Passengers booked with Canadian-owned One Ocean Expeditions fear they have lost tens of thousands of dollars in prepayments for holidays as the company shut down offices and stopped answering questions this week.

Two of its vessels were withdrawn by their Russian owners earlier this year. The company’s Facebook page carries a statement from its managing director Andrew Prossin saying  One Ocean Expeditions is in a “difficult period of restructuring” as it goes through an “extremely challenging period of time.”

Passengers are feeling stranded without information

“The withdrawal of these ships was an unexpected and destabilising event,” Mr Prossin wrote in a post on One Ocean Expeditions’ Facebook page. The two ships, Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov, were chartered by One Ocean Expeditions through a deal with Russia’s Academy of Sciences’ PP Shirshov Institute of Oceanology.

The third ship this year has been pulled

One Australian couple claims they have been owed $20,000 since May, and others who have paid deposits say they have no news of whether their cruises are going ahead or not.

Bob Wickham was booked for the October 19th cruise.  He was among 140 stranded in Argentina.

“We’re still in Argentina because it was going to cost too much to change our flights home. As an Australian I doubt I would be entitled to Canadian consumer protection, and I didn’t pay by credit card,” he says on Facebook.

Crew members also claim they have not been paid, and don’t know what is going on.

According to One Ocean Expeditions, both ships were the victims of a “sudden withdrawal” by their Russian owners, which has resulted in ongoing legal action by One Ocean Expeditions.

The withdrawal has left guests and travel advisors in the dark as sailings are cancelled, including one to Antarctica that left up to 140 guests stranded in Argentina last month, and another that was supposed to host a team of students from a West Vancouver Secondary School.

The statement ends by saying: “We deeply regret the inconvenience caused to passengers and our long-standing partners and we remain focused on doing everything possible to move our company forward.

“The last few days have been quite eventful but please be patient for a few days as we work to restructure our business.

“We will be in touch as soon as possible regarding our future plans and operations.”

Guests and advisors with sailings booked in the future have written on social media that the company still hasn’t informed them of the status of their sailings or whether or not they will be refunded for cancelled sailings.

The comments section on One Ocean Expeditions’ Facebook page is filled with messages from worried passengers who aren’t sure if their trips are going ahead.

Jo Almond writes: “Just wondering how many Australians are caught up in this. This is (was) our trip we have 4 people booked on it. BTW this will be our 3rd attempt to get on a boat after running aground last year and then loosing the Akademik Ioffe. Third time not so lucky. Certainly feel for the employees and suppliers, sounds like they have been mislead for sometime.”

Deb Bartley says: “I am booked for the February trip. Have paid in full to find out 3 weeks later I could lose the lot. Travelling from Australia also.”

Michelle Rea says: “Yes I was booked on the 6 NOV 2019 after OOE had cancelled our first trip due to the recall of their vessels.”

Australian Angela Capri says: “My husband and I are booked on the 1st December cruise. We also rescheduled after our first attempt was cancelled due to the recall.”

Another pre-booked passenger, Stewart Campbell has taken to social media: “We all understand that times have been difficult for One Ocean, however to continue the silence and non-communication about the refunds you owe to passengers, staff and countless other creditors is unacceptable! The damage you are doing to your brand is almost irreparable now. Until you repay everyone you owe money – in full – nobody can trust your company again. Please issue a clear and unequivocal statement, immediately, explaining when you will repay clients for the trips you have cancelled. That you have been taking clients’ money and supplier credit the past several months, knowing your own difficulties may well be construed by many as criminal.”

Radio silence: Passengers are waiting for news about their refunds

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, the organisation of more than 100 member companies that is “dedicated to facilitating appropriate, safe and environmentally sound private-sector travel to the Antarctic,” has reportedly suspended One Ocean Expeditions’ membership in the organisation after non-payment of its dues and fees on Nov. 1. One Ocean Expeditions had been a member of the Association for more than a decade.

American resident Igor Bratnikov has paid for two tickets collectively valued at $43,500 for a trip to Antarctica in December.

Mr Bratnikov, a resident of Boston who booked through a travel agency, said he hasn’t received any word about what will happen to his dream voyage, which he’s spent years saving for.

He said he’s worried he may lose the money spent on the trip.

“It’s kind of a nightmare, because you just have no idea what is going on, because there’s just no information at all,” he said.

“It makes me sick for this whole situation.”

One Ocean hasn’t contacted him or his travel agency, he said.

As of November 4, the company was still taking trip bookings on its website.

One Ocean Staff member Michael James worked for the company as a line cook on an on-and-off basis from July 2017 to March 2019 and says that One Ocean still owes him about $6,500.

Email exchanges between Mr James and the company show that company representatives have acknowledged Mr James hasn’t received his pay, but do not indicate when the money will come.

“[I’m] devastated,” he said.

“I have a lot going on right now. Squamish is not cheap to live in and I’m going to be out of work for the next couple months after a surgery, so I need this money.”

Staff have been left high and dry without wages

The head of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, or RCGS, says his organisation typically receives support from One Ocean, but the company’s restructuring has put a question mark on that relationship.

“They have committed to sponsor events for which they have not been able to, at this point, follow through with payment,” said John Geiger, the CEO of the RCGS.

He wouldn’t disclose the size of the payments due, but said, “We definitely are owed money and we’re hurting.”

“This is a company that’s historically been a very good supporter of ours,” Mr Gegier added. “I can only say I’m very hopeful that they are able to get things back on track.”

The society has a co-branding agreement with One Ocean that allows some trips to be called an RCGS co-branded voyage.

One of the company’s ships, the RCGS Resolute, was given its namesake as a thank-you for the support the society has received from One Ocean, Geiger said.

The society, however, does not own the ship nor have any responsibility in the operations of One Ocean, he said.

Geiger said he hasn’t heard anything from the company beyond the public restructuring announcement posted online.