Olympic cruise ship plan sunk

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER - The only Norwegian Star at the 2010 Winter Olympics may be a nordic skier because accommodation aboard a cruise ship by that name was cancelled Tuesday.

The 1,108-room luxury liner chartered by Edmonton-based Newwest Special Projects was supposed to leave Los Angeles Saturday and arrive Feb. 10 in Burrard Inlet. But a lack of bookings and rising costs forced Newwest to sink the plan. Refunds, according to a news release, would be issued “in a timely manner.”

“We sincerely apologize to the guests who have booked with us for this inconvenience,” said the Newwest news release. “We will make every effort to assist in finding alternative accommodations for guests attending the Olympics.”

The ship was supposed to stay at the Kinder Morgan industrial dock in North Vancouver until March 2.

Last-ditch negotiations to cut costs failed. Newwest stopped taking reservations on Monday after cutting the cost of rooms to US$275 a night. Norwegian Star owner Norwegian Cruise Lines said it was notified earlier Tuesday of the cancellation, but referred customers to Newwest.

One of the backers was Red Deer, Alta., oilman Abe Neufeld, who did not respond to interview requests. The $10 million to $20 million venture was conceived by Edmonton travel agent Dennis Laliberte. Laliberte is being sued in North Carolina for fraud after he allegedly left a group that was bidding on the contract to charter three cruise ships during the Games for the RCMP.

Tourism Vancouver vice-president Walt Judas said the number of Newwest guests impacted was “in the high hundreds.”

“We’re confident they will be able find a place to stay but it’s going to require a lot of work,” Judas said. “The choice is up to them, the price points are going to be quite varied.”

VANOC vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade declined to comment on the cancellation. Newwest did not have a commercial rights agreement with the committee to use the Vancouver2010CruiseShip.com website name. Neither did VANOC try to block Newwest from using Vancouver 2010, which is protected by a temporary federal trademark law.

Newwest is the second cruise offering to sink because of the poor economy. The DEAP Group failed to get financing last fall to berth seven smaller ships in two locations.

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