Corruption in China

From gambling to auction: Hong Kong court orders sale of casino ship in HK$3.8 million wage dispute

Crew expected to be paid from sale proceeds within 60 days of auction

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:18pm

A troubled casino cruise ship locked in a legal battle over HK$3.8 million in unpaid wages for its 46 crew will be put up for auction after the High Court ordered a judicial sale.

Mr Justice Peter Ng Kar-fai yesterday ordered that the 36-year-old New Imperial Star be evaluated by two appointed appraisers before being put on the block to pay the wages.

Some industry insiders said the plight of the vessel, weighing 12,586 tonnes and measuring 129 by 21 metres, highlights how the casino business has been hit hard in the wake of a crackdown by Beijing on corruption and gaming.

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

The crew – 20 from Ukraine, 18 from Myanmar and eight from the mainland – had been stranded on board since November for at least seven months after Arising International Holdings, owner of the vessel, failed to pay their wages and airfares.

At present, 13 Ukrainian crew remain on board to maintain operations after the remainder were repatriated to their home countries last month under arrangements by the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

The 33 who went home each received advance payments capped at US$4,000 from loans offered by various parties.

The crew are expected to receive their wages from the proceeds of the auction within 60 days of its completion.

The troubled ship, detained in Hong Kong waters off Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, is expected to fetch at least US$2 million even if sold for scrap.

Arising International bought the vessel, registered in the island nation of Palau, for more than HK$100 million in late 2012 and later rented it out at a monthly fee of HK$2 million.

Daily turnover had reached as high as HK$10 million with more than 400 passengers aboard, but last year business dwindled to just a few dozen.

It is common for casino cruises to sail into open seas beyond the authority of national laws, thereby enabling passengers to engage in gambling activities.

Tensions had been running high on board, remaining crew members said.

Without money and faced with an unstable supply of food and fuel, they had become impatient and edgy, fighting over almost everything.

Arising International, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, is held by a Hong Kong businessman and a pool of investors. It declined to comment.