Reports are currently rife at the influential Seatrade Miami conference that Portuscale Cruises is in trouble.
Stories are circulating that the Lisboa has been arrested at Lisbon, while the recently renovated Azores- due to leave over the next few days to start an almost year long charter for German cruise company, Ambiente- has been delayed from leaving the same port.
Renovation work on Lisboa was suspended a few weeks ago, when an official Portuscale announcement stated that structural problems with the ship were far more extensive than had been originally ascertained. A lucrative charter to a French cruise operator had to be cancelled at very short notice. Provisionally, Lisboa is intended to resume sailing in 2015.
Meanwhile, the veteran Funchal is due back at sea shortly, off to begin a season of cruises from the UK and Sweden through the spring, summer and autumn. There has as yet been no word about the future of these.
Fourth of the Portuscale trio, the smaller, also renovated Porto, was still in Lisbon at last report.
It is little more than two years since Rui Allegre first masterminded the astonishing resurgence of the veteran Portuscale quartet from the ashes of the imploded Classic International Cruises. The owner saw an obvious market for the elegant, traditionally styled quartet in an era largely dominated by amenity laden mega ships.
Funchal actually went back to sea for three months last year, beautifully restored and looking better than ever, Rave reviews came from on board, and guest satisfaction rates were high. The future did, indeed, seem bright.
However, the abrupt cancellation of work on Lisboa- which had been progressing nicely- rang alarm bells. Portuscale had gone so far as to announce a programme of cruises for the renovated ship on her French charter, as well as going to the extent of making public some artist renderings of her restored interiors and outer decking.
The loss of revenue from the French charter must have been quite a hit. And the ships, with their vintage styling, are very labour intensive, and expensive to maintain.
At this time, no formal statement is forthcoming from Portuscale. It is to be hoped that the Azores can leave on schedule for her charter to Ambiente Cruises as planned.
I suspect that the potential loss of that German charter might well prove catastrophic to the nascent cruise line. And it would be a true tragedy if these four ships were to be lost after so much hard work has been done to bring them back up to speed.
As always, stay tuned.
With regard to the Azores charter to Ambiente, German sources have reported that the ship has, indeed, left Lisbon, en route to begin her programme of cruises from Bremerhaven on March 16th.
She was apparently delayed by the non issuance of a necessary sailing certificate, which has now been supplied.
While this news is indeed a relief, there has been no official word from Portuscale Cruises over the alleged arrest in Lisbon of the partially refurbished Lisboa, as outlined below.
Well worth checking out in the responses to this piece is a note from Luis Miguel Correia, one of the most renowned, knowledgeable and well informed writers and photographers in the entire maritime industry, and someone whom I have had the pleasure of sailing with in the past.
Luis is well connected to the current owners and operators of the Portuscale fleet and, as such, his response to my original blog post above, is definitely worthy of your consideration.