Cruise ship escapes to Bahamas to avoid seizure over fuel debt

MIAMI (AP) — Bahamian authorities say a cruise ship — owned by a failing company in Hong Kong — that was set to dock in Miami last weekend remained in the Bahamas on Monday, avoiding a U.S. judge’s order to seize the vessel over a dispute for an unpaid fuel bill.

Sgt. Kareem Woods with the Royal Bahamas Police Force said the Crystal Symphony was still docked in Bimini and that authorities had no plans to seize the vessel.

The arrest warrant for the 781-foot-long ship is part of a lawsuit over a delinquent $4.6 million fuel bill. The ship was scheduled to arrive in Miami on Saturday. But a federal judge issued the warrant for the ship last Thursday, a maritime practice in which a U.S. Marshal boards a vessel and takes charge of it once it enters U.S. waters.

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 the Crystal Symphony was chartered or managed by Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises, which are both sued for breach of contract for the unpaid fuel bill.

The Crystal Symphony had operated in Alaska in past years.

Hong Kong-based Crystal Cruises announced last week that it was suspending operations through late April. Besides Crystal Symphony, it has two other ships currently cruising, which are scheduled to end their voyages within days in Aruba and in Argentina.

“Suspending operations will provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward,” the company said last week.

The parent company, Genting Hong Kong, is the biggest cruise operator worldwide to seek court assistance to safeguard its assets during the pandemic. It said it sought a court order in Bermuda last week to appoint provisional liquidators after exhausting “all reasonable efforts” to negotiate with creditors and stakeholders.

The company reported a record loss of US$1.7 billion last year as the pandemic crushed the cruise industry in 2020-2021.

The Crystal Symphony’s passengers were taken by ferry from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday. It is not clear how many were traveling, but passengers said there were about 300 of them. The ship can accommodate 848 travelers.

A musician who has toured on and off the ship said that between 30 and 50 crew members disembarked in the Bahamas because their contracts had ended, while another 400 crew members didn’t know when they would get off, or if they would remain employed.

 

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