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The Swan Hellenic 2022-2023 Antarctic Bait-And-Switch


Packetf1re
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Swan Hellenic knew in spring of 2022 that the SH Minerva would not be sailing any 2022-2023 Antarctic cruises. They had moved the Master of the SH Minerva to the SH Vega, (he later quit, and went back to Silversea), the ship had no crew, and the SH Minerva had not even been leased for the season by Swan.

 

 

The reason was that the Minerva was owned by Russians, and while it sailed in the 2021-2022 Antarctic season, sanctions due to the Ukrainian invasion meant that the ship could not be leased or bought from the Russians.  But Swan and its agents decided to lie, and sell tickets for a ship they had no right to even board, let alone sail.

 

 

The ship sat in storage - lights on, but nobody home 'cept an engineer or two. Our booking was for a 1/19/2023 sailing from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula, the nearby islands, then on to South Georgia and the Falklands. This was a much more extensive and expensive cruise than the usual. We were sold the cruise in summer of 2022 which included private guides for our small sub-group of 3 dozen: 3 well-known, published scientists from U Washington - experts on penguins, pinnipeds, and cetaceans. The voyage was a fund-raiser for their ecological research, with an average price of about $20K per person, not including airfare to Buenos Aries.

 

 

Swan’s SH Minerva had been moved on 2022-05-06 from Montevideo to Fray Bentos. The ship has not moved since. Verification is via public AIS data, showing the most recent movement of the ship on the dates above, and multiple satellite recon / aerial recon photos showing the ship at dock. (Google Earth, sentinel-hub.com, marinetraffic.com). The ship's bright white bow makes it easy to spot in the weekly sentinel-hub satellite photos, even if they are low-rez. Compare with the more detailed Google Earth low-altitude aerial photos. Even the general-public site cruisemapper shows the SH Minerva in Fray Bentos since May 6th 2022 ( https://www.cruisemapper.com/?imo=9895240 )

 

 

There was never any announcement of cancellation of any SH Minerva sailing. Despite this “parked/mothballed” ship, Swan Hellenic and its agents sold and solicited deposits and payments for cruises that this ship did not make, and could not ever make. A last-minute “rug-pull” announcement was made in each case - a claim of a fictional unexpected mechanical problem (An implausible tale of the ship “in Ushuaia” needing “spare parts”). But the ship had not been in Ushuaia since the 2021-2022 Antarctic season. The SH Minerva was not "under repair" - Fray Bentos has no repair/refit service facilities.

 

 

Swan Hellenic wasn't even selling out one ship, so there was room for the baited-and-switched passengers to be moved to the SH Vega in the 2022-2023 Antarctic sailings, revealing the motivation behind the bait-and-switch.  Some people might never notice the difference, except for changes in departure dates.  Cabin upgrades were offered to the bait-and-switch victims, indicating that there was ample room in all cabin classes on a 150-passenger ship.

 

 

The "rug pull" was sprung on us 2 weeks before the sailing date. We were "offered" a far more perfunctory cruise on the SH Vega, which would not sail to South Georgia or the Falklands (and would thereby exclude the majority of marine species one could hope to see). This "offer" also made clear that ample cabins were still available on the SH Vega for even last-minute passengers, thus exposing the con.

 

 

The fund-raiser and trip of a lifetime with credentialed and published authorities on the southern oceans and its inhabitants will go on, next year. But the travel agent was either negligent in the extreme, or complicit with Swan Hellenic, so neither will be involved in the do-over. Refunds were made, after a multi-month delay.

 

 

Both industry publications insurancemarinenews and tradewindsnews made clear in June and April 2022, respectively that the SH Minerva was "laid up", and would not be cruising in 2022-2023, but this was not discovered by passengers until after the cruise had been "cancelled" and the bait and switch attempted.

 

 

In speaking with other travel agents, it was “common knowledge” that Swan Hellenic was waiting to cancel each 2022-2023 SH Minerva cruise 2 weeks before departure, without any general announcement or admission that might have allowed travelers to make other arrangements in the same season.

 

 

So, in summary, we were unwitting lenders to a struggling cruise line, we were paid zero interest on our loans, and we will have to take the cruise we planned next year, with another cruise line.

 

The moral?  Be a little paranoid - tools like cruisemapper.com are easy to use, and one may want to verify that one's ship is in service and sailing before laying out large sums for cruises.

 

[nb: This was submitted as a review of the ship, but rejected, as a review must be from a passenger who went on a cruise, and none of the 32 paying passengers went anywhere with Swan Hellenic.  Perhaps a forum can be created for Swan Hellenic, and this warning posted as a "sticky". ]

Attached images: (1) Cruisemapper.com location as of 4/1/2023 showing Sh Minerva still in storage at Fray Bentos since May 2022  (2) Google Earth aerial photo showing SH Minvera (rightmost ship) at the Fray Bentos dock on 7/9/2022, and (3) a promo photo of the Minerva for comparison with the Google earth image.

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Edited by Packetf1re
typo
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@Packetf1re

This is certainly a cautionary tale, and I don't envy you. But it sounds like you got your money back, at least from Swan Hellenic. (I'm not sure about your airfare to and from Buenos Aires). I'm not saying you should be happy but it could have been a lot worse. Read some of the horror stories on this board from people who have lost similar amounts of money because of shady practices by Vantage Travel. In this day and age, if you get a total refund from a questionable company, you're ahead of the game.

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The way to avoid horror stories is to have a quiet talk with American Express about an "inquiry" as to the amount charged by the travel agency, and another quiet talk with the FBI office (or, for outside the US, one's own federal law enforcement agency) nearest the travel agent's offices.  Trying to scam 32 people out of about $20K each is about $640K, so yeah, its a felony-class issue. 

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