It’s the highest profile – and most luxurious – casualty of the pandemic: Crystal Cruises, a luxury line owned by Genting Hong Kong has officially shut down.

Crystal was the most awarded luxury line on the seas.  It was purchased by Genting Hong Kong, an offshoot of a Malaysian casino company,  in a 2016 transaction valued at US$550 million. The company had plans to expand the operation from ocean cruises to private jet charters, residences at sea, expedition and river cruising.

Despite the pandemic, Crystal launched a discovery yacht with helicopters and submarines.  But it was now part of a complex conglomerate that included Star Cruises, Dream Cruises and a German shipbuilding yard. It has building ships that would be among the world’s biggest with 9,500 passengers.

It all started to unravel when the German government insisted that payments for loans were made, and a Singapore fuel company demanded $2.5 million in bills be repaid.

Crystal’s American offices closed this week. Australian staff did not answer calls.

It appears that the cruise line’s assets will be sold individually and not as a whole, meaning the end of the company.

An announcement to crew on Crystal Symphony stated: “I have been informed that the entire Crystal Cruises office in the US is closing down.

“Unfortunately, this is the end of Crystal Cruises, and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

“The ships are for sale … I know you probably have a lot of questions, but I unfortunately don’t have any answers right now.”

Reportedly, the secured creditor of Crystal Cruises, a series of banks with mortgages over the ships, made a move to take control of the ships and protect their interests.

Crystal Endeavour, the line’s expedition ship, is set to dock in Uruguay on February 10 and it is currently unclear what will happen.

Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity have both been seized for unpaid expenses. Both vessels have disembarked all passengers, however, there are still crew members on both ships who are waiting for the promise of their wages and repatriation flights.

Crystal also has five riverboats that are currently in Europe and are expected to be sold.

Crystal Cruises was founded in the 80s and has long been a favourite with Australian cruisers.

Passengers, Mr. Barry Shulman and his wife Allyn were supposed to have the trip of a lifetime after spending six figures for their top-end cabin on the Crystal Serenity.

Crystal Endeavour’s submersible in the icy waters of Antarctica

The Shulmans had booked a four-month cruise sailing from Miami to the Caribbean before stopping in Barcelona, Athens, St Tropez, and onward.

But trouble began after just three days onboard the luxury cruise ship when crew members announced the cruise line was going broke and they would be dropped off in Aruba.

According to The Post, the Crystal Serenity was seized from Bahamian waters by US Marshals over an unpaid $4.6 million fuel bill.

“The captain got on the intercom to say it was the end of the cruise. It was the end of everything,” Mr Shulman told the New York Post.

“A lot of people were panicking; some were crying. We’re talking about senior citizens, on a boat, who didn’t know what was going on…this was disturbing.”

The situation intensified overnight, with passengers receiving a slip of paper under their doors.

“It reported that Aruba won’t take us,” said Mr Shulman, adding that no specific reason was given.

“There was a lot of stress and a million rumours. Some said it was because of COVID. Other people thought it was because Aruba didn’t want to get involved in the lawsuit or the taking of the boat.”

Raja at work
Raja at work

The ship was rerouted to Bimini in the Bahamas and passengers were told they were to board a two-hour ferry ride to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Once arriving, Mr Shulman said they had to stay on the boat for another hour before letting passengers off all at once.

“There was pandemonium,” he said. “We got to the terminal and there were, initially, two customs guys. It took hours to get through there. Then there were no carts, no porters … People couldn’t find their bags. It was completely disorganised.”

“We get off the ferry only to find all luggage dumped everywhere, colours and numbers not together, luggage falling down, no porters and no Crystal reps. None. No one giving instructions. No one helping the older folks. It was a shameful sight,” Mrs Shulman, a former attorney wrote on Facebook.

It wasn’t until midnight that passengers could board buses that would take them to Miami, almost an hour away. But the pandemonium continued.

“But nobody had a manifest,” said Mr Shulman.

“A lot of people didn’t check ahead of time. They wound up at the Intercontinental but had rooms at the Hilton. It was past midnight and they were getting yelled at for being in the wrong place.”

Mr Shulman and his wife are still confused and angry that the Crystal Serenity was allowed to leave the Port of Miami in the first place.

“They (Crystal) knew something was going on before they took off and they should have said, ‘Sorry we can’t leave Miami.’ But they began the cruise because this way they can keep money from the first segment of the trip.”

The Shulmans are now currently sailing on a Regent Seven Seas ship after the bungle and are enjoying their time at sea.

“There were people who had saved up for this one-time cruise. We were all told not to worry, that there would be a pro-rated refund, the cruise line would handle it. But you can’t even trust these guys now.”

“We’re on a Regent cruise right now. I booked it while things were going south on the Serenity.”

Their new cruise sails through the Caribbean, down to the Amazon and up to San Francisco.