Once turning over HK$10 million a day, sorry saga of stranded casino ship finally ends with mystery buyer snapping up 12,000-tonne vessel for a bargain

Remaining crew heads back to Ukraine awaiting unpaid wages

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 12:06pm

A casino ship stuck in Hong Kong in a legal dispute over nearly HK$4 million in unpaid wages for its crew went under the hammer for US$1.46 million last week, ending a nine-month tug of war.

The 36-year-old New Imperial Star, whose former owner paid more than HK$100 million for it in late 2012, went to an unknown buyer last Tuesday after the High Court ordered it be auctioned to settle debts.

The plight of the vessel, weighing 12,586 tonnes and capable of holding 513 passengers, highlighted how the casino cruise industry has suffered throughout Beijing’s crackdown on corruption and the gaming business.

Watch: Crew aboard casino ship living in squalor

A source familiar with the case said the owner had run into financial trouble as the appeal of casino cruises faded.

And Mr Wong, a representative of the former owner, said he felt unhappy with the auction price. “I don’t want to talk about it further as I am not happy with this ship,” he said.

The remaining 13 Ukrainian crew, who had been stranded on board the ship for over nine months since November last year, went back home when it sold.

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In June, 33 crew from Ukraine, Myanmar and the mainland stuck on board for over 7 months went home, aided by the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

They will only get the full unpaid amounts, ranging from US$1,300 to US$6,500 per month and totalling $500,000, in November. The High Court needs two months to decide the priority of the claims.

Arising International bought the ship, registered in Palau, in 2012 and rented it to Sun Junhao Ltd for HK$2 million per month.

Cash-strapped Sun Junhao abandoned the vessel early this year after it failed the Port State Control inspection by Hong Kong marine officers last November, leaving the 46 crew stranded and forcing Arising International to take responsibility.

Watch: Bets are off for stranded casino ship

At its peak the ship could turn over HK$10 million a day, with more than 400 daily passengers. Last year attendances dwindled to just a few dozen.

It is understood shareholders of Arising International, registered in the British Virgin Islands, sought new cash from Beijing but to no avail.

Tensions had been running high on board. Without money, and with an unstable food and fuel supply, the crew got impatient and edgy, fighting over almost everything.

The source said it was a pity the ship failed to ride out the storm as in 2013, when it set sail after being held in Hong Kong for seven months for failing an inspection.

It is common for casino cruises to sail into open seas at night beyond the authority of national laws, enabling passengers to gamble, and return to Hong Kong waters in the morning to pick up tourists.