg, a US arrest warrant can’t be executed.

Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a lawsuit in the US district court seeking to recoup $4.6m in unpaid fees for bunker fuel it has delivered to three of owner’s Genting Hong Kong ships since 2017.

Genting Hong Kong became the biggest cruise operator worldwide to seek court assistance to safeguard its assets during the pandemic. The company reported a record loss of $1.7bn in May. Its German shipbuilding subsidiary, MV Werften, went into insolvency this month.

Passengers were told that they would be ferried back to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, SeaTrade reported.

According to Barbados Loopnews, passengers said on social media they were surprised to find out about the legal case. One guest posted a letter on Facebook from Crystal Cruises management that said the change in itinerary was due to “non-technical operational issues”.

The lawsuit was filed in a Miami federal court by Peninsula Petroleum Far East against the ship under a maritime procedure that allows actions against vessels for unpaid debts. The complaint says Crystal Symphony was chartered or managed by Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises, which are both sued for breach of contract for owing $4.6m in fuel.

Musician Elio Pace told The Independent passengers were shocked to learn the vessel was fleeing “like a pirate ship”.

The passengers were left scrambling to rebook onward travel arrangements, while the ship’s 400 crew faced an uncertain future.

“There was literally eight seconds of silence, nobody could say anything. It was almost laughable… we literally just said ‘are you kidding?’,” says Pace.

“No one could believe that this ship was having to divert away from US waters like a pirate ship away so it didn’t get arrested.”

Pace says passengers remained calm throughout the ordeal, as they worked to change their flights and accommodation bookings.

“The passengers that come here know what they’re doing, there’s no panic, there’s no tantrums, they’re just getting on with it.”

Crew members who hailed from all over the world, some of whom had worked for Crystal for 25 years, were devastated at the prospect of losing their jobs, he told the Independent.

“All these brilliant beautiful people, they’re really down in the dumps and very despondent and very uncertain about what next or even if they’ll get paid. It’s a bit brutal.

“They can be forgiven for not paying me. I feel sorry for those guys who have just lost their jobs just when we thought the pandemic was over, It is so shocking.”

Crystal Cruises’ parent company Genting Hong Kong says it has “exhausted all reasonable efforts” to settle outstanding fuel bills and will be ceasing operations.

Pace says most passengers blame Crystal’s parent company Genting Hong Kong for their predicament.

“Everybody on this ship is quietly absolute disgusted at the lack of humanity that Genting has shown in looking after this ship, the passengers, the crew.

“On a human level, all they needed to find was $3.5m. Why not pay the bill? They can afford it.”

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