Dec. 23, 2003 – The businesses taking part in this week's "Destination Downtown Nite," the new weekly Tuesday event aimed at enticing cruise ship passengers to visit downtown Charlotte Amalie in the evening and residents to stay in town after work, found themselves with an unanticipated opportunity.
The promoters have scheduled "practice runs," although late-staying ships are not committed until January. But on Tuesday night there was a ship in port — a ship that had arrived four days earlier, and whose passengers may well have jumped at the chance for some St. Thomas nightlife.
The vessel is Royal Olympia Cruisea' Olympia Voyager, which pulled into port on St. Thomas last Friday carrying some 760 passengers. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, an aide to Edward E. Thomas Sr., president of The West Indian Co., said there was no firm departure date. Earlier, cruise line officials had said the ship would be returning to its homeport of Port Everglades, Florida, as scheduled on Jan. 2
Two of the eight companies that own the Voyager and another ship operated by the Greek cruise line, the Olympia Explorer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week in Hawaii. A release dated Dec. 22 from the parent firm in Piraeus, Greece, said discussions are ongoing between owners and lenders before further action by the court.
Two German banks that hold a mortgage on the Voyager filed a foreclosure suit against the vessel last week in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday. The banks said the ship's owner had not made a $2.4 million payment due on Dec. 2.
Royal Olympia's chief executive officer, Yiannos Pantazis, was quoted as saying that "we have experienced very difficult conditions due to the effects on tourism of the Sept. 11 events, the conflict in the Middle East, the SARS crisis, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the international economic situation and other events."
The Voyager had embarked from Florida on Dec. 17 for a 17-day cruise to Brazil, French Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica. While it was under way, it was informed that it must remain in U.S. waters. Hence its unplanned arrival at St. Thomas.
Its sister ship, the Explorer, had been scheduled to sail out of Los Angeles on Monday, but the cruise line canceled that cruise.
A WICO spokesperson said "a few passengers" had disembarked from the Voyager and sought alternate transportation back to the mainland. An American Airlines spokesperson in San Juan said there have been no reports of any large numbers of persons attempting to depart St. Thomas on short notice.
The Olympia Voyager was built by the German shipyard Blohm and Voss and went into service in June of 2000. It won a 2001 award as the "most significant cruise ship newbuilding in the past two years."
Bucking the trend toward ever-larger megaships, the vessel accommodates 836 passengers and 360 crew members, with space averaging 30 square meters per passenger — far more than most ships allot.
The Voyager was designed to offer a "more personal and intimate" experience, in line with Royal Olympia's "small and friendly ethos," according to the Web site of the British Seaview Co. It's 590 feet long and 84 feet wide and has a draft of 24 feet and a cruising speed of 28 knots. Its amenities include a pool, spa, cigar lounge, disco, card room and piano bar, with deluxe suites and deluxe and standard staterooms.
WICO ship's agents moved the vessel from the Havensight dock on Monday, and passengers were ferried ashore. WICO authorities said the move was necessary because of the scheduled ship traffic. On Monday and Tuesday, two ships were scheduled to tie up at the dock. For Wednesday, three are scheduled for the dock, two others are to anchor in the St. Thomas harbor and two others are to tie up at the Crown Bay dock.
On Thursday — Christmas Day, the schedule calls for three ships at the Havensight dock and one at Crown Bay. The traffic lessens on Friday and Saturday, but is up again on Sunday.
There was discussion of the Olympia Voyager going to St. Croix or San Juan, but by Sunday the ship is expected to be en route back to Florida.
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