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(13-09-2010)

Do Some Ships Have A Jinx? Now It's Cruise West's Turn - New Cruise Ship Orders? - Other Cruise News



by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

The big news of last week was obviously the termination of the 335-day world cruise of Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus at St John's NF and the closing of the line's reservations office while they restructure. This was followed by the announced lay-off of 65 staff at their Seattle headquarters.
Elsewhere, after a shipbuilding trade show in Hamburg last week, rumours started to circulate about new ships for NCL and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, and from Spain, France and the UK have come news of more possible changes in the cruise markets.


STORY OF THE WEEK

Do Some Ships Have A Jinx? Now It's Cruise West's Turn

About twenty years ago now, in 1989-91, the traditional Norwegian company Fearnley & Eger built eight miniature cruise ships in Italy. Four were built in La Spezia by Cantiere Navale Ferrari-Signani and four of a slightly different design by Nuovi Cantieri Apuania shipyards in Carrara. All of about 4,000 tons, they were no longer than 300 feet long and originally carried 114 passengers as built. But in 1991, Fearnley & Eger was declared bankrupt and Renaissance Cruises was sold to a partnership of the Italian Cameli Group and Ed Rudner.

Of the first quartet, two, the Clelia II (which will become Orion Expedition Cruises' Orion II next spring) and the Galapagos Explorer II, still operate as cruise ships, while two others are now megayachts. The third, Dubawi, is one of Dubai's Royal Yachts. And the fourth, easyCruise One, became involved the ultimately unsuccessful easyCruise operation and was taken out of that fleet in November 2008.
She has since been reported for conversion to a yacht, also for owners in Dubai. Not long after her sale she was reported berthed together with the Dubawi in Dubai, renamed Cruise One, but has apparently remained in lay-up, a subject of the economic downturn.

But it's the second four that concern us more at the moment. Completed as Renaissance Five, Six, Seven and Eight, they have all been involved with cruise lines that got in trouble. Five and Six became spirits, Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus and Hebridean International's Hebridean Spirit, respectively. And two became Islands, Island Sky and Island Sun for Mauritius Cruise Lines. All four of these ships have been owned by companies that either went bankrupt or had to restructure.

There was the bankruptcy of Renaissance Cruises in 2001, but by that time only two of these smaller ships, Renaissance Seven and Eight, were still owned by Renaissance, as the line had taken delivery of eight larger ships, the R One through R Eight, which sail today for Oceania, Azamara, Princess and P&O Cruises. The last two of the small ships still controlled by Renaissance went to Oslo-based Mauritius Island Cruises, a company that sailed only briefly with the Island Sky before going out of business in November 2004. The Island Sky then went to Noble Caledonia and is today managed by Sweden's Salen Ship Management AB, while Island Sun became Travel Dynamics' Corinthian II and is operated together with her half-sister Clelia II. Owned by the Danish Clipper Group, the Corinthian II is managed by International Shipping Partners of Miami.

Of the others, Renaissance Six became the Hebridean Spirit. And just eighteen months ago, in March 2009, almost exactly the same thing as is now happening to the Spirit of Oceanus happened to her. The Hebridean Spirit was sold and in April All Leisure Group bought what was left of Hebridean International Cruises. As part of this process, the company went into receivership and was reorganised as Hebridean island Cruises, which today operates its original ship, the Hebridean Princess. But, as with the Spirit of Oceanus today, the Hebridean Spirit was sold and the balance of her 2009 season abruptly cancelled.

As Hebridean managing director Mike Deegan said at the time, "the increasing costs of operating a ship in international waters and the weakening of the pound against the euro and dollar forced the line to sell its second ship." The next thing we know the ship was spotted at Abu Dhabi as the Sunrise, yet another Middle Eastern megayacht.

Renaissance Five, meanwhile, until now Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus, was acquired in 2001 and has until now been what was thought to be a relatively successful unit of the fleet, offering Inside Passage, South Pacific and Japan cruises that were nearly always sold out. Until this year that is. On April 20, 2009, just as the Sunrise was sailing off for her new owners, The Cruise Examiner reported, "It has been announced today by Cruise West that in 2010 it will be sending its Spirit of Oceanus on a round-the-world cruise, details of which are shortly to be announced. The voyage will start in March 2010 and will be bookable as either a full world cruise or in 24 sectors."
It now appears from what we have been able to learn that this has been a hard sell and the ship has been sailing with light loads, where she used to be fully booked in the South Pacific and Alaska.

On September 8, the inevitable announcement came, "Cruise West, a global leader in small-ship explorations, today announced that they continue to work towards a restructuring of the company and its operations. The first move in this restructuring is the termination of the Spirit of Oceanus' Voyage of the Great Explorers. Additional assets may be sold and other steps are being pursued towards a restructure. As part of this process, Cruise West has suspended accepting any new bookings."
In a related move, it was revealed that Cruise West president Dietmar Wertanzl had resigned on August 30, not long before the present news broke. And who has bought the Spirit of Oceanus has not been revealed, although she was reported sailing from St John's with her new owner's agent on board bound for Freeport, Bahamas.

Then on Friday came news that 65 Cruise West employees, 24 on Wednesday and another 41 from last Friday, were being given their notice, while Spirit of Oceanus passengers who had future bookings have not been given nor promised refunds.

The release went on, "The Spirit of Oceanus voyage ended at its scheduled port of disembarkation so as to minimize any negative impact to our guests. Cruise West plans to continue to operate its US-flag ships and itineraries through October, 2010; Spirit of Endeavour will sail from Seattle on the British Columbia Cruise and the Spirit of '98 from Portland, OR along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Cruise West will also complete cruises or land tours already underway in Alaska.

"For those booked Spirit of Oceanus guests who may be affected by this news and who have not yet travelled, we recommend that you take the following steps: (1). If third-party travel insurance was obtained, a claim should be placed immediately with the insurer. (2). If payment was made by credit card, a claim should be placed immediately with the card issuer. (3). If the payment was made by cash or check, and you have no travel insurance, please send an email to info@cruisewest.com"


Cruise West got its start in 1947 chartering small Canadian coastal passenger ships for cruises to Alaska, eventually buying those ships and building a successful cruise and tour business called Westours, of which it sold 70% to Holland America Line in 1971 and the balance in 1977 (see The Cruise Examiner, May 19, 2008).
Chuck West then started again, eventually building up another fleet of small ships, of which two are still working through October. The future seems uncertain but the company has always had a solid reputation in the small ship market and it is to be hoped that something will come out of the present reorganisation that will put them back on a steady keel.


OTHER CRUISE NEWS

New Ship For Hapag-Lloyd Cruises?

An interesting rumour has been reported by Cruise Business Online that Hapag-Lloyd Cruises may soon be ordering a new 30,000-ton cruise ship from a French yard, presumably STX France, who in that size range have built the somewhat larger Seven Seas Mariner and the eight second generation Renaissance ships. Hapag-Lloyd has been expanding its International cruise offerings in recent years and if indeed another ship is built that can rival the top-rated Europa, there will be more opportunities for English-speakers as Hapag will have to rely on more than just the German-speaking market to fill another ultra-luxury ship.


Two Option Three Meyer Ships for NCL?

Reports soon after the Norwegian Epic sailed from St Nazaire had representatives of Meyer Werft on board talking to Norwegian Cruise Line management about their next generation of ships. And last week followed reports that an order for two ships somewhat smaller than the Epic, with an option for a third, was about to be announced with Meyer Werft, who have built most of the NCL fleet. The chief exception is the Pride of America, which was started by Ingalls in Pascagoula and completed by Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven. Watch this space, but any new ships will almost certainly include the best of both the smaller Jewel class ships and the new Epic.


Grand Victoria for Iberocruceros?

From Spain, meanwhile, comes a rumour that one of Costa's older cruise ships, the Costa Victoria, may be moving to Carnival Corp & PLC's Spanish cruise line Iberocruceros. Might that mean her new name will be Grand Victoria? This rumour has been associated with another that Iberocruceros Grand Voyager could be moved to assist in the revival of the Crosières Paquet brand in France, something with which the Costa Allegra has been involved this year. All the Costa, Aida and Iberocruceros ships are now registered in Genoa, while Costa's Italian competitors MSC Cruises still use Panama as their country of registry.

Also from Spain comes a report that Happy Cruises, the former Quail Cruises, is about to enter the cruise market from Havana. As they are the only Spanish-speaking line that is not controlled by one of the big American giants (Carnival own Iberocruceros and Royal Carribean own Pullmantur Cruises), they are the only one that can successfully do this. Happy Cruises (it may sound better in Spanish) will use the Gemini for these cruises, with connecting flights by Air Europa to Havana and Cozumel.


Croisières de France from Aruba?

Another report, also from Spain, says that Croisières de France's Bleu de France will not be sold on the French market after all for her winter cruises from Brazil as charterer CVC will need all the space due to strong sales of their cruises to Fernando da Noronha. Booked passengers will instead receive a choice of a full refund or a cruise on the Ocean Dream from Aruba to Bonaire, Margarita, Curacao, Cartagena and Santa Marta. Presumably some of the French-speaking cruise staff from the Bleu de France will be transferred to the Ocean Dream, as they were to the Pacific Dream last winter.


UK Plans for Classic International

Last Tuesday saw Classic International Cruises' Athena finish her 2010 UK season for Page & Moy at Dover and depart for Cuxhaven, where she started her autumn season for Hansa Touristik. In 2011, the Athena will return to the UK market for Classic's own account. On some of her sailings from Rosyth and Newcastle she will board UK passengers for the Norwegian fjords and then proceed to Gothenburg to complete her passenger list with Swedish passengers boarding at Gothenburg.
The ship remains popular in the Swedish market as she was built in Gothenburg as Swedish American Line's Stockholm in 1946. In 2012, however, Classic is looking at basing her in the UK market for all-British passengers.


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