Passengers left in dark about refunds with troubled B.C. expedition cruise company
Passengers paid up to $30,000 US for voyages as company's phones go unanswered
Passengers who booked upcoming voyages with a troubled Squamish, B.C.-based expedition cruise company — including some who say they spent $30,000 US — worry their dream vacations are gone with their money.
One Ocean Expeditions is facing a heap of problems, most recently with a cancelled cruise to Antarctica that stranded up to 140 guests in Argentina last week. Two of the company's three ships were recalled by their Russian owners last summer, and now former employees allege the company owes thousands in unpaid wages.
One Ocean Expeditions is known for its polar expedition sightseeing cruises.
The company and its managing director, Andrew Prossin, gained accolades for their support of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society's expedition programs. The company was a participant in the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition, which located one of Sir John Franklin's lost ships in Nunavut.
CBC News reported earlier this week on the cancelled Antarctica trip, and an employee who said she was owed $6,400 US in unpaid wages. Since then, more customers have come forward saying they handed over large deposits for Antarctic cruises, but now fear they've lost their money if the trips don't go ahead.
Fears trip in doubt
The company has not responded to calls and emails from customers, and has not answered requests for comment from CBC News. A statement on social media this week did not address the cruise cancellation or staff payment issues, but asked for patience during a difficult period of "restructuring."
That doesn't sound good to Michelle Simmons of San Jose, Calif.
Simmons, who paid more than $12,000 US for a cruise to Antarctica scheduled to depart in January, is growing doubtful the trip will happen, and wants a refund.
"Zero communication with them. I look at my email every single day to see if I'm getting something and there's nothing there," she said.
"I'm frustrated and really disappointed, because I feel like they were taking money without having the means to provide this trip."
Simmons, 53, had been planning the solo trip for three years and booked with One Ocean Expeditions based on online reviews and a friend's recommendation.
She bought travel insurance, but said her policy does not include coverage if a company goes bankrupt.
"I'll be happy if I can get at least half of [the money back]," she said.
Pranav Batra, a business owner in Delhi, paid over $30,000 US for an Antarctic cruise scheduled for December.
In a phone interview from India, Batra said communication ceased with One Ocean Expeditions in September after he paid for his trip in full via wire transfer.
He spent another $10,000 on non-refundable flights from India to Chile, where the boat is scheduled to embark, he said.
Batra was told his insurance company could reimburse him for medical emergencies, but not for a situation like this.
"We spent so much on this trip," he said of the planned family holiday. "It was like a dream. We saved that money for two or three years."
As for Simmons, instead of getting excited about seeing penguins and icebergs, she's now poring over the fine print of her insurance policy and continuing to try to get some answers from One Ocean Expeditions.
"They have our email addresses, they have all of our information, everybody's passports," she said.
"Why they couldn't just send out a mass email to everybody directly at least, I don't understand. For me, that's just appalling."