Stranded cruise passengers head for home

AP

The last passengers aboard a Caribbean cruise left for home Sunday, four days after their ship became stranded in Barbados because of a financial dispute, officials said. About 290 people flew home to Bologna, Italy, and six departed for Bogota, Colombia, before dawn, travel agents said. Another 233 passengers left for Paris late Saturday.
They were the last among the more than 1,300 passengers - including Canadians and Germans - stuck on the European Vision. More than 650 crew members remained with the ship, and officials said they would soon determine those to be sent home or kept aboard.

Festival Cruises, the Genoa, Italy-based line that runs the European Vision, said it was in talks to settle a dispute with creditors and that the ship’s builder, Paris-based Alstom, would pay to fly passengers home. Alstom denied that.

The European Vision was one of three cruise ships halted this week at the request of Alstom, which contends Festival owes it the equivalent of almost $20 million Cdn, Festival officials said.

Festival had not paid debts to creditors for several months, Alstom said.

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A second ship, European Stars, was impounded Jan. 18 when it arrived in Barcelona, Spain, with 750 on board. A third ship, the Mistral, was stopped the same day in Marseille, France, with 700 on board. Passengers on those two ships flew home Jan. 19.

Authorities ordered the 251-metre European Vision halted in Barbados on Wednesday.

The passengers were half-way through a weeklong tour. Crew members told passengers they would get refunds for the unfinished portion and would be reimbursed for extra costs.

The stranding of tourists has become common in recent years as travel companies have confronted increasing financial difficulties, particularly in the downturn following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, industry experts say.
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