3-year-old cruise passenger demands fraud charges over cancellation

3-year-old cruise passenger demands fraud charges over cancellation


By now, they were well into the first leg of a three-year Life at Sea cruise, sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia.

Instead, more than a month after the cruise’s sudden cancellation, a couple is stuck in an Istanbul hotel and on the verge of homelessness; Another woman has moved to Ecuador because she can’t pay her mortgage; And a man, recently diagnosed with cancer, has delayed his treatment because he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

On Tuesday, 78 potential Life at Sea passengers sent a letter to Marquenzie LaPointe, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, asking him to investigate whether Turkish cruise company Mirae defrauded them of millions of dollars. He claims the company collected an estimated $16 million and used it as a deposit to purchase a new ship, which it did not buy. It is unclear whether Mr. Lapointe will take action.

Dozens of passengers quit their jobs, sold their homes and took out their life savings to pay for the adventure of a lifetime: a cruise with calls at 382 ports in 1,095 days. But in late November, just days before the cruise’s departure, the voyage was canceled because Meare had failed to obtain a suitable ship.

Most passengers paid thousands of dollars to Mirae to secure their cabins, ranging from $90,000 to $975,000 for a suite. Some passengers paid the full fare in advance to get the discount. Following the cancellation, Mirae said it would offer full refunds to all passengers, but two repayment deadlines have passed and only four of the more than 100 passengers have received partial refunds.

If passengers had known how their money was being used, they “could have made an informed decision about leaving their $16 million,” the complaint said. He said the company had clearly told him that he was not being paid. Used for advance financing.

Last May, Mirae owner Vedat Ugurlu sent a WhatsApp message to Life at Sea’s former managing director Mikael Pettersson, telling him he had $5 million as a deposit for the purchase of AIDAAura, a There is a bigger ship which is more suitable. for the voyage than the originally proposed MV Gemini. He said he needed to deposit a total of $10 million due to bank guarantees and asked Mr Peterson to meet a May 31 deadline to collect passenger payments.

Mr. Peterson, who was in charge of sales and marketing at the time, said he did not feel comfortable collecting large sums when the company did not have a U.S. bank account or the infrastructure to safely collect payments. Miray refused to set up an escrow account as is common in the United States and was not required to place a bond with the Federal Maritime Commission to protect customer deposits because it was not originating from American ports.

Mirae has denied using passengers’ money to fund the new ship and has blamed refund delays on the high number of credit card chargeback disputes, saying banks have blocked their funds. Most passengers said they started requesting chargebacks only last week, as the company failed to meet its promised repayment deadline.

Mirae Chief Operating Officer Ethem Bayramoglu said in an interview, “We are working tirelessly to get the necessary documents to our banks to release our funds, and all our passengers can be assured that they will receive their funds by February 15. Full payment will be made by.” On 12th January.

Many passengers are not buying it. “I won’t believe anything unless I have my money in my hand,” said Kara Youssef, a 36-year-old former humanitarian worker from Ohio, who sold her apartment to pay for the cruise and moved to Istanbul with her husband. “Staying in a hotel.” She has been waiting for her $80,000 refund for more than two months. On December 29, she received a bank receipt stating that the first installment of her repayment had been sent, but she never received the funds.

After several attempts to reach Mr. Bayramoglou (who at one point told her he was at a soccer game and could not talk), Ms. Youssef finally spoke to him on January 14. He offered them to pay their share. In person, in cash, but have not yet set a time and place to meet.

Life at Sea’s passengers are primarily American citizens. Many of them learned about Cruz on CNN and “Good Morning America.” The biggest attraction, he said, was the price, which for many people would have been less expensive than living in a city for three years. This, coupled with the opportunity to explore the world, motivated him to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I’ve always wanted to go on a world cruise, but they were all out of my budget,” said Jenny Fenix, 67, who gave up two small businesses, rented out her condo in Florida and raised $70,000 to go on a cruise. Paid.

The sales team, mostly American, was very reassuring, he said. Even when internal disputes among company executives became public, leading to the resignation of the sales team in May, passengers remained confident that the cruise would continue.

Now Ms. Fenix ​​is ​​sharing a house in Ecuador with another stranded traveler because she had to rent out her Florida condo to pay the mortgage.

Ms. Fenix ​​and many other passengers are confused and struggling to move forward. David Purcell, a 78-year-old retired attorney from St. Louis, said, “Some people put in everything and now they’re broke or homeless or wandering like tumbleweeds from cruise to cruise because they have no way to go. There’s no other place for it.” Who sold his house and car and booked a cruise after his wife’s death, in hopes it would help him recover from his loss.

“I believe we have a strong case to warrant a criminal investigation,” Mr Purcell said.

Shirin Thomas, 58, a retired actress and social worker from Wilmington, N.C., is one of many travelers who are basically homeless. He spent a third of his retirement savings and gave up his rent to put aside $156,000 for the cruise. Now, with limited credit, he is unable to secure a new lease.

“I’m about to go on my fifth back-to-back cruise,” she said, speaking from a friend’s house in North Carolina. “I literally went from Rome to Manhattan on a trans-Atlantic cruise and went back to Rome four days later to go on the same cruise again.”

Ms. Thomas is paying for the cruise by credit card, hoping her refund from Mirae will be processed in time to pay off her balance.

Another passenger, Adam Purse, was a retired engineer in his early 50s from Bristol, England Diagnosed with cancer After the cruise was canceled and now he’s looking for work to pay for his mortgage and cancer treatment, which he’s had to delay. He said he paid six figures in advance for the entire cruise fare so he could get a discount.

“Instead of focusing on my treatment, I have to go through the stress of chasing my money and looking for work,” Mr Purse said.

Mr. Purse has explained his position to Mirey several times. Each week, Mr Bayramoglou sends them emails saying they will receive their money “by Friday”. But Mr Purse has yet to receive any money and Miray has stopped responding to his messages.

“Enough,” said Mr. Purse. “I’m okay with the fact that I won’t get my money back, but if I don’t get anything, at least if the U.S. attorney starts an investigation and these guys go to jail, that’s something.”


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