Dec. 29, 2003 – They were headed from Florida to the Amazon on a 17-day cruise, but an order relating to bankruptcy proceedings forced nearly 800 cruise ship passengers to spend Christmas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And half a week later, on Monday, they were still in the territory.
With time running out until the scheduled return of their ship, the Olympia Voyager, to Port Everglades, Fla., on Jan. 2, there was still no official word about when the passengers' unanticipated holiday sojourn would end.
"We were supposed to leave many days," Pearl Siegel said on Monday. "The latest is tomorrow. Before that it was today. Most of the passengers have been really good sports about it, but I don't understand why they won't allow our ship to do anything — to go into another port and make it more interesting, at least for the passengers."
On Monday morning, Siegel and a group of friends from Boca Raton, Florida, were contemplating a daytrip to St. John.
V.I. government and hospitality industry officials have gone out of their way to see that the stranded passengers have had a good time in the territory, despite the circumstances.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards said on Monday that she had spoken with the ship's captain, Apistolas Georgios, and it appeared the Greek-registered vessel would depart the port of Charlotte Amalie on Tuesday, although she said there was a possibility that might change.
Richards and members of her staff spent much of Christmas week arranging daytrips and shopping excursions for those aboard the Olympia Voyager when it became apparent the Greek-registered ship would remain in port for a few days after its unscheduled Dec. 19 arrival. (See the St. Thomas Source report "Voyage to Amazon detoured to St. Thomas".)
She said Edward E. Thomas Sr., chief executive of The West Indian Co., also devoted much of his Christmas holiday time to assisting with ship-to-shore communications. The vessel initially tied up at the WICO dock but had to be relocated after three days to accommodate incoming ships with scheduled berthing.
There had been earlier speculation that the ship, under orders not to leave U.S. waters except to return to its home port, would be allowed to cruise to the nearby U.S. islands of St. Croix and Puerto Rico. But Richards said that was not to be.
In addition to inviting the passengers to enjoy some shopping on St. Thomas and St. John, she said on Monday, "the real kicker was that I invited them to come to St. Croix," where the annual Crucian Festival is in full swing. "I was trying to persuade the captain to bring the ship to St. Croix, but for legal reasons he wasn't able to do so," she said. "So, what we did was contact Kevin Matthews from Virgin Islands Fast Ferry."
A number of passengers reportedly took advantage of half-price ferry excursion tickets arranged with the help of Boston Harbor Cruises, the parent company of V.I. Fast Ferry. St. Croix broadcaster Roger W. Morgan helped arrange half-price accommodations at the Divi Carina Bay Resort, and the Crucian Christmas Festival Committee offered half-price tickets to any of festival events at Paul E. Joseph Stadium.
Some of the folks in the group from Boca Raton who were considering a daytrip to St. John on Monday said they had made several trips ashore to St. Thomas.
"We've enjoyed it, part of it, but it begins to be repetitive and even somewhat boring," group member Lenny Zeitland said of the 10-night stay in port and counting. "We've had shows, and you see wonderful dancers every night, really phenomenal. But when you see the routines, just with different costumes — well, we sleep very well during the show … I do," he said.
"The food, whatever's left of it, is very good," Zeitland added. "We really can't complain, other than the idea. We'd like to know if we definitely are getting back by Jan 2."
Richards said the Tourism Department remains available to assist in any way possible. But she said the legal issues involving Royal Olympia Cruises, a Greek company, that led to the restrictions on the boat's movement will dictate the outcome of the trip.
"If there were any emergencies, we would be able to immediately help get those people off island," Richards said of the passengers. "But the tour packages are sold a little bit differently than they are in the United States. There's a legal responsibility that the European tours have to their passengers … We can't jump in full force the way that we might wish to."
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