Passengers expecting to dock in Miami last week got a surprise from their captain: an extra day of cruising. But the bonus wasn’t pleasant. The ship’s officers were trying to avoid an arrest warrant by U.S. Marshals.
Crystal Symphony had been on a two-week cruise. Instead of docking as planned on Saturday, the vessel turned around and sailed to the Bahamas.
The watery flight came after a U.S. judge ordered the vessel seized as part of a lawsuit. The grievance against the ship’s owners was over unpaid fuel debts. In maritime practice, a U.S. Marshal boards a vessel and takes charge of it once it enters U.S. waters.
Cruise trackers show the ship docked in the Bahamian island of Bimini. The Bahamas doesn’t enforce U.S. arrest warrants.
“We all feel we were abducted by luxurious pirates!” passenger Stephen Heard Fales posted on Facebook.
It was not immediately clear how many passengers were aboard. One news outlet reported 300 cruisers. Another reported 700. According to the company website, the vessel can carry up to 848 passengers.
A ferry transported some passengers 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 says guests were also taken to local airports but wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit. According to comments on social media, some passengers seem to have been left to figure out their own ways home.
Passengers and entertainers were posting on social media that they were surprised to find out about the legal case. One guest shared a letter on Facebook from Crystal Cruises Management saying 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, says about 30 to 50 crew members disembarked because their contracts ended. Other 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 says.
Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed the lawsuit in a Miami federal court. The petroleum company brought the suit 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. They allegedly owe $4.6 million for fuel.
Crystal Cruises announced earlier this week that it was suspending operations through late April.
“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 last week.
Besides Crystal Symphony, the line has two other ships currently cruising. Their voyages are supposed to end on January 30 in Aruba and on February 4 in Argentina. Passengers aboard those ships may be wondering where in the world they’ll actually land.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. — Psalm 139:9-10
(The cruise liner Crystal Symphony sails in Charleston, S.C., waters. AP/Bruce Smith)