In February 2023, Life at Sea Cruises announced a voyage that seemed too good to be true. A cruise sailing around the world for three years, at only $30,000 per year, a price comparable to a year’s worth of rent in many cities. Now, after months of uncertainty and delays, the voyage was finally cancelled.
In June, several customers has already begun demanding refunds after questions regarding the ship’s suitability for the journey came to light. Life at Sea Cruises, a subsidiary of Miray Cruises, also decided to pull out of the project. In the 800-member Facebook group for the Life at Sea community, Mike Petterson, Life at Sea’s former managing director, wrote that his company issued refunds after a split with Miray with some of the main concerns being linked to the suitability of the Gemini MV ship the cruise was supposed to take place on. According to Irina Strembitsky, former employee at Life at Sea Cruises, the ship had capacity for up to 1,074 passengers, and Gemini MV was considered “unseaworthy” by an engineer.
Miray did not agree with the engineer’s comments and expressed its dissent. “Unseaworthy is a very specific term that relates to the safety of a vessel (that a vessel has enough lifeboats / LSA’s, decks that are skid proof, among other requirements to ensure its safety)”, Kendra Holmes, CEO of Miray Cruises, wrote in the email to CNN back in June, ahead of suing Petterson for defamation.
Despite assuring the Gemini MV was suitable, one month later, Life at Sea, under different management, and Miray, announced the cruise will set sail as planned, but aboard MV Lara, a repurposing of the German-built AIDAura, which Miray was in the process of buying. In October however, the company said that the buying was being delayed, so the cruise was to set sail from Amsterdam on 11 November, instead of Istanbul on 1 November. Then it was postponed again to 30 November.
Despite insisting the sale is going through and the cruise would go ahead, on 16 November, Celestyal Cruises announced they had in fact bought the AIDAaura. Only after this, passengers were announced the cruise was finally cancelled, although confusion seems to still linger as different messages were sent by different executives.
Kendra Holmes, who had resigned as Life at Sea’s CEO a few days prior, sent a 15-minute video to passengers explaining the voyage was cancelled. Two days later however, Vedat Ugurlu, the owner of Miray Cruises, sent a different message, saying there was still hope and the cruise might go ahead aboard the original Gemini MV ship and depart on 1 December from Amsterdam.
“If we will not be able to sail on December 1, we will offer you to sail on another departure date or refund all the payments within a short schedule”, Ugurlu wrote. “We have tried everything to make your dreams come true and we will continue to do so.”
Addressing the failed ship purchase, Ugurlu said “Miray is not such a big company to afford to pay 40-50 million for a ship,” but that it had “presented the project to investors and had official approval from some of them to buy the vessel”, but the investors “declined to support us further due to unrest in the Middle East”. However, CNN points out that the Gaza war started on 7 October, one week after the sale was supposed to already be concluded. “Life at Sea didn’t respond to a query about what prior unrest they were referring to that could have impeded the completion of the transaction”, CNN writes.
After Ugurlu’s message, Life at Sea came back with another communication. “In case we weren’t clear, the Life at Sea cruise trip is cancelled”, Chief Operating Officer Ethem Bayramoglu messaged passengers.
The 9-month long debacle has left passengers more than out of a holiday. Planning to be sailing the world for three years, with accommodation, food and entertainment ensured, many sold or rented their houses and even businesses ahead of the trip. Some are still stuck in Istanbul as they had already made their way to Türkiye when the departure port was moved to Amsterdam.
“I’m very sad, angry and lost”, one passenger anonymously told CNN. “I had the next three years of my life planned to live an extraordinary life, and now [I have] nothing. I’m having a hard time moving forward.”
While Life at Sea offered to pay for the flights home of the people in Istanbul and ensured everyone will be refunded in instalments, receiving the full sum by the end of February 2024, the cancellation of the voyage simply comes at a much higher loss for most of the would-be passengers. It remains to be seen whether further compensation will be offered to cover the additional expenses suffered by the passengers or whether a class action suit will ensue.