About 300 disgruntled cruise passengers refused to leave their ship at the end of a five-day trip yesterday, claiming the tour company was not offering adequate compensation for cancelling a visit to Vietnam's Ha Long Bay.
Some 40 to 50 of the passengers remained on board the Costa Victoria in Tsim Sha Tsui until abut 10.30pm, delaying the journey of 2,000 passengers booked on a cruise to Malaysia which had been due to depart yesterday afternoon.
Tour company Miramar Travel persuaded the protesters to adjourn to a hotel for talks and the Costa Victoria was finally able to leave Hong Kong around midnight. The meeting at the hotel finished around the same time but it is not known whether an agreement was reached.
Miramar had promised to pay each of the 1,000 passengers HK$340 in compensation after a "sunken barge" forced the ship to turn back from the bay, known for its spectacular rock formations, on Tuesday.
The company said that sum represented the approximate cost of the stop at the bay, a Unesco World Heritage site. It also offered US$50 credit per cabin, to be spent onboard during the cruise, which also called in at Sanya , Hainan province. Passengers said that was not enough and refused to disembark without higher compensation and an explanation.
"Their attitude was horrible," passenger Windy Kwok Pui-fong said after disembarking earlier in the evening.
"They said HK$300 was all we'd get and did not even give us an apology or proper explanation. This is a very inhumane travel agency. They didn't give us food [during the protest] and even turned off our water supply for a while. There were children and elderly people aboard."
The protesters included 260 passengers from Hong Kong, with the rest from Macau.
Other passengers from the mainland and Taiwan reluctantly accepted compensation as they had flights to catch. By 7pm, only the 40 to 50 passengers remained on board and were demanding a refund of 30 per cent of the price of the cruise, said to cost between HK$8,000 and HK$18,000 per cabin.
A five-hour meeting between representatives of the Hong Kong-based tour company, passengers and officials from the Travel Industry Council had earlier ended without a deal.
Among the passengers taking part in the protest was lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan, who said that the visit to Ha Long Bay was the main reason for taking the cruise and not making it there was akin to a "total loss".
"If the company knew what the right thing to do was, they should have at least showed some heart and sincerity in dealing with the matter," said Chiang, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
Earlier, Alex Lee Chun-ting, general manager of Miramar Travel, said the level of compensation demanded by the protesting travellers was unacceptable and impossible.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung