British Columbia

One Ocean Expeditions avoids bankruptcy as B.C. court approves restructuring plan

The company's proposal, which includes providing creditors — some who paid tens of thousands of dollars for voyages that never happened — the option of using that money toward a future trip is "fair and reasonable" and in the best interest of stakeholders, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said.

Company intends to resume voyages in June 2021

As part of its restructuring proposal, One Ocean Expeditions intends to offer credit for future trips for passengers who have already paid for voyages that didn't happen. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Beleaguered B.C.-based luxury cruise company One Ocean Expeditions will be allowed to restructure its business to avoid bankruptcy, a judge ruled Wednesday. 

The company's proposal, which includes providing creditors — some who paid tens of thousands of dollars for voyages that never happened — the option of using that money toward a future trip is "fair and reasonable" and in the best interest of stakeholders, B.C. Supreme Court justice Sandra Wilkinson said.

The company is nearly $29.5 million in debt and was forced to seek creditor protection earlier this year when the leases on two of its ships were cancelled.

Over the past two years, one of OOE's ships collided with a rock in the Arctic Ocean, while another was arrested and held in harbours in Iqaluit and Buenos Aires for non-payment of debts. Previous employees have spoken out about not being paid and customers reported having trips cancelled at the last minute without receiving refunds. 

The company's insolvency trustee, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said it believes the restructuring proposal will be a better deal for creditors than bankruptcy. 

If the company is able to restructure, it intends to restart booking trips by the end of the year for voyages as early as June 2021.

Credit for future trips

As part of the approved proposal, eligible customers who previously paid deposits or the full amount for trips that were cancelled will be able to use, depending on some conditions, either half or all of that money as credit for a future trip. 

Depending on which option they choose, some customers will not be able to receive money from a $600,000 "dividend pool" the company intends to fund and make available to eligible creditors.

OOE has arranged for investors to acquire a new ship, which will be chartered to OOE to continue cruise operations.

The charter will be funded in large part by an "anchor tenant," who will book up to four months of time on the ship per year. The company still needs to finalize this deal before it can commit to proceeding with trip booking, court was told on Wednesday. 

The company will also continue to pursue outstanding litigation claims, which exceed $20 million.

There's no indication customers will receive full refunds for previously cancelled trips. 

Neither Andrew Prossin, CEO of OOE, or PricewaterhouseCoopers immediately responded to CBC's request for comment. 

At the opening of a new helipad in Sydney, N.S., earlier this month, Prossin told a small crowd he intends to return to the community next year with a new cruise ship once his company emerges from creditor protection.

He declined an interview at the time.

Although creditors voted in favour of the restructuring proposal last month, it hinged on the court's approval.

Andrew Prossin, CEO of One Ocean Expeditions, says he hopes to acquire a cruise ship and operate tours out of Sydney Harbour next year, once his company emerges from creditor protection. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

'Too many questionable possibilities'

That approval is no comfort for Marta Gill, an Ontario woman who paid around $13,000 for a cruise through Canada's Northwest Passage in 2019 that didn't happen.

She does not intend to use her credit for a future cruise.

"That would mean putting more money in the hands of a man who already owes me over $13,000. Why would I do that?" she said.

Gill isn't convinced the company will be able to restructure. She says the proposal is filled with "too many questionable possibilities."

Neva Hilliard and her husband Chris from Mission, B.C., spent $44,000 for the same cancelled trip last year after the company came highly recommended.

Now, they believe that sum is long gone and don't expect to see any of it refunded — nor the extra money they spent on legal advice. 

"There's likely not going to be any refund in any way. However, if he proceeded to bankruptcy, there'd definitely be no money," Hilliard said.

"I don't know what else we could have done to determine the risk factor with this company."

Gill hopes future customers who pay for cruises with the company take caution. 

"I saved and saved and saved in order to take what I thought was going to be an educational trip, something to see those lost ships that had been found under the ice," Gill said.

"I just wish that everyone who signs up is wary of what the outcome might be."

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