Olympia Countess to come under auctioneer's hammer

Jan 16, 2004
Author: Terry Hutson

There have been further surprises with the news that the arrested cruise ship Olympia Countess will be sold by auction in two weeks time. Due to the legal implications it had been expected that any sale of the ship would take several months to arrange.

The popular cruise ship, on charter to Starlight Cruises from owners Royal Olympic Cruises for a summer of cruising out of Durban, was arrested on 8 January by a number of creditors that has now increased to about 10, forcing the cancellation of a cruise to Mozambique due to begin later that day. The cancellation left hundreds of passengers at the quayside holding tickets but with nowhere to go and thousands of others with the prospect of cancelled holiday plans.

Starlight Cruises, which has chartered the ship during the past two summers, said that refunds would be made but was hopeful that regular cruises could resume shortly.

“I was told by the owners that some form of agreement with the mortgaging banks in Germany was expected and that the ship would be freed in time for the 13 February cruise,” Alan Foggitt, managing director of Starlight Cruises said. This would have allowed another 17 cruises from Durban before the ship is due to return to Europe in April.

Mr Foggitt was unaware that the main creditors had ordered the ship to be sold on Thursday, 29 January but said this could turn to everyone’s advantage as a new owner might be prepared to enter into another charter agreement for the remainder of the South African summer.

Captain Roy Martin of Admiralty Ship Sales, who will conduct the auction on behalf of the creditors said permission had been granted to hold the sale on board the vessel which is berthed at N-Shed.

“It is costing the creditors about USD 40 000 (R266 000) per day just to sit there, so the sooner a buyer if found and the matter wrapped up the better for all concerned,” he said.

Captain Martin expects the ship to realise between USD15 million and USD18 million from the sale, although he thought the number of people interested in buying cruise ships was limited. “It’s not like selling a container or cargo ship, where there are plenty of buyers.”

He said he’d undertaken a full inspection of the vessel which was in good general condition and well cared for despite being 28 years old. Whoever buys the ship will have to comply with new International Maritime Organisation SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) 2005 regulations, which come into effect at the end of this year. This requires that a full sprinkler system be installed throughout the ship which will cost between USD2 and USD2.5 million (R13m – R16.5m).

The ship, which began service in 1975 as the Cunard Countess for Cunard Line, is under contract to serve as a floating hotel at Athens during this year’s Olympic Games, which might act as a further inducement for would-be buyers provided they are able to arrange for the Greek Olympic Committee to renew the contract.

Meanwhile the ship’s crew made up of mainly Greek and Filipino nationals have remained on board and have also brought two separate arrest orders against Olympia Countess in lieu of unpaid wages.
Full details of the ship sale will be available on the website www.admiralty.co.za

N.B. This report first appeared in The Mercury newspaper in Durban on Thursday, 15 January 2004.

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