Crystal Cruises: ‘Abducted’ staff and passengers on fugitive cruise speak out after it fled to Bahamas to avoid arrest warrant

Passengers on board a cruise ship that sailed to the Bahamas instead of its destination in Miami are speaking out about the ordeal they went through.

The Crystal Symphony cruise ship was due to dock in Florida on Saturday after a two-week-long Caribbean cruise but changed course after a US judge granted an order to seize the vessel as part of a lawsuit involving $4.6m (£3.4m) in unpaid fuel bill.

The ship is currently docked on the Bahamian island of Bimini. A spokesperson for Crystal Cruises, that owned the ship, said the ride was “uncomfortable due to inclement weather.”

Some of the 300 passengers were taken by ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday while others were left scrambling to rebook travel arrangements.

All the passengers were later transported from Port Lauderdale to Miami in shuttles.

Stephen Heard Fales, one of the passengers, wrote on Facebook that the experience felt as if “we were abducted by luxurious pirates.”

Musician Elio Pace, who boarded the ship on Tuesday in Dominica, told The Independent he had just finished a rehearsal on Friday when he was informed an arrest warrant had been issued for the ship.

As per the arrest warrant issued on Thursday, a US Marshal can take charge of the vessel once it enters the US waters.

“There was literally eight seconds of silence, nobody could say anything. It was almost laughable… we literally just said ‘are you kidding?’

“No one could believe that this ship was having to divert away from US waters like a pirate ship away so it didn’t get arrested,” he said.

Mr Pace was hired to work on the ship until 23 February. He raised concerns about the 400 crew members and if they will remain employed.

“All these brilliant beautiful people, they’re really down in the dumps and very despondent and very uncertain about what next or even if they’ll get paid. It’s a bit brutal,” he added.

Passenger Shauna Wiest said they did not know if they were going to get off the ship.

“We were all very scared, we didn’t know what was going to happen until this morning,” Ms Wiest told ABC-affiliated news network Local 10 News.

Xivi Medina, a vendor on the cruise, tested positive for Covid-19 and is aboard the ship in isolation.

“Everything is Ok. We’re just waiting to see what happens,” Ms Medina told Telemundo 51.

She added there were no passengers on board. Only crew members and vendors were left on the ship.

“The company is going to take care of getting all the crew members back home. Obviously, they’re gonna do it little by little, but the company is buying the tickets to get each of the crew members back to their respective countries,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed in a Miami federal court by Peninsula Petroleum Far East against the ship under the maritime procedure for allegedly owing $4.6m in fuel bills.

Crystal Cruises’ parent company Genting Hong Kong said this week it had “exhausted all reasonable efforts” to settle millions of dollars outstanding fuel bills and would be ceasing operations.

Genting Hong Kong is controlled by Malaysian tycoon Lim Kok Thay, whose Genting Group is described as “one of Asia’s leading and best-managed multinationals” with interests in leisure and hospitality, plantations, property and biotechnology.