It was with disappointment that the cruisers who had booked on classic ship Athena heard that it wouldn't be coming for the Australian season.
Athena, along with three others owned by Classic International Cruising's European owners, had been detained in Europe, reportedly for unpaid crew wages and fuel bills. These issues related to the European owners of the CIC ships, and not to CIC Australia.
On October 24, CIC Australia circulated a statement that it would bring the cruise ship Delphin to replace Athena, which we reported.
But on Wednesday, the news broke that Classic International Cruises Australia had been put into voluntary administration, its Australian summer season clearly in tatters.
To Classic International Cruises Australia, the deal to bring Delphin was signed and sealed, but it is believed the owners of Delphin then said they couldn't get the ship here for Christmas. What's more, it looked unlikely for the new year.
CIC Australia managing director Grant Hunter says that by putting the Australian company into voluntary administration, its money would be isolated from the European owners' financial problems.
He said this had "ringlocked" the money of the 6000 people who had booked for the Australian season. As CIC cruises can only be booked through travel agents, customers are also covered under the Travel Compensation Fund.
Mr Hunter said the decision to go into voluntary administration would also give time to look for another suitable ship.
Travellers who have booked with Classic International Cruises should contact their travel agent.
Athena, Funchal and Princess Daphne have found a place in the hearts of a loyal fraternity of Western Australian cruisers.
These Classic International Ships represented good value — and encompassed some good, old-fashioned, small cruise-ship qualities.
Over nine years, the company under managing director Grant Hunter has also displayed some very likeable, old-fashioned traits.
It stuck with travel agents at a time when others were deserting them for direct booking over the internet.
Mr Hunter was expecting, sometime in 2012, that the cruise company would welcome its 75,000th visitor on board and said he was proud that every cruise had been sold through a travel agent.
“We will stick with them because the industry has stuck with us,” he once said to me. “With us, it’s the support of the industry that has grown over the eight years.” And he believed that a travel agent could pick the right ship and the right cruise for clients.
On average, 35 per cent of the people on a voyage had cruised with CIC before — a high percentage. On some longer cruises, that rose to 57 per cent.
“We have introduced a lot of people to cruising,” Mr Hunter said.
We sympathise with the readers whose cruise holidays will be cancelled — it’s all very disappointing.
But a CIC Australia employee said to me on Wednesday that Mr Hunter and wife Susanne “have put nine years of blood and sweat into CIC Australia. I feel very sorry for them”.
I have known Mr Hunter throughout this time and know this is to be true. And add to that, maybe, a few tears.