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Cruise West Plans to Restructure

September 8, 2010 By: Susan Young

New Bookings Halted, Some Voyages Operating, World Cruise Cut Short

Seattle-based Cruise West has placed a recorded message on its main phone line that says the small-ship company is restructuring with new ownership. The message doesn’t name those owners nor does it explain the method of restructuring. Many questions remain. Has the company been sold or have new owners simply acquired a controlling interest? Have assets been sold? Is a new strategic partner in the wings?

That said, in an e-mail sent to Seatrade, the global cruise shipping publication, Dick West, the chairman and CEO of the company wrote: “We have NOT sold the company, and our cruises from Seattle and Portland are departing as planned.”

Travel Agent called the line’s 888 reservations number and a recording says that scheduled sailings will operate as planned this coming Saturday on Spirit of Endeavor from Seattle and Spirit of '98 from Portland.

West also reportedly told Seatrade more information would be forthcoming today. The line's recorded message says that, as part of the restructuring process, Cruise West has suspended all new bookings, and “our reservations center is temporarily closed.” The line gave this e-mail – [email protected] – for inquiries on existing bookings.

It appears that Spirit of Oceanus, in the midst of a unprecedented 335-day inaugural World Cruise that began in March, is definitely affected. and the Seattle Times both are reporting that passengers on that World Cruise contacted them to say that shipboard staff told passengers the ship has been sold. Passengers were put off the ship in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with no word about any refund.

Travel Agent has asked for details from CruiseWest but received no response as yet. Both the line’s website and its Facebook page lack any acknowledgement of the current situation.

In what may be a related move, cruise industry veteran Dietmar Wertanzl, the line’s president and CEO, resigned from the company on August 30. He had joined Cruise West in 2008 and had reported to Dick West, the line’s chairman and managing director.

Industry sources say Cruise West, which operates a fleet of 13 small ships capable of carrying between 78 and 148 guests, has reportedly struggled financially in recent months. The firm had secured a $1.5 million loan earlier this summer. Reportedly, the firm has been seeking a strategic investor, some type of restructuring or perhaps the sale of the Spirit of Oceanus and then a related lease-back agreement for the ship. But all that is speculation at this point.

Cruise West has significant cruise operations in Alaska, including multiple cruise itineraries and land tours between Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks. The line also operates many itineraries in the Pacific Northwest and within Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. It also plans several Mississippi River voyages next spring.

Cruise West grew out of an operation founded in the 1970s in Alaska by Chuck West, a renowned bush pilot and tourism pioneer who died in 2005. His son Dick still runs the company today.

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