A musician onboard a luxury cruise liner that diverted to the Bahamas to avoid a US arrest warrant over unpaid fuel bills says its 700 crew and passengers were shocked to learn the vessel was fleeing “like a pirate ship”.
The Crystal Symphony was due to dock in Florida on Saturday after a two-week Caribbean cruise, but changed course after a US judge granted an arrest warrant for the ship over a $1.2m fuel bill.
The 300 passengers onboard Crystal Symphony were left scrambling to rebook onward travel arrangements, while the ship’s 400 crew faced an uncertain future after owners Crystal Cruises was placed into liquidation.
Musician Elio Pace, who boarded the ship on Tuesday in Dominica, told The Independent he had just finished a rehearsal on Friday when when he was informed an arrest warrant had been issued for the ship under admiralty law.
“There was literally eight seconds of silence, nobody could say anything. It was almost laughable... we literally just said ‘are you kidding?’
“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.”
Speaking from onboard the cruise ship Sunday morning, Mr Pace said the passengers would be disembarking in the Bahamas around 11am EST and being placed on a courtesy ferry to Fort Lauderdale.
He said passengers had remained calm throughout the ordeal, as they worked to change their flight, accommodation and car rental 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 added.
“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 said this week it had “exhausted all reasonable efforts” to settle millions dollars outstanding fuel bills and would be ceasing operations.
At the same time, fuel supplier Peninsula Far East filed a lawsuit in a Florida court claiming it was owed $4.6m by the company, including $1.2m from the Crystal Symphony.
A judge issued the arrest warrant on Thursday, and the ship change course for the Bahamas the next day.
Announcing the decision to cease operations, Crystal Cruise’s president Jack Anderson said in a statement: “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,” said
Mr Pace, an award-winning musician, said most passengers blamed 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 $3.5 million. Why not pay the bill. they can afford it.”
He said passengers were all wearing masks and practicing social distancing to reduce the risk of a Covid outbreak, which would force them to quarantine.
Genting Hong Kong is controlled by Malaysian tycoon Lim Kok Thay, whose Genting Group is described as “one of Asia’s leading and best-managed multinationals” with interests in leisure and hospitality, plantations, property, and biotechnology.
The Covid pandemic has been especially tough on the cruise industry, with the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month warning people to avoid all travel on the vessels.