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A cruise ship on the lam
The vessel, which had hundreds of passengers onboard, owes millions in fuel charges, according to a lawsuit.
A cruise ship that was supposed to dock in Miami has instead sailed to the Bahamas, after a U.S. judge granted an order to seize the vessel as part of a lawsuit over $4 million in unpaid fuel.
Cruise trackers show Crystal Symphony currently docked in the Bahamian island of Bimini.
“We all feel we were abducted by luxurious pirates!” passenger Stephen Heard Fales posted on Facebook.
Some passengers were taken by ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday. The ferry ride was apparently “uncomfortable due to inclement weather,” according to a statement from a Crystal Cruises spokesperson. The company said guests were also taken to local airports but wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
It was not immediately clear how many passengers were aboard, with one news outlet reporting 300 and another, 700. According to the company website, the vessel can carry up to 848 passengers.
The ship was scheduled to arrive in Miami on Saturday. But a federal judge there issued an arrest warrant for the ship Thursday, a maritime practice where a U.S. Marshal goes aboard a vessel and takes charge of it once it enters U.S. waters.
Sergeant Kareem Woods with the Royal Bahamas Police Force said on Monday that the Crystal Symphony is still docked in Bimini and that authorities currently do not have plans to seize the vessel.
“It will be allowed to stay in Bimini,” he said, adding that he did not know if any staff was aboard the ship.
Passengers and entertainers said on social media they were surprised to find out about the legal case. One guest posted a letter on Facebook from Crystal Cruises management that said the change in itinerary was due to “non-technical operational issues.”
Elio Pace, a musician who has toured off and on with the ship since 2013, said about 30 to 50 crew disembarked because their contracts ended. Another 400 crew members don’t know when they’ll get off, or if they’ll remain employed.
“This is a human story. This is about people and their jobs,” Pace told the Associated Press.
The lawsuit was filed in a Miami federal court by Peninsula Petroleum Far East against the ship under a maritime procedure that allows actions against vessels for unpaid debts. The complaint says Crystal Symphony was chartered or managed by Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises, which are both sued for breach of contract for allegedly owing $4.6 million in fuel.
Crystal Cruises announced earlier this week that it was suspending operations through late April. Besides Crystal Symphony, it has two other ships currently cruising, which end their voyages on January 30 in Aruba and on February 4 in Argentina.
“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 company said in a statement earlier this week.
Passengers on another Crystal Cruises ship that departed Miami a week ago said the ship has had to cancel port calls at the last minute but have not been told the reason.
The Crystal Serenity, now docked in Costa Rica, will stop cruising in Aruba on January 30, cutting short a three-and-a-half-month expedition for about 200 passengers.
Travelers were told of the change only two days after leaving Miami, and some said it would have been better to return to South Florida instead of ending unexpectedly in South America.
“People are very upset, shocked and distraught because Aruba is not very convenient,” said Barry Shulman, 75, a passenger from Las Vegas on the long expedition originally set to return in late May to California. “It’s an absolute mess.”
Crystal Cruises did not respond to questions about the Crystal Serenity.
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