Cruising to nowhere as Royal African Cruises fails to deliver

Nov 19, 2004
Author: P&S



Hundreds of passengers have had their hopes dashed after a Cape Town-based company, Royal African Cruises failed to deliver a cruise ship named African Queen as advertised.

For more than one year the company sold what is believed to be hundreds of cruises to the public with the promise of bringing a cruise ship to operate year-round cruises in Southern African waters. Fares were offered at extremely low prices (which alone should have raised suspicions), often half that of a rival operator. The company justified this by claiming the ship would be rand-based compared with other dollar-based operations.

The ship currently named Caribic Star was due to enter South African waters to commence an all year round cruise operation out of Durban, sailing to the Mozambique coast and Indian Ocean islands. However the vessel failed to arrive despite several postponements. (See various Ports & Ships reports on this story dated 11 September 2004, 23 July 2003 and 13 June 2003)

Attempts to obtain comment from the company have proved fruitless with phone calls unanswered. The company’s offices appear to be deserted.

Now a statement on the company website (www.royalafricancruises.co.za) claims it has arranged a rescue package from the KwaZulu-Natal government and goes further to suggest another local cruise operator will also help out.

“We kindly ask for your patience in this matter, as we endeavour to secure a suitable outcome to everyone’s satisfaction,” wrote Sam Dodgen, managing director of Royal African Cruises.

This week Mel Clark, head of the KZN Department of Economic Development said that the provincial government has no intention of bailing out passengers who stand to lose everything.

He said no rescue package existed but his department had attempted to assist by finding other investors. In this it had been unsuccessful.

“Our first concern is to protect the interest of the consumers, who stand to lose some R1 million, and not to protect businesses of this very dubious nature,” he told a Durban newspaper.

Clark described the letter on Royal African Cruises website as very misleading. The provincial government is unable to enter into an agreement with the company as government departments are not allowed by law to financially support any failing business.

The General Manager of Business Development at Durban Investment Promotion Agency, Mdumiso Mlambo confirmed that DIPA had been approached and had held talks with Royal African Cruises to secure additional financial investors. He said that nothing came of this despite some initial interest shown by one or two parties.

Claims that a ‘KZN-based cruise operator’ will address refunds and the ‘fulfillment of cruises’ on their cruise liner also proved false. Mr Allan Foggitt, managing director of Starlight Cruises, South Africa’s only cruise operator, said this week that his company had been approached to look at possible ways of assisting in the interest of passengers and the cruise industry in general. Unfortunately once the true situation had become clear it was obvious that this would be difficult if not impossible, he said.

Starlight has however come up with a formula to assist passengers who have paid a deposit with Royal African Cruises via a special rate on board the MSC Rhapsody when it starts cruising from Durban later this month. This would be subject to availability and other conditions and those affected were welcome to contact Starlight for details.

Foggitt said that from the records shown him by Royal African Cruises it appeared that most passengers who had booked had in fact paid the full fare and it didn’t look as if this money was available for refunding.

He said Starlight’s offices had been inundated with queries from irate passengers anxious about their holiday plans and investment.

Police in Cape Town have concluded a preliminary investigation, which has been handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will make a final decision whether to proceed with criminal proceedings against the company or its individuals.

Meanwhile hundreds of would-be passengers are left with nothing to show except disappointment and Ports & Ships continues to receive numerous requests from readers requesting advice. All we can suggest is that passengers should consider combining efforts with the intention of appointing joint legal representation.



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