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‘Landslide of admin and bureaucracy’ delays SH Vega naming day cruise (updated)

PHOTO: HOLLY PAYNE CRUISE_Andrea_Zito_on_SH_Vega.jpg
‘Problems are when you have a ship on the rock or you have a blackout in the middle of nowhere … I don't want to downgrade this, but it is a small hiccup,' Andrea Zito said about the delay
Update: SH Vega was finally able to depart Helsinki late Tuesday afternoon.

‘A landslide of admin and bureaucracy’ is to blame for the delayed departure of SH Vega’s naming day cruise from Helsinki to Copenhagen, Swan Hellenic CEO Andrea Zito said.

‘We tried our best.’

The naming ceremony for the expedition ship took place yesterday, with SH Vega scheduled to set sail shortly afterward at 3 p.m. on July 11. Zito described the setback as ‘a hiccup,’ before thanking media and travel agents for attending the celebration. He said, ‘These are not problems. I've been working in this industry and in shipping for a long time.

‘Problems are when you have a ship on the rock or you have a blackout in the middle of nowhere … I don't want to downgrade this, but it is a small hiccup. We are here, we are in a safe place ... with a nice atmosphere.’

Preparations are now under way for the ship to depart late this afternoon, arriving in the Danish capital on Thursday.

Certification of registry delayed

The CEO told those onboard the reason for the postponement is ‘very simple and very complicated at the same time,’ attributing the cause to technical difficulties in obtaining one final electronically issued document for the ship’s registration in Panama.

‘There was one electronic document missing. The technology went down and [civil servants] were not able to issue the certificate.

‘You might not believe it because I can't believe it myself; 20 years ago, when doing things by hand, they would go smoothly. Now … the technology can crash.’

Switch to Panama flag

Zito, who helped broker the sale of Swan Hellenic to G Adventures in 2017 while working for V.Ships Leisure and then went on to revive the brand in 2020, explained that registry would usually take two weeks, but just four days were left to complete the process after authorities carried out rigorous checks — a consequence of the ship originally being built for the now sanctioned, Russian-owned leasing company GTLK Europe. 

‘The vessel was leased by a sanctioned party. So we had to wait for the Irish authorities and their authorisation to buy the vessel, then we were under their scrutiny until just last week.’

SH Vega was previously registered in the Bahamas, and before that, Malta. The move to Panama was ‘because we didn't get very good cooperation from Malta. Malta took a different approach. The Bahamas was ready to register [SH Vega] but … it was a race. On Sunday and Monday the Bahamas was closed because of their Independence Day … Panama was ready to do everything. They gave assurances they had done all the due diligence and were ready to go.’

Zito told Seatrade Cruise News Swan Hellenic will ‘probably’ register SH Minerva, and SH Diana — due to be delivered from Helsinki Shipyard in 2023 — in Panama, too.

Equity talks continue

Swan Hellenic investors will be ‘a mixture of leasing companies and private equities,’ Zito said, however refrained from sharing further details. Said the CEO, ‘At this moment, we are still negotiating. We have lined up — and are shortlisting — some bidders. It is confidential information, but we will be fully transparent not if, but when, this is accomplished.’

Zito told Seatrade Cruise News in May that the line was in advanced talks about fresh equity.

The cash injection needed for Swan to purchase SH Vega from the shipyard came from existing shareholders.

At a press conference today, the CEO elaborated: ‘We have a seller's credit from the shipyard and shareholders’ money and we have two or three big banks that are supporting us.’

SH Minerva awaited

On the status of acquiring SH Minerva from GTLK, Zito told Seatrade Cruise News, ‘Minerva is owned by an Irish entity that is sanctioned … to buy a sanctioned item, you need to have the green light from from the authority and we have waited two months for the Bank of Ireland to give us permission to buy.’

Not wishing ‘to enter into more details,’ Zito continued, ‘After applying a lot of pressure, someone [from the Irish government] answered, so we have reassurances that between August and September we will be able to complete the transaction and register the vessel, and the vessel will be ready to start the Antarctica season on October 19 from Buenos Aires.’