Van Gogh Cruise Line has closed down and all its staff made redundant.

Van Gogh Cruise Line ceases operations

30 April 2008

The cruise line, formed out of failed tour operator Travelscope, had already been forced to abandon its itineraries for this summer but had hoped to re-start cruises in November.

Around 20 staff in Cheltenham have lost their jobs. Most were told to go home on Monday while managers came in again yesterday to alert key trade partners of the news.

Owners Club Cruise blamed hikes in fuel prices and devaluation of the pound against the euro for the collapse.

In a statement the cruiseline said: “After careful consideration and in light of the changes in the market conditions, with the massive increase in fuel prices; the devaluation of the pound to the euro, it is with much regret that Club Cruise Entertainment & Travelling Services Europe N.V has decided that the Van Gogh will not now be sailing from the UK in the foreseeable future and therefore, disappointedly, Van Gogh Cruise Line Limited will no longer be in operation.”

The business has struggled since it was launched in January by former financial director of Travelscope Mark Horwood and had recently failed to become an ABTA member or obtain bonding. Its appeal was turned down last week.

Earlier this month the ship was impounded in Funchal, Madeira, by Travelscope administrators Menzies Corporate Restructuring over an alleged £2 million debt.

But one former Travelscope member of staff said staff at the cruise line had only recently been reassured by Club Cruise bosses the company would be kept afloat for at least a year. However, staff were alerted to a problem when they did not receive March pay packets on time, with this week’s news coming just before they were due for their next month’s pay. “I can’t see how they are going to get their wages,” said the source.

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Thomson Cruises makes a Caribbean return

Thomson Cruises is making a return to the Caribbean for winter 2008-09.

Thomson Destiny will make two transatlantic cruises – Tropical Transatlantic and Transatlantic Sunrise – and two seven-night cruises, Coral Islands and Caribbean Gems.

The Tropical Transatlantic cruise is a 14-day itinerary that sees passengers fly to Lisbon to board the ship for a five-day Atlantic crossing to the Dominican Republic, where a seven night Coral Islands or Caribbean Gems itinerary starts. Passengers fly home to the UK from La Romana in the Dominican Republic.

The Transatlantic Sunrise 18-night itinerary starts with a flight to the Dominican Republic, before the Thomson Destiny sails first for seven nights on either the Coral Islands or Caribbean Gems itinerary before crossing the Atlantic from Barbados, taking in Gibraltar, Cartagena, Valencia and Barcelona, Spain before finally arriving back in Palma, Majorca.

The seven night Coral Islands cruise sails from La Romana to St Lucia, taking in Barbados, Guadeloupe, St Kitts and Tortola. The Caribbean Gems cruise sails to Grenada, Dominica, Antigua, St Maarten and Tortola.

The operator’s Caribbean cruise programme features a new entertainment programme ‘A New Wave of Entertainment on the high Seas’ with jazz and Dixieland band performances, Latin dancing classes and West End-style shows.

EasyCruise postpones launch of EasyCruise Life !

16 April 2008

EasyCruise has postponed the launch of its second cruise ship easyCruise Life this week due to labour strikes in Greece.

EasyCruise Life was due to depart for its inaugural week-long cruise this Saturday out of Piraeus in Greece with 20 travel agents on board.

But the company was forced to admit today that the ship would not be completed in time for its first sailing because of strikes by workers in Greece. It is contacting all passengers and will be offering refunds for the cost of the cruise and their expenses, as well as offering alternative cruise dates.

NY Central Park to feature on Genesis class!

Project Genesis ship will feature an area based on New York City’s Central Park.

The Miami-based cruise line said the center of the ships feature tropical grounds spanning the length of a football field. The area will also have restaurants — including 150 Central Park, Central Park Café and Vintages wine bar — boutiques, an art gallery, a sculpture garden and a chess garden with large-scale pieces. Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) said 334 staterooms will overlook the park.

Project Genesis is to be the world’s largest cruise ship, weighing in at 225,000 gross tons and carrying 5,400 passengers. The ship is to debut in fall 2009 and sail from Port Everglades. In 2010, Project Genesis will be joined by a sister ship.

“Our brand identity is founded in innovation and on delivering the best cruise vacation through ‘wow’ experiences,” Royal Caribbean President and Chief Executive Officer Adam Goldstein said in a news release. “Central Park is a true evolution of cruise ship design and allows us to provide our guests with not only a more varied selection of balcony accommodations, but also a stunning public venue that will be a central element of the ship, both during the day and at night.”

The Central Park area is the first of seven “neighborhoods” to be unveiled for Project Genesis.

France makes global force plea to tackle piracy

FRANCE is to ask the United Nations to set up a dedicated international force to combat piracy off Somalia and in the Straits of Malacca.

Speaking after the liberation of the 30-strong crew of the cruise ship Le Ponant on Friday, French prime minister Francois Fillon, said that France was “naturally” ready to participate in such a force.

The French presidency had indicated earlier that France would establish informal contacts immediately with its 14 fellow members of the UN Security Council with a view to organising an international initiative to combat piracy.

It added that it hoped to be able to submit a written proposition to them in the course of this week.

Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy, indicated that France was particularly concerned about the situation off east Africa, which he said did not have the same resources as the states bordering on the Straits of Malacca.

The crew of the Le Ponant are due to arrive in Paris tonight after having made the voyage from Garacad in Somalia, where the vessel was being held, to Djibouti aboard the helicopter carrier, Jeanne d’Arc.

Mr. Fillon said that French forces had succeeded in recovering about half of the $2m ransom understood to have been paid by the CMA CGM shipping group, which owns the Le Ponant via its subsidiary Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.

It was not clear, however, what France intended to do with the six pirates it captured in the course of the helicopter operation carried out ashore after the crew of the Le Ponant had been liberated.

French defence minister Hervé Morin said that a legal study of the question was being carried out but added that it “seemed that there is no juridical obstacle to trying the pirates in France.

The master of the Le Ponant, Patrick Marchesseau, has revealed that the vessel’s crew tried to repulse the pirates with fire hoses when the vessel was attacked but that the pirates had rapidly got alongside and opened fire.

He said that the incident had begun after the crew had spotted what appeared to be a Korean or Taiwanese fishing vessel immobile in its path.

The Le Ponant circumnavigated the vessel but, subsequently, found two launches approaching it at speed.

Captain Marchesseau said that the vessel had not suffered major damage in the course of its captivity, apart from some pillaging and two window panes broken by a pirate who fired five shots accidentally while cleaning his weapon.

He also revealed that he had been able to keep a line of communication open to the outside without the pirates being aware of it.

CMA CGM said in a communiqué on Friday evening that the safety of the crew had been the “absolute priority” throughout the operation.

“Our thoughts today are with the crew and their families. We have to pay tribute to their courage in this difficult ordeal, and congratulate Captain Marchesseau for his self-control and great professionalism.”

The company added that it hoped that Europe would be able to assure the safe passage of ships in the region in future.

FRENCH FORCES CATCH LE PONANT PIRATES

Monday, 14 April 2008

FRENCH armed forces captured six suspected Somali pirates on Friday and reportedly retrieved half of the ransom paid for the release of a luxury sailing cruise ship. The pirates hijacked the French-flag Le Ponant and held it and its 30-strong crew for a week while negotiations took place.

At the same time French special forces were deployed to the area and moved in once the ransom had been handed over and the crew were safe. The French action was sanctioned by the Somali national and Puntland provincial governments.

The vessel had been moored at Garacade, near Eyl in the northern region of Puntland but was reported being sailed to Djibouti following its release.

Earlier two local government militiamen been killed in a gun battle when local militia tried to stop the pirates entering another harbour in Puntland province.

Commandos sent to free yacht crew

This aerial photo provided by the French Defense Ministry on Saturday, April 5, 2008, and taken Friday, April 4, 2008 shows gunmen, top left on deck, aboard French cruise ship Le Ponant off Somalia\'s coast. France\'s military is keeping close tabs on the French luxury yacht seized by pirates off Somalia\'s coast, and officials hope to avoid using force to free the 30 crew members, the prime minister said Saturday, April 5, 2008. Attackers stormed the 288-foot Le Ponant on Friday, April 4, 2008 as it returned without passengers from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, toward the Mediterranean Sea, officials with French maritime transport company CMA-CGM said.

(This aerial photo provided by the French Defense Ministry on Saturday, April 5, 2008, and taken Friday, April 4, 2008 shows gunmen, top left on deck, aboard French cruise ship Le Ponant off Somalia’s coast.)

Crack French troops are being sent to help free the crew of a luxury yacht seized by pirates off Somalia.

A team of the GIGN commando force that conducts anti-terrorist and hostage rescue operations is being sent to Djibouti to “reinforce” negotiation teams in place, the French foreign ministry said.

Pirates took over the yacht, called Le Ponant, in the Gulf of Aden on Friday. It was carrying 30 crew members, including 22 French citizens, but no passengers.

A French frigate, Le Commandant Bouan, was diverted from Nato duties and has been tracking the yacht.

French officials have made contact with the pirates.

“We had confirmation that the crew was safe and sound and well-treated,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

“Our priority is the safety of the hostages,” she added.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned it could take “an enormous amount of time” to settle the pirate stand-off. President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to meet the families of the French crew members on Tuesday.