In September, the Crystal Symphony celebrated its return to cruising from New York City as it headed out of the Hudson to Bermuda. This weekend the cruise ship took an unusual detour — diverting its route from Miami to the Bahamas to avoid arrest by US officials for not paying for millions of dollars of fuel, as its operating company filed for bankruptcy.

Crystal Symphony
Crystal Symphony arriving in port in New York City at sunrise on October 8, 2021. Photo: Gary Hershorn

US-based fuel supplier Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a suit against Crystal parent company Genting Hong Kong Ltd. for $4.6 million, alleging that the organization had failed to pay fuel charges for three of its ships, with unpaid dues owed as far back as 2017. A Florida judge granted an arrest warrant for the incoming Crystal Symphony on Thursday, leading the ship to change its course Friday to head for the Bahamas, where a US arrest cannot be made.

Cruise ship musician Elio Pace broadcasted his experience from on board — as he prepared for his first show on Friday, rehearsals were abruptly interrupted by the news that the ship would be diverting to Bimini to disembark and that operations would cease immediately. 

Elio was among the 700 on board who were put on a courtesy ferry to Fort Lauderdale and left to fend for themselves, as passengers scrambled to rearrange flights, hotels, and rental cars and the ship’s crew members, numbering over 400, found themselves suddenly out of a job. 

The crew, some of whom have worked for Crystal Cruises for over 25 years, were not informed of the company’s liquidation prior to the route diversion. “The people I feel really bad for are the brilliant, beautiful and wonderful loyal staff and crew aboard this ship for whom the Crystal Symphony is their livelihood,” said Pace in an Instagram post. 

Added passenger Stephen Fales in a statement to the New York Times, “That crew treated us like royalty through the tears of losing their jobs. They’re all just heartbroken, and it was just devastating.”

Crystal Cruises and the Genting Hong Kong Ltd. group — already nearly sunk by the bludgeoning impact of the pandemic on the cruise ship industry — weren’t aided by an equally rocky re-launch in 2021. One of the first cruise ships to resume operation from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal this fall, the Crystal Symphony, had six of its passengers test positive for COVID-19 after sailing from New York to Bermuda in October. 

After reporting a $1.7 billion loss in May 2021, Genting filed with the Supreme Court of Bermuda on Wednesday to provide provisional liquidators as a way to defend their assets. Spokespeople for the company asserted that they had already “exhausted all reasonable efforts” to satisfy stakeholders and creditors. Said Jack Anderson, president of Crystal Cruises in a statement: “This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong.” 

Crystal Symphony
The Crystal Symphony had previously docked at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Crystal Cruises suspended all operating cruises through the end of April for ocean routes and May for river cruises. The company is showing details for 18 cruises planned from New York this fall — however, their call center is temporarily paused. “We will continue to take new reservations for future voyages via with no money down until March 1, 2022. For more than 30 years, Crystal has been synonymous with luxury travel, welcoming our valued guests to their seagoing home away from home as we explore this Wonderful World together. We thank you for your continued loyalty and support during this challenging time. We will continue to update our guests and travel partners on this situation as we can,” they said in a statement.

And as for the passengers forced to cut their trips short without warning? As Fales told the Times, “It’s just sad to see the pandemic kill it like it’s a Broadway show that opened too soon.”

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