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Shipwrecked

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Pierce O’Reilly

Hundreds of Irish Americans are seriously out-of-pocket after the holiday cruise company Commodore Holdings Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, leaving its patrons with their holiday plans in ruins.

Aproximately 1,000 customers may lose a combined $750,000 or more after paying in full for exotic trips on luxury cruise ships with the likes of promoter and entertainer Andy Cooney, Tony Kenny and Paddy Noonan.

The parent company of Commodore Cruise Lines, which has been in business for 34 years, filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors on Dec. 27 after taking an average of $750 per person from hopeful holiday makers.

The company now has 120 days to reorganize its affairs.

The inconvenience to customers is of huge concern this week after plans for the "Cruise of Irish Stars" were ditched just weeks before the departure date.

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More than half of the passengers didn’t have travel-protection insurance and are scrambling this week to get their money back.

Ed McBride of Baltimore, who promoted the trip on his weekly radio program, "Reflections of Ireland," told the Echo that several of the passengers had contacted him looking for information on the canceled trips.

"People are very concerned and angry," he said. "They’re afraid they’ll lose all their money and they want answers.

"One family from Baltimore had nine members traveling on the ‘Irish Stars’ trip and if they didn’t take out the travel protection, then they’re in serious trouble now."

The "Cruise of the Irish Stars," which was due to go ahead from Jan. 27 through Feb. 3, was a star-studded package. It included entertainers Cooney and Kenny, as well as Joe Cuddy, Dermot O’Brien, Deirdre Reilly and Pat Marnane, among others.

The cruise, which was organized by Cruise Specialists of Long Island, was scheduled to set sail from New Orleans aboard the Commodore Cruise Lines’ Enchanted Isle. Its prices started at $549, but promoter Cooney said that the average passenger had paid at least $750 when port taxes were included.

The second cruise to be canceled is the "Party Time in The Caribbean" cruise, involving Cooney and Noonan. This trip was to leave from Aruba aboard the Crown Dynasty and take place from March 31 through April 7.

The cruise was to sail to five Caribbean ports of call while enjoying entertainment by Cooney, Noonan and Cahal Dunne. The 800-passenger Crown Dynasty was booked for seven full days but was not exclusive to Irish-American passengers.

Cooney confirmed this week that he was devastated by the news and that he would do everything possible to get back the lost money.

"I personally have been cruising for 17 years and have never gone through something like this," he said. "They [Commodore] have always treated us entertainers and passengers with the utmost respect. This disaster has cost me at least $10,000 and I know exactly what the passengers are going through."

The "Irish Stars" cruise of almost 750 passengers had being sold out since last November and everyone had paid in full, according to Cooney. "We’ve worked very hard over the last seven years to build up Irish-themed cruises only to see it crumble with our hands tied behind our backs now," he said. "This is a huge setback for all of us."

It appears this week that the second canceled cruise may yet be saved. Cooney said that Costa Cruise Lines will be taking over the March 31 sailing.

"All going well, we’ll be abroad the Costa Victoria, a lovely spacious new ship and only a day later than was scheduled," Cooney said.

The president of Cruise Specialists Ltd., Maureen Shank, said her life has changed since Commodore went under.

"We’ve lost approximately $50,000 ourselves due to the cancellation," she said. "We have contacted almost everyone personally by now to tell them the dreadful news. We have being doing business with Commodore for 18 years and nothing like this ever happened before. We’re all devastated. I didn’t sleep a wink for several nights wondering what was the right thing to do."

Cruise Specialists Ltd. is confident, however, that all is not lost. In a letter to passengers, it suggests that those who paid by credit card contact their credit card company and request a full refund for service never received. For the approximately 40 percent of people who had travel insurance, Cruise Specialists Ltd. recommends they follow the standard procedure of claims. For those who paid by check, Commodore Holdings Ltd. has a $15 million bond with the Federal Maritime Commission. Reimbursement requests should be sent to Commodore/Crown Cruise Lines, 400 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 385 South, Hollywood, FL 33021.

"It will take a while to get over this massive blow," Shank said. "Our customers are vital to us and we just hope that they understand our awful situation."

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