By now, they were supposed to be well into the first leg of the three-year Life at Sea cruise, sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia.
Instead, more than a month after the cruise was abruptly canceled, one couple is stranded in an Istanbul hotel and on the verge of becoming homeless; another woman has moved to Ecuador because she can’t afford to pay her mortgage; and a man, recently diagnosed with cancer, has delayed his treatment because he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.
On Tuesday, 78 would-be Life at Sea passengers sent a letter to Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, asking him to investigate whether Miray, a Turkish cruise company, defrauded them out of millions of dollars. They claim that the company collected an estimated $16 million and used it toward a deposit to acquire a new ship that it did not end up purchasing. It is unclear if Mr. Lapointe will take action.
Dozens of passengers quit their jobs, sold their homes and withdrew their life savings to pay for what promised to be the adventure of a lifetime: a cruise with 382 ports of call over 1,095 days. But in late November, just days before the cruise was scheduled to depart, the voyage was canceled because Miray had failed to acquire a suitable ship.
Most of the passengers paid Miray tens of thousands of dollars to secure their cabins, which ranged from $90,000 to $975,000 for a suite. Some passengers paid the full fare upfront to qualify for a discount. After canceling, Miray said it would offer full refunds to all passengers, but two of the repayment deadlines passed and only four of more than 100 passengers have received partial refunds.
If the passengers had known how their money was being used, they “could have made informed decisions about parting with their $16 million,” the passengers said in the complaint, adding that they had been explicitly told by the company that their payments were not being used for upfront funding.
Last May, Miray’s owner, Vedat Ugurlu, sent a WhatsApp message to Mikael Petterson, the former managing director of Life at Sea, telling him that he had $5 million for the deposit toward the purchase of the AIDAaura, a larger vessel that was more suitable for the journey than the originally proposed MV Gemini. He said that they needed to put down $10 million in total because of a bank guarantee and asked Mr. Petterson to stick to a May 31 deadline to collect passenger payments.