A fugitive cruise ship that was supposed to return to Miami, but detoured to the Bahamas is not likely to be arrested despite a warrant issued by a federal judge in South Florida.
The U.S. Marshals Service said Tuesday that it can’t seize the Bahamas-flagged Crystal Cruises ship because it is going to stay in Bimini — outside U.S. jurisdiction — where the cruise liner’s parent company has both a resort and a marina.
“We don’t expect that ship to leave Bahamian waters,” U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Rob Gonzalez told the Miami Herald Tuesday. “We don’t expect it to come back” to South Florida.
Although seizure of the Crystal Symphony ship remained up in the air, its passengers were safely transported back here on Sunday. A spokesperson for Crystal Cruises, a luxury liner facing both financial troubles and a lawsuit in Miami, confirmed that about 300 passengers were brought via ferry from Bimini to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. The cruise liner is owned by Genting Hong Kong, a subsidiary of Malaysia-based Genting Group, which owns the Bimini resort and marina.
The spokesperson for Miami-based Crystal declined to comment Monday on “pending legal matters,” including the arrest warrant for the Crystal Symphony ship and the financial woes and recent bankruptcy filing of Genting Hong Kong.
“We know that (the) transfer to Port Everglades via ferry was uncomfortable due to inclement weather,” Crystal’s spokesperson said in a statement. “This end to the cruise was not the conclusion to our guests’ vacation we originally planned for.”
Last week, Genting Hong Kong announced it had drowned in rising debt and would be liquidating the company. The next day, Miami-based Crystal Cruises said it would be suspending its luxury ocean cruises until at least late April. Crystal owns three ocean cruise ships, two of them based part of the year in Miami.
Crystal Serenity completes its voyage in Aruba on Jan. 30, while Crystal Endeavor, which is on an Antarctica cruise, will disembark passengers on Feb. 4 in Ushuaia, Argentina.
The arrest warrant for the Symphony ship in the Bahamas, signed last week by a federal judge in Miami, is part of a multimillion-dollar dispute over unpaid fuel bills by the Crystal cruise line and can be executed only if the ship arrives at a port in the United States, according to the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami.
Crystal Symphony was supposed to arrive in Miami on Saturday, but detoured to Bimini in the Bahamas over the weekend, Gonzalez said.
An arrest warrant for a boat may seem strange, but not in maritime law. It’s fairly common in what is known as an “In Rem” legal dispute: one side that is seeking payment for an an outstanding bill, such as fuel, sues to recover that money by obtaining a court order to seize property so it can be sold to satisfy the debt. In Latin, “In Rem” means “against a thing.”
The arrest warrant for Crystal Symphony was signed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles in Miami federal court, ordering the U.S. Marshals to “arrest the Defendant vessel, her boats, tackle, apparel and furniture, engines and appurtenances and to detain the same in your custody pending further order of the Court.”
Crystal Cruises’ couldn’t pay for its fuel, leading to the company’s predicament over its ship, according to court documents.
Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a civil lawsuit in federal court claiming Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises — both owned by Genting Hong Kong — owed $2.1 million and $1.3 million, respectively, for fuel already delivered to them. And $1.2 million of that money was for fuel to power the Crystal Symphony, according to the suit.
Stephen Simms, a Peninsula attorney, declined to comment Monday on the inability of the U.S. Marshals to seize the Crystal Symphony while it is still in the Bahamas, outside U.S. jurisdiction.
The Crystal Cruises spokesperson confirmed Monday evening that the Symphony’s officers and crew members were being kept on board and “timely meet all our financial obligations to each crew member and recognize their continued valued contributions to Crystal.”
An entertainer on the ship, Elio Pace, tweeted a thread that said passengers and crew were told Genting’s liquidation meant everyone would have to disembark upon arrival in Miami and find their own way home. Then, they were told the search warrant had been issued by federal authorities in Miami and the ship would be diverted to Bimini, Bahamas.
“I wouldn’t believe it unless I was right here experiencing this surreal episode myself!” Pace tweeted.
… would cease to sail when it reached Miami today? We were told that we would all need to disembark the ship and make our way home.
— Elio Pace (@ElioPace) January 22, 2022
Ken Heit, the owner of Luxury Cruise and Tours travel agency in Pompano Beach, said he’s scrambling to rebook four customers who have reservations to cruise 50-plus days on Crystal voyages.
“Everyone saw it coming. Crystal has been mismanaged for years and now they’ve really made a mess of things,” Heit said, explaining that after Genting acquired the cruise line in 2015 Crystal quickly expanded into even more expensive luxury tourism adventures like private jets and river cruises.
For two years, Heit struggled to get his commission payments from Crystal Cruises. When the company started sailing again in June 2021 after pandemic lockdowns, it paid him. But his payments again stopped after November 2021.
“At this point, unfortunately, I’m not expecting those payments anytime soon,” he said.