Dec. 31, 2003 – After 11 days essentially stranded in the Virgin Islands, the thousand or so passengers and crew of the cruise ship Olympia Voyager were en route back to the ship's home port of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday.
Officials of The West Indian Co., which operates the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean, exchanged fond farewells with the Voyager captain and crew as the vessel weighed anchor around 5 p.m. Tuesday. Afterward, WICO's chief executive officer, Edward E. Thomas Sr., called the ship's St. Thomas stay a good experience but one he was glad to put behind him.
The Voyager left Florida on Dec. 17, carrying nearly 800 passengers and a crew of 360 off on what was to have been a 17-day "Christmas/New Year's Grand Amazon" cruise, its highlight a seven-day tour of Brazil's Amazon River, with stops en route at St. Barths and Barbados, and calls on the way back at French Guiana, Trinidad, Dominica and as its last stop St. Thomas.
However, a federal bankruptcy court in Hawaii ordered the ship to curtail its itinerary and remain in U.S. waters, and so it put in at St. Thomas on Dec. 19. Although there was talk of visiting other nearby U.S. ports St. Croix and San Juan this did not occur. The vessel remained at St. Thomas initially tied up at the WICO dock, then anchored in the outer harbor until it departed for return to Port Everglades.
The Voyager reportedly had to await clearance after arranging finances for a letter of credit in order to get permission from the federal court in Hawaii to return to Florida. Its departure on Tuesday will allow it to make its scheduled return to Port Everglades on Jan. 2.
Until this incident, Thomas said, the biggest emergencies ever to face WICO were such things as a forced early arrival or an unexpected overnighting in port because of bad weather.
After the Voyager captain filed his plan on Tuesday indicating to WICO that the ship would be leaving, Thomas said: "Honestly, I think it's good at this point. It was getting to be a little wearisome on the company because we had to assist them on a number of things, including coordinating garbage disposal and just trying to assist the passengers who wanted to leave" the ship.
Ironically, the day following its departure Dec. 31 was the date the ship actually had been scheduled to call at St. Thomas, as its last stop on the Amazon cruise.
The Olympia Voyager is operated by Royal Olympia Cruises, which is owned by Royal Olympic Cruise Lines Inc. The cruise line company issued a statement on Tuesday concerning the bankruptcy proceedings that tied up the Voyager's cruise and also canceled a Dec. 23 cruise out of Los Angeles by its sister ship the Olympia Explorer.
The statement confirmed earlier news reports that the two subsidiary companies that own the ships have filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.
The parent company "had been in discussion with the lenders to these subsidiaries regarding a potential restructuring of $250 million in loans incurred to finance the acquisition of the two vessels," the release stated. "Discussions did not produce an agreement, and the lenders delivered a notice of acceleration on the loans. These loans are secured by mortgages on the two vessels. As a result, the owners filed for Chapter 11."
Following that action, according to the cruise line statement, both vessels were restricted to calls at U.S. ports "subject to further discussions with lenders now in progress and further action by the District Court of Honolulu."
The statement said the Voyager's next scheduled cruise, which was to have begun the evening of Jan. 2, has been canceled. The ship was to have headed back to South America on another 17-day excursion, this one exploring both the Amazon and Venezuela's Orinoco River, with a final stop at St. Thomas on Jan. 17. The parent company also said that a second cruise of the Explorer, scheduled to depart on Jan. 5, has been canceled and that the ship "is being held in Los Angeles pending further developments."
The statement said that neither Royal Olympic Cruise Lines nor any of its other subsidiaries have filed for bankruptcy protection and that the company intends to continue discussions with the lenders. And, it said, "media reports of actions against or in connection with Olympic Voyager are in error."
While the statement referred to the vessel as the Olympic Voyager, the Web site of Royal Olympia Cruises calls it the Olympia Voyager.
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