The once-in-a-lifetime holidays of hundreds of travellers are in jeopardy after Russian authorities seized two ships from a Canada-based cruise company.
One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) had leased the MV Akademik Ioffe and the MV Akademik Sergey from Russia since 2011 and 2012. The vessels each carried fewer than 100 passengers and were used for Arctic and Antarctic cruises, offering guests the opportunity to see remote regions and enjoy close-up views of polar bears and penguins. But OOE says they were seized last month without warning.
“The owners’ refusal to provide the vessels is a breach of their contract with OOE,” the company wrote in a letter to booking agents, according to a report by Australia-based Traveller. “OOE has done everything in its power to compel the owners to abide by their contractual obligations.
“The vessel owners unexpectedly decided to return the vessels to Kaliningrad, Russia, for purported repairs. This was not communicated to OOE in advance,” it added.
The OOE has launched legal action. It said in the letter that it had filed an urgent application for arbitration proceedings.
“Unfortunately, it is now clear that no matter what OOE does the vessels will not be provided for the upcoming 2019-20 cruising seasons, despite our contract.
“Given that the legal proceedings initiated by OOE following the contract breach could lead to the arrest of the vessels should they leave Russia, OOE has undertaken to share a full account of what has transpired with our agents and partners.”
When the Russian government seized the ships in late May, before the start of the Arctic cruise season in August, it claimed that the vessels needed to be taken to Kaliningrad to be worked on in part of a “modernisation project”.
OOE only lists one ship, the purpose-built 146-passenger expedition vessel RGCS Resolute, which launched in October 2018, on its website. Cruise itineraries to Antarctica, Canada’s east coast, the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, the islands of the North Atlantic, Spitsbergen and South and Central America are still listed.
Cruises to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland start at $7,995 per person (£6,285) for a 10-day voyage on the RGCS Resolute.
Expedition cruising is on the rise, with 28 expedition ships due to launch in the next four years.
Speaking at the Cruise Line International Association’s (Clia) first expedition cruise forum in March 2019, Peter Shanks, Silversea’s UK managing director, and chairman of the Clia expedition working group, said the expedition cruise sector is expected to grow by 30 per cent by 2022.
In a Clia survey of 100 travel agents, 90 per cent said they expected expedition cruise sales to grow in the next five years. Futuristic ships designed to let cruise passengers sail to remote regions in greater comfort, and with additions such as on board helicopters and submarines, include Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Flora, launching later this month, and Le Lapérouse from French cruise line Ponant.
OOE has been contacted for further comment.