Exploring the 3-year-old cruise ship that never sailed

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Last February, I was browsing Instagram when a peculiar ad appeared in my feed. The advertisement boasted of a three-year cruise called Life at Sea, said to be the longest cruise ever made, with 382 stops around the world, which would depart from Istanbul on November 1.

As a reporter covering cruises for the New York Times travel section, I was skeptical; He had followed news of similar cruise ships that failed to launch. He also knew that organizing a voyage of this ambition would prove a Herculean task, requiring secure financing and a ship equipped for residential sailing.

About three months later, while searching Facebook for updates about the cruise, I learned from a prospective passenger's post that the sales and marketing team had resigned after a series of disputes with the parent company, Miray Cruises. Life at Sea CEO Mikael Petterson also resigned at the time.

It seemed that the trip was doomed to failure before it began.

And so began my investigation into the idyllic-seeming cruise, plagued by management problems and poor planning. My article, a behind-the-scenes look at corporate turmoil, was published online last month.

As the departure date approached, I wanted to reach out to potential passengers to get their thoughts on the upcoming trip. I found a traveler through LinkedIn who told me there was an app for passengers to communicate with each other. The passenger agreed to publish a post on my behalf, informing others that I was a Times reporter waiting to speak with them.

The departure date was eventually delayed twice and the port changed to Amsterdam. On November 20, weeks after the original departure date, the cruise was cancelled. Miray had failed to secure a ship.

I wasn't surprised by the news. Miray Cruises is a medium-sized Turkish company that specializes in three- to four-day cruises around the Greek islands. I had no experience with trips of this scale.

After the cancellation, many people who purchased the cruise package did not want to speak on the record; some feared that speaking to The Times could hurt their chances of getting a refund. At that time, Miray had promised to reimburse all passengers in three monthly installments, so I understood why they were hesitant to speak. A couple, Kara and Joe Youssef, approached me in late November. From Istanbul they told me that they had sold their two apartments and withdrawn their life savings to pay for the cruise.

But what surprised me most was how divided passengers were about the company's handling of the situation. Some insisted that Miray did not intentionally mislead them. Others were convinced they had been victims of a scam, the Fyre Cruise Festival.

Some passengers provided me with another valuable resource: email threads between Miray executives. The emails, dating back to March 2023, showed that company executives had not addressed basic issues, such as how to set up secure payment methods to collect deposits from passengers. They also appeared to ignore concerns about the suitability of the proposed ship.

In mid-December I contacted Vedat Ugurlu, the owner of Miray. I was surprised that he responded to me within minutes, since he had not given any interviews to other media outlets. We spoke for more than two hours on a video call he held from a conference room at his company's headquarters in Istanbul.

He welcomed the opportunity to explain himself and insisted that he ran a reputable company that had more than 30 years of experience in the cruise business. He said he had no intention of deceiving passengers, but attributed the cruise's failure to a failure to sell enough cabins.

Some passengers told a different story. When I spoke to the Youssefs again last month, they told me how Miray had guided them until the last minute; They were told that the cruise would depart as planned, even with only two passengers on board. They did not believe that the company intended to defraud them, but they feared that Miray would use their money to purchase a boat and would not have the money to reimburse them.

Now, with all their money tied up, the Youssefs remain stranded in an Istanbul hotel room, awaiting an $80,000 refund. They are at risk of becoming homeless.

Only a small amount of money has been refunded to customers and the Youssefs have yet to receive their first refund. The next goal of my report is to try to better understand the company's finances, as many passengers lose hope of getting their money back.



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