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One Ocean Expeditions' scientific cruise business is going through a painful restructuring.
The main player in this business drama is based in Squamish, B.C.
But One Ocean's troubles should be of interest here.
Company CEO Andrew Prossin is originally from Cape Breton and he had plans to operate polar cruises from an operations centre in Sydney -- the commissioning ceremony for its RCGS Resolute was held in the Cape Breton port.
The company’s most recent Antarctic voyage of the RCGS Resolute was cancelled after it had gotten underway. Soon after, I was contacted by Dorothy Poole, a Nova Scotian who was a passenger aboard the ship, who was able to provide a time line of events.
Here's how Poole says it played out.
Passengers arrived in Argentina and were waiting to board the vessel in Ushuaia, she said. The first sign of trouble was when passengers were told that the ship was delayed due to a medical emergency.
An injured crew member required evacuation to hospital, which caused the ship to miss a refueling window. The ship was then scheduled to sail from Buenos Aires after taking on fuel.
The RCGS Resolute sailed from Buenos Aries on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m., although it apparently did not take on fuel.
On Oct. 21 the passengers were told the ship would stop in Puerto Madryn for fuel the next morning. Shore activities were planned for the fuel stop; however, when the passengers returned to the ship they were informed that fuel did not arrive as planned but would arrive the next day.
On Oct. 23 additional shore excursions were planned but upon their return to the ship the passengers were told only two tankers had fueled the ship, and two more were needed in order for the ship to safely proceed. Those two tankers also needed to be sourced.
The next day, passengers were offered excursions for which they would have to pay cash. Then they were told not to leave the ship.
At 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, passengers were informed that One Ocean Expeditions had canceled the cruise, citing the lack of fuel availability. The ship would be returning to Buenos Aires.
The Resolute arrived in Buenos Aries the morning of Oct. 27 and the passengers disembarked. One Ocean offered a free trip to be taken within the next two years as compensation. Other tour operators, who had booked passage on the ship, offered their customers alternate tours through Brazil and Argentina.
Poole said the passengers from the cancelled cruise are organizing and considering their actions. Many of them are out several thousand dollars each. She had much praise for her tour operator Rockjumper Birding Tours, who she said were misled by One Ocean and went out of their way to try to make the trip work.
The RCGS Resolute remains in port in Buenos Aires. One Ocean is still advertising its next cruise, scheduled to depart from Ushuaia Nov. 6, the day the canceled cruise was scheduled to conclude.
A request for comment from One Ocean has gone unanswered. On the company’s Facebook page, Prossin acknowledged in a statement the past few months have been “extremely challenging” for the company.
He said the unexpected withdrawal of the two Russian ships from the company’s fleet was a destabilizing event. Although the company tried to weather the disruption, it has been forced to undergo a restructuring of its business.
In September the Resolute was arrested in Halifax. The Federal Court in Halifax listed two cases against the ship which led to its arrest on Sept. 20. The first was from PF Collins Custom Brokers for services rendered and the second by Chris Guzzo et al for unpaid wages. The ship was cleared on the Sept. 24 after payment of the bills and wages.
A former crew member, who did not want to be named, told me that more than 60 individuals are owed wages by One Ocean.
The crew member told me she feels badly for the passengers. For many of the passengers the trip was a-once-in-a-lifetime experience, she said.
Chris Guzzo, who was named in the court action, said he was owed more than US$11,000 by One Ocean. Eight former members of the RCGS Resolute were part of the action to get the ship arrested, although only those who had worked on the ship were able to be part of that action, leaving many of the others still waiting for payment, he said.
Guzzo had worked for One Ocean since 2016. He told me the company was frequently late paying crew, and had an odd payment arrangement, where 50 per cent of the wage was paid at the end of the contract.
Guzzo and the other crewmember I spoke with both said the allure of working in the polar regions was one of the reasons they overlooked One Ocean’s payment terms. They are still working as part of a ship’s crew although for other companies.
This is not the first trouble for One Ocean Expeditions. RCGS Resolute was arrested while at anchor in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Aug. 9. Atship Services was owed $100,000 for supplies. That situation was quickly resolved.
In May, One Ocean Expeditions suddenly lost the use of its two Russian ships—Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov. One Ocean stated at that time the ships were recalled suddenly and without warning in violation of the contract. They blamed political tensions between Russia and the West.
The Russian State owned P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanography, which owns the vessels, simply stated it had no agreement with One Ocean Expeditions and that the Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov were time-chartered by Terragelida Ship Management Ltd.
It turned out that Terragelida Ship Management canceled its contracts with One Ocean Expeditions due to One Ocean’s non-payment of charter and fuelling fees.