About 1,100 of the 2,300 passengers and crew members aboard the Chinese luxury cruise liner Henna had returned to Beijing Sunday night after being stranded on the South Korean resort island of Jeju since Friday over a legal dispute, according to the Chinese Consulate General in Jeju Province.
Passengers aboard the 47,000-ton cruise liner had just two days to enjoy the trip after the Henna set off from China’s northeastern port of Tianjin Wednesday before they found themselves embroiled in a dispute between the ship operator HNA Group and the Hong Kong-registered shipping-services firm Shagang Shipping Co. Ltd. A court order issued in Jeju Province Friday prevented the ship from continuing on its six-day journey around South Korea and on to its next port of call in Incheon, west of Seoul.
HNA Tourism, one of the HNA Group’s core business ventures, issued a statement Saturday arguing that the detention on Jeju Island had “restricted personal freedom of those onboard and severely infringed upon the rights of innocent passengers.”
While the seizure of a cargo ship is not uncommon, it’s rare for a legal dispute to involve the detention of a cruise liner. HNA said it reserved the right to seek damages from Shagang Shipping and reported the incident to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Tourism Administration.
The president of the Beijing-based cruise operator, Zhang Ling, told China Daily that everyone on board was in good condition, except one woman who had a heart attack and three who suffered from fevers. Crew members reportedly provided the stranded passengers with free entertainment and food over the weekend, and the operator will offer them each 2,000 yuan ($325) in compensation or a free ticket on the Henna valid for the coming year.
Meanwhile, the goal was to get all passengers back to China. HNA sent five planes to take the stranded travelers to Beijing Sunday, and said it would retrieve the rest Monday. About 550 passengers will stay aboard to return by sea, according to the Chinese consulate in Jeju.
Ling said at a press conference Sunday that he “strongly opposed the wrong actions of the court in Jeju,” adding that HNA had called for an apology and compensation for each passenger from the court.
Although neither company has elaborated on the details of the dispute, Chinese state media reported that HNA would pay a deposit of $2.7 million to the Jeju court Monday to secure the ship’s release. The Financial Times reported that Jiangsu Shagang Group, one of the largest privately owned companies in China, is involved in a dispute with a separate company in the HNA group with no connection to the cruise operator.
The Henna set off on its maiden voyage under new Chinese ownership this year after previously operating under a unit of the Carnival Corp. (NYSE:CCL). While the ship is nearly three decades old, it has been described as “China’s first luxury cruise liner.” Tickets for the troubled voyage this past week cost between 2,000 and 4,000 yuan ($325 and $650) per person.