British Columbia

B.C. high school's Antarctica trip in limbo with troubled cruise line

A man who spent $16,000 to send his daughter on a school trip to Antarctica next month says it's looking increasingly unlikely the trip will happen after communication with the Squamish, B.C.-based cruise company ceased completely. 

Parents who paid $16K a student are unsure if trip will happen or if they'll get refund

Parents paid $16,000 per student at Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver for a trip to Antarctica, but now they don't know if the trip will happen since the company ceased communication. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A man who spent $16,000 to send his daughter on a school trip to Antarctica next month says it's looking increasingly unlikely the trip will happen after communication with the Squamish, B.C.-based cruise company ceased completely. 

At least 10 students and two staff members from West Vancouver's Sentinel Secondary School are booked on a Dec. 1 cruise with One Ocean Expeditions.

But as CBC News has reported in recent weeks, the company is in trouble. It's cancelled voyages to Antarctica, former employees allege they're owed thousands in unpaid wages, and last summer, two of the company's three ships were recalled by their Russian owners. 

The company and its managing director, Andrew Prossin, are known for their participation in Royal Canadian Geographical Society expeditions programs as well as polar expedition sightseeing cruises.

The company issued a statement on social media last week saying it is undergoing a difficult period of "restructuring." It has not responded to repeated emails and calls from customers and CBC News. 

One Ocean Expeditions occasionally docks its ship, the RCGS Resolute, next to the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion at the downtown Sydney marine terminal. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The lack of communication is worrying for parents who spent $16,000 per child to ensure their spot on the ship. 

"It doesn't look promising. As of right now, the trip hasn't been cancelled but … it's not really looking good," said Adrian Oziewicz, whose daughter, Emilia, 13, is one of the students booked on the trip. 

"I'm assuming it probably won't be happening." 

It is not yet clear whether refunds would be issued should the trip end up cancelled.

'Confusion and uncertainty'

The school has not been able to get in touch with the company after hearing about its troubles on social media last week, said principal Michael Finch.

"We've reached out to touch base with One Ocean Expeditions multiple times by email or phone and have not got any response," he said. 

"There's a fair amount of confusion and uncertainty at the moment as to where we lie."

Staff and students have been planning for the trip for a year, he said. On Wednesday, the school is set to have its last meeting with students and parents before they depart at the end of the month.

During this meeting, the students, who are between Grades 9 and 12, are supposed to bring their packed bags so they can go over final details.

The two-week trip is scheduled to take students through the Drake Passage, past massive icebergs in the Weddell Sea, a walk among penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula, whale watching, hiking and sea kayaking. 

Most expensive

But with no firm answer from the company on whether this trip will go ahead — or end up cancelled, as the last two cruises have been — the focus of the meeting will instead be to determine the school's next steps. 

The cost of the Antarctica trip was more than any trip the school has done, Finch said.

Other trips planned for the year include a trip to Europe and Japan, each between $4,200 and $4,500 per student.

Oziewicz is concerned that if the trip is cancelled by One Ocean Expeditions, parents might not see a refund on the $16,000 paid to the school for each child.

"It never even crossed my mind that this would happen," Oziewicz said.

"I don't fault the teachers or anything. They wanted to do it, and they wanted to do it for the kids as well. It's just unfortunate."

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