A newspaper in Norway reports today that a pilot association seized the Independence of the Seas for non-payment of the association’s fees. The association petitioned a court in Norway to detain the cruise ship. A local bailiff served the arrest papers today.
The Independence of the Seas was in Alesund, Norway at the time of the legal action.
In the U.S., vessels can be seized for non-payment of provisions and services such as pilotage fees, crew member wages, food and fuel. The vendors and service providers have a maritime lien for the goods and services. Norway has a similar legal provision permitting the courts to "arrest" a vessel when it refuses to meet its financial obligations to creditors and satisfy the maritime lien. If the lien is not satisfied, the vessel can be sold at auction.
"Vessel arrest" is a common legal remedy to collect money from fly-by-night maritime owners and operators which try to avoid paying their debts to third parties. You can read about one such case here. I have heard of only one modern cruise ship operated by a top cruise line being arrested, and that was the Carnival Triumph several years ago.
In Norway, as well as many other countries, local pilots are required to be at the helm of a ship that enters the local waters of the country. The shipping companies are required to pay the pilots who are more familiar with the local waters.
The pilot association, Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) (Kystverket in Norwegian), issued a press release, stating that the pilot and security fees incurred by Royal Caribbean during several cruises last year have been owed since at least last October.
The newspaper says that the lien was for around NOK 600,000 which is approximately $100,000 U.S.
NCA says that it is owed substantial other fees from other cruise line and will be stepping up its collection efforts as the cruise ships return to Norway.
NCA says in its press release that non-payment or delayed payment from some cruise lines have been a major problem and the the association has been unable to convince the cruise lines to pay punctually. The association has been unable to convince certain companies with the worst payment history to meet their obligations voluntarily.
A representative of the association was quoted saying that sometimes it’s been many months, up to a year before the outstanding amounts have been paid. How can we operate?
The newspaper further states that once the arrest papers were served on the cruise ship, the captain contacted Royal Caribbean which paid the lien (as well as court costs and interest) within one hour. The cruise ship was then released by the local marshal and was free to sail.
The Independence of the Seas was last in the news in April when its thrusters swamped a boat in St.Kitts involved in mooring operations, killing two local men handling the lines.
May 23 2014 Update: The BBC is now covering the story.