Crystal Cruises is done, assignee appointed to handle liquidation
The exhausted and sad former Crystal Chairman Jack Anderson detailed the closure, the chaotic final days and what lies ahead in a lengthy interview with Seatrade Cruise News.
Assignee Michael Moecker & Associates
A Florida court has approved Michael Moecker & Associates in an assignment for the benefit of creditors (ABC). This specialist company now controls what remains of Crystal’s non-ship assets, accounts and records and will collect payment claims from creditors. This includes claims from passengers, travel advisors, vendors, shore employees and, where applicable, crew (who also have another mechanism to get paid).
Credit card companies hold over $100 million
Anderson said a “significant majority of customer money is held in trust by VISA, Mastercard and American Express” – he estimated well over $100 million. Moecker will work with these credit card companies to approve refunds. Anderson estimated that 75% to 80% of customers paid by credit card.
The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission has advised passengers to contact their credit card companies or third-party insurance companies as a likely faster way to get a refund than the claims process established by the FMC. Additionally, refunds under the CMF only apply to travel originating from a US port.
Reserve accounts with credit card companies
Beginning in July 2021, Crystal went for an extended period where it did not accept customer deposits, reversing this policy only when a restart plan was implemented. Then, in an unusual arrangement intended to secure customer payments, the line set up reserve accounts with these credit card companies which did not release the funds to the company until after the cruise.
“Once we were dug in a hole, we didn’t want to dig a deeper hole and wanted to restore trust,” Anderson explained. “It was financially prudent and we wanted to send a message” to customers who were worried about booking.
Vessels under V.Ships management and River Advice
The vessels – which were not owned by Crystal but on bareboat charter – have been repossessed by their secured creditors, the banks which hold the mortgages, as previously reported here.
A group of banks have appointed V.Ships Leisure as managers of Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, both anchored off Freeport, Bahamas, and the expedition vessel Crystal Endeavour, currently in Montevideo, Uruguay. And a separate group of banks that owns the debt for the five river vessels has hired River Advice to manage them. The river fleet was in Linz, Austria, but it is believed to have been moved to another location in recent days.
Crystal was told that the ship management companies would take care of the pay and repatriation of the crew.
“In the final hours of this sad and tragic story, it is a small comfort that someone has admitted responsibility [for the crew]” Anderson said. He estimated there were 300 to 400 crew left on each ship in the Bahamas and said Crystal managed a week ago on Friday to repatriate 80 crew from Crystal Endeavor to Ushuaia, leaving about 120 on board. The river vessels, in winter layup, each have about 14 crew members on board.
How things went – quickly
As for the shore employees, all of them – including Anderson – have left.
Since the early days of the pandemic from March 2020, Genting Hong Kong had paid a stipend to Crystal Cruises. That stopped when the parent company filed for liquidation less than a month ago – something Crystal management learned from reading Genting HK’s public statement.
After that, Anderson said his team only had one communication with his boss, Colin Au, Deputy Managing Director, Group Chairman and Executive Director of Genting HK, by conference call. Au, along with Chairman and CEO Tan Sri KT Lim, subsequently resigned.
Therefore, the provisional co-liquidators appointed would provide only limited financing from the secured creditors, the banks. At the time, Crystal had approximately 250 shore-based employees and this reduction in funding resulted in the layoff of 100 people.
Then, early last week, the joint provisional liquidators informed Crystal that the banks holding the mortgages on the ships were calling the tokens – Anderson could not say what prompted this – and that there would be no more ‘silver.
With that, all but 14 of the remaining shore crew were let go last Wednesday. The 14 who persevered a few more days included human resources to help those made redundant, legal and financial teams. It was discovered that a creditor, whom Anderson declined to identify, was able to empty Crystal’s bank account “without our knowledge and without our appeal”.
Unable to file for Chapter 11
Two suitors had made offers for Crystal Cruises, one in the first quarter of 2021 and one in January 2022, offers which were not closed by the parent company.
Subsequently, Crystal’s management determined that filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States was the best course of action in the circumstances. This would have required funds to complete the process.
“We were thwarted, blocked and delayed…We were unable to obtain what would be required for a Chapter 11 filing,” Anderson said.
In the end, running out of money, Crystal was able to seek advice from a law firm to which she had previously paid a retainer that was not fully utilized. This is how the ABC depot in Florida came into existence.
Assignee Michael Moecker & Associates will endeavor to establish communications for the Crystal website and social channels to inform owed persons of how they can register for the process.
Crystal Cruises’ “last act,” as Anderson put it, was to hand over a list of all known assets and liabilities to Moecker, whose job it is to communicate with creditors. “They have our office, our furniture, our computers, data records from all vendors, payment records, everything related to money owed,” he said.
Suitors still interested?
Whether at this point the business could still be reformed in some way, Anderson – who is unsure who owns the Crystal brand – said: ‘I’d like to hope’ but is unsure if it’s realistic.
“There are people who believe it’s possible and are working towards that end,” he said. They likely include the two pushed back contenders from early 2021 and early 2022.
Anderson did not offer names, but multiple independent sources separately identified prior interested parties as former Silversea Cruises owner Manfredi Lefebvre of Ovidio’s Heritage Group, whose holdings include Abercrombie & Kent, and Sycamore Partners, the private equity firm that acquired Azamara last year.
Anderson said that following Genting HK’s liquidation decision, Crystal’s management team received interest from “many” parties for specific assets and “some” for the company as a whole. All these parties have been referred to the provisional co-liquidators.
Due to the fast and chaotic final days of the past week, “We didn’t even get to say goodbye,” Anderson lamented of his co-workers.
With a choking voice, he read a note of thanks he had composed, to “the Crystal family around the world, the people who have always been the heart of Crystal, our crew and our guests whom we love in as an extended family”. .. to travel partners [who] made us and supported us and were faithful to the end… and said that the end does not diminish the success we had together for 32 years…’ And ‘ to our colleagues at the industry who have reached out and said how can we help your employees and crew” and to the Cruise Lines International Association for “helping us find a way forward”.
Anderson noted that Crystal was one of the first lines to resume safe sailing in the pandemic, along with Crystal Serenity from the Bahamas, then Crystal Symphony from New York and Boston and Crystal Endeavor from Iceland and Antarctica.
The Crystal family
Even though it’s over, “the people of Crystal are trying to figure out how to help each other.” Anderson pointed to a “hero,” Odalys Cadenas, a former vice president of human resources — now unemployed with an extended family to support — who hosts webinars to help adrift people write resumes.
And Carmen Roig, former vice president of marketing and sales, will help Moecker create communications for “those extraordinarily important partners on the international side of our business”: GSAs and Independent Sales Representatives. She also communicates with travel advisors who have supported Crystal.
“It’s his sense of duty, his love, his loyalty and his appreciation for travel partners around the world,” Anderson said.
Give a hand
The former chairman himself is reaching out to all of his industry contacts as part of a campaign to help Crystal’s crew and shore-based employees find new opportunities. Several cruise lines are giving special instructions or setting up dedicated addresses for Crystal alumni to get priority answers and consideration. Anderson also shares insights through a fast-growing private, invite-only LinkedIn group for the Crystal team.
“I can’t think of anything more important than helping every employee regain some sense of security,” he said.
Anderson added: “What an amazing honor and privilege it has been to be part of the Crystal team focused on our customers, trying to do the right thing, with utter exhaustion, all the way.” They made me proud. I love them all.’