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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Cruise has surprise ending after judge orders ship seized over debts

By Jesús Jiménez

The Crystal Symphony left Miami on Jan. 8, as scheduled, on a two-week cruise. On the way back, things took an unexpected turn.

The ship was scheduled to arrive in Miami on Saturday, but midtrip, a U.S. federal judge ordered the cruise ship seized over a lawsuit regarding unpaid fuel bills. The ship changed course for Bimini, in the Bahamas, according to a cruise tracker, rather than sail into the clutches of federal authorities.

Those on the cruise were provided with an extra night of accommodations, and on Sunday, the passengers were taken by ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Crystal Cruises said in a statement. The ferry ride, the company added, was “uncomfortable due to inclement weather.”

“This end to the cruise was not the conclusion to our guests’ vacation we originally planned for,” the company said.

Steven Fales, 51, an actor and playwright, was on the cruise with a couple of friends “hoping that the pandemic would end and trying to do something adventurous.” The adventure came to an abrupt end when they learned the cruise was being rerouted.

“It’s just sad to see the pandemic kill it like it’s a Broadway show that opened too soon,” Fales said Sunday night.

After arriving in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, Fales took a ride-share service to a hotel in Miami, where he’ll stay before flying to Los Angeles and then driving home to Palm Springs, California. Fales said that although the change in plans was unexpected, he empathized with the ship’s crew, who seemed uncertain about the future of their jobs.

“That crew treated us like royalty through the tears of losing their jobs,” he said. “They’re all just heartbroken, and it was just devastating.”

About 300 people were transferred to Port Everglades, a spokesperson for the cruise line said. It was unclear how many people had been onboard, but the ship can hold up to 848 guests, with one staff member for every 1.7 guests, according to the cruise line.

The course change came after a U.S. judge Thursday ordered the ship seized as part of a lawsuit filed against Crystal Cruises over unpaid fuel. Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a federal court in South Florida against Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises for owing a combined total of more than $4.6 million.

In a statement, Crystal Cruises said it could not comment on pending legal matters. A lawyer for Peninsula Petroleum Far East did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.

Last week, Crystal announced that it had suspended operations for two of its ships through April 29 and that its river cruises were suspended through the end of May.

“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 cruise line said in a statement.

One of the cruise line’s ships is set to end its voyage in Aruba on Jan. 30, and another is set to complete its trip in Argentina on Feb. 4.

“This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong,” Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president, said in a statement.

“Crystal has been synonymous with luxury cruising for more than 30 years and we look forward to welcoming back our valued guests when we resume operations,” he said. “We wish to thank our guests and travel advisers for their incredible support during these ongoing challenging times.”

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