Ship owner 'reserves right' to sue

Protesting passengers agree compensation with travel firm over failure to dock in Ha Long Bay, but legal experts warn they could pay a price

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 4:59am

The owner of a cruise ship occupied by passengers demanding higher compensation for missing a stop on their tour says it "reserves the right" to sue the protesters.

The passengers yesterday reached a compensation deal with tour agency Miramar Travel over their failure to reach port in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. But legal experts said Costa Cruises, owner of the Costa Victoria, could sue the passengers for delaying a sailing to Malaysia with their 17-hour protest on Thursday, or for additional berthing fees it incurred.

Some 300 passengers refused to leave the ship when it returned to Tsim Sha Tsui on Thursday at the end of a six-day trip after tour agency Miramar offered them just HK$340 in compensation for failing to land at Cai Lan port, near the Unesco World Heritage site. Instead, passengers saw the spectacular limestone rock formations from onboard the ship.

The final level of compensation agreed with the protesting passengers was covered by a confidentiality agreement.

Costa said it "deeply regretted the discomfort and disappointment felt by our passengers" after a sunken barge prevented it from entering a navigation channel to reach the port.

"Costa Victoria, in compliance with the instruction from local Vietnamese port authorities, for safety reasons, could not navigate to the anchorage position as scheduled," it added. "This was a decision beyond the control of Costa Cruises."

The company said passengers continued to enjoy full service onboard the ship and it had, as a goodwill gesture, provided US$50 in credit to spend onboard for each cabin.

Windy Kwok Pui-fong, a representative of the disgruntled passengers, said: "We are sorry about delaying the trip of passengers on the next cruise trip."

Some 2,000 passengers who had been due to embark for Malaysia on Thursday were delayed by the protest.

Kwok refused to spell out how much the passengers would receive from Miramar Travel, citing the confidentiality agreement. Before the meeting, she had demanded a refund of one-third of the cost of the cruise. Passengers had paid up to HK$18,000 for the six-day tour.

Miramar general manager Alex Lee Chun-ting said the agency would offer the same settlement to all 1,000 passengers who booked on the tour.

"The agency will help mediate with Costa and explain the situation," he said.

Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said the body was continuing its investigation of the case and had "spotted some questionable points".

For example, the watchdog said it had obtained a letter supposedly from the Vietnamese port confirming it was unsafe for Costa Victoria to berth. However, the vessel is referred to as "our ship Costa" - even through the port did not own it, Tung said.

Veteran lawyer Stephen Hung Wan-shun said Costa could bring a civil case against the passengers for "intrusion of rights". That could include berthing fees or any compensation it had to pay to the delayed passengers bound for Malaysia.

"I doubt very much if it would do so," Hung said. "It would affect their business reputation."