The former boss of one of Britain’s best-known cruise operators has snapped up its customer database and booking systems in a bid to relaunch it weeks after the company collapsed with the loss of thousands of jobs.
Sky News has learnt that a number of assets belonging to Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), which appointed administrators last month, have been sold to a new vehicle established by Christian Verhounig, its former chief executive.
The deal is expected to be announced on Friday.
Sources said that Duff & Phelps, the administrator, had sought to sell the business and wider assets of CMV and a number of sister companies but that this had proved impossible in an industry decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Major cruise operators have been forced to defer the resumption of operations amid ongoing travel restrictions and weakened consumer confidence.
Carnival Corporation, which is one of the industry’s largest players, has raised billions of dollars of additional liquidity to help it survive the pandemic.
Virgin Voyages, which is backed by Sir Richard Branson, has also been forced to delay the launch of its services.
CMV’s administration did not include its fleet of ships, which included the Marco Polo and Columbus.
Paul Williams, joint administrator at Duff & Phelps, said: “We have worked hard since being appointed to secure a sale of the business and assets of the companies.
“Regrettably, given the devastating impact of the global pandemic on the entire travel industry, with a focus on the leisure cruise sector, this has not been possible in this instance.
“However, I strongly believe that this asset sale not only represents the best value for the companies’ creditors that was achievable in challenging market conditions, but also provides an opportunity for CVI, through its owner Christian Verhounig, to continue to pursue funding opportunities to potentially relaunch CMV’s unique cruise operations to its dedicated customers at some point in the future.”
CMV found itself at the centre of a repatriation row involving hundreds of crew prior to its collapse, when it sought capital from potential investors to stay afloat.
In total, the company employed about 4000 people – most of them on board its ships.
Five of its fleet had been detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) last month following complaints about late pay and expired contracts.
Some crew members from India and other countries in Asia had been on-board for more than the legal limit of 11 months, but were unable to fly home because of international travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 crisis.
In February, Carnival’s Diamond Princess ship became the epicentre of fears about the cruise industry’s ability to safely navigate the crisis, with 13 of its passengers dying after contracting COVID-19.
Mr Verhounig said: “The global pandemic had a devastating impact on CMV’s once flourishing, expanding and profitable business.
“Having developed a much-loved brand over the past decade and hugely popular value-based niche no-fly cruise product, we have been simply overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and pleased to re-launch the business.”
“This endorsement across the industry and customer base alike has been a rich source of encouragement and together with my previous management team, we are working hard to plug the huge market gap vacated by CMV’s untimely insolvency.”
“The acquisition of the UK commercial assets provides a positive first step and we believe demonstrates our firm commitment and optimism to return much stronger and to work alongside our loyal suppliers and creditors to also help mitigate the pandemic impact,” he said.
CMV customers whose bookings were cancelled as a result of the company’s administration would have to continue to seek compensation through the existing claims process, a source said.