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Two Crystal Cruises ships that were diverted to the Bahamas with hundreds of passengers aboard have been seized in relation to a US warrant over at least $4.6 million in unpaid fuel bills.
The Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity were commandeered by authorities in waters near Freeport, Bahamas on Friday night, crew members on both ships told Cruise Law News. Both ships had disembarked all passengers at the time of the seizure.
The cruise ships were being sought by US Marshals on a federal arrest warrant issued last month, after Crystal Cruises parent company Genting Hong Kong filed to wind up its business and a key fuel supplier sought to recoup unpaid bills.
The cruise line suspended operations through at least April, and the two ships diverted to the Bahamas to evade seizure, infuriating passengers who had expected to end their cruises in Miami or California, and cutting short one of the cruises by months.
It was not immediately clear how the ships were seized in the Bahamas, which is outside the jurisdiction of the US Marshals.
The Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity (together above) were commandeered by authorities in waters near Freeport, Bahamas on Friday night
Separately, the Crystal Endeavor is also under arrest in Ushuaia, Argentina, according to Cruise Law News.
'We were scheduled to leave yesterday. Now waiting Monday as court not working on weekend,' a source onboard the Endeavor told the outlet.
A spokesman for Crystal Cruises told DailyMail.com in a statement: 'We are unable to comment on pending legal matters at this time. Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony’s voyages ended last month and there are no guests onboard.'
'The officers and crew on board are being well cared for and staying in single accommodations some of which are guest staterooms,' added spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
'We are making sure they are comfortable and able to enjoy the various amenities on board. Crew members have been paid per their normal schedules and we are meeting and exceeding all contractual obligations,' he said.
A source close to the crew members of the Crystal Symphony confirmed to DailyMail.com that the crew had been paid and had ample food, and can now make plans to return home.
'Apart from a skeleton crew to actually operate the ship, all of the crew will be traveling home within a week,' the source said, adding that the voyages home would be covered by the cruise line.
A passenger on board the Crystal Symphony reacts with relief as a ferry arrives in Bimini to return the stranded passengers to South Florida on January 23. The ship was one of two that diverted to the Bahamas fleeing a US arrest warrant
Passengers from the Crystal Serenity are seen after their cruise was unexpectedly cut short by months
The saga first unfolded late last month, when fuel supplier Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a complaint in Florida seeking an arrest warrant for the Crystal Cruises vessels under US admiralty law.
Crystal Cruises' parent organization, Genting Hong Kong, had filed to wind up the company, warning that it will 'imminently be unable to pay its debts as they fall due' and the fuel supplier was desperate to recoup the unpaid bills.
Peninsula alleged that Genting's subsidiaries had reneged on a total of $4.6 million in fuel payments, with $1.2 million alone attributed to the Crystal Symphony.
Judge Darrin Gayles of the U.S. District Court in Southern Florida approved the warrant, and the Crystal vessels became subject to seizure if they entered US ports.
Avoiding the warrants, the ships on active cruises diverted to Bimini instead of ending their tours in Miami and California as planned, spurring fury and frustration among passengers.
The Crystal Symphony, which was scheduled to return to Miami on January 22 to end a 14-day Caribbean cruise, instead veered off to Bimini, adding an extra night to the voyage and forcing 300 passengers to take a ferry to Florida on January 23.
British musician Elio Pace, who was performing on board the Symphony at the time, previously described to DailyMail.com how the news came as a shock to passengers and crew.
'That was quite extraordinary, to be in a position to have to perform to people, with them knowing the cruise line has gone into liquidation,' he said. 'This was a shock to everybody when we got the announcement.'
The Crystal Symphony is seen docked in Bimini after diverting from its scheduled call in Miami
The Crystal Serenity was the second ship to be diverted by the company Crystal Cruises after the cruise line announced they would be suspending operations until April
The Crystal Serenity was originally scheduled to take about 200 passengers on a three-and-a-half month expedition before the company announced it would suspend operations through April only two days after leaving Miami on January 17.
Passengers were initially told the ship would end the cruise in Aruba, but it was diverted to the island of Bimini after Aruba officials did not allow the ship to dock there.
Travelers were told of the change only two days after leaving Miami, and some said it would have been better to return to South Florida instead of ending unexpectedly in the Bahamas.
The cruise line then ferried the passengers to Fort Lauderdale where they were put up in hotel rooms.
'People are very upset, shocked and distraught because Aruba is not very convenient,' said Crystal Serenity passenger Barry Shulman, 75, in an AP interview.
Shulman, from Las Vegas, was on the expedition originally set to return to California in late May. 'It's an absolute mess,' he said.
Shulman said that after departing from Cozumel that the ship's captain made an announcement that there was an order to impound the ship in Cozumel.
'He said `I am glad we got out of Cozumel before they had a chance to arrest us,'' said Shulman. 'My eyebrows went up. If it was a joke, it was pretty inappropriate.'
Elio Pace, a British musician who had been performing on board the Crystal Symphony, previously told DailyMail.com about the ship's dramatic diversion to Bimini after the arrest warrant was issued
Crystal Cruises is owned by Genting Hong Kong, which is part of a bigger conglomerate that also includes Genting Malaysia and Genting Singapore.
The company, controlled by Malaysian tycoon Lim Kok Thay, has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malaysian tycoon Lim Kok Thay controls the Genting Group
The Genting Group owns the Resorts World leisure park chain as well as 30 casinos across the U.K.
The company's finances were tipped into ruin after the German government last month rejected its request to draw a $88 million backstop facility related to the MV Werften shipyard in northeastern Germany.
German officials blamed Genting for refusing to contribute 10 percent to a $678 million bailout plan that would protect 1,900 jobs at the shipyard.
The shipyard filed for bankruptcy, and the events triggered the insolvency application Monday of another shipyard it owns in Germany, Lloyd-Werft in Bremerhaven.
Genting reported a $238 million net loss for the period ending June 2021, as compared to a $742.6 loss million for the same period in 2020.
Genting Hong Kong reportedly halted payments on debts of almost $3.4 billion in 2020.
'The Company and the Group have no access to any further liquidity under any of Group's debt documents and the Company's available cash balances are expected to run out on or around end of January 2022 according to the Company's cashflow forecasts,' Genting said in its filing.