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South Korea offers visa exemption for Chinese cruise tourists

In its latest move to attract tourists from China, the South Korean government has just announced a further ease of visa requirement for Chinese visitors. Alan Lam reports.

Cruise passengers arriving at South Korean ports on the Bohai Ferry cruise vessel, Zhong Hua Tai Shan (formerly Costa Voyager), will be granted visa free visits. Only recently the country extended its visa free policy for Chinese visitors arriving by air to the popular holiday island of Jeju from 72 to 120 hours.

This policy will help ease the passage for Bohai Ferry’s cruise business in the region. Since the maiden voyage on 16 August, the company has so far operated more than a dozen cruises to South Korea.

Realising the competition building up within the cruise business in the region and recognising the importance of the Chinese source market, other countries in the region are making moves in this direction.

Indonesia for example, a country which until recently has a perceivably hostile visa policy toward Chinese visitors, is considering a visa free policy to Chinese tourists. It is also considering a so-called third country visa, whereby once a visitor has gained entry to Singapore and Malaysia will be automatically allowed to enter Indonesia. Cruise operators have welcomed this development.

Astor owner Premicon Hochseekreuzfahrt files for insolvency

Premicon Hochseekreuzfahrt GbmH & Co. KG MS Astor, which owns the 1987 built cruise liner Astor that is operated by the London based Cruise & Maritime Voyages group, has filed for insolvency at the district court of Bremen in Germany, media reports say.

This is the second German owner of a single cruise liner that runs into financial problems in a short period of time. The company that owns Deutschland, which is operated by Peter Deilmann Reederei filed into voluntary administration a few weeks ago.

The owner of the 20,606 gross ton Astor is part of the Munich based Premicon group, which sold Trans Ocean Cruises and that operates Astor in Germany, together with three river cruise vessels and a ship management company, to Cruise & Maritime Voyages earlier this year.

It is expected that Astor will continue to operate normally despite the problems at its owner company, German media reports say.

It should be noted that Cruise & Maritime Voyages is in not connected to the Premicon group and that no concerns have been expressed over the British cruise operator's finances.

Would be Jihadists have started to use cruise ships to reach Iraq, Syria - report

Interpol, the international police body said some of those trying to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria had used cruise lines to get to countries including Turkey, the BBC reports. It said checks to passenger lists should be extended from airlines to cruise operators before the issue became more of a problem.

No figures were put on how many militants had travelled in this way. Speaking in Monaco, Interpol's outgoing chief, Ronald Noble, said countries should conduct checks on all passengers using airports "and, more and more, cruise lines."

The Turkish authorities say they have deported hundreds of suspected foreign jihadists in recent months after detaining them at airports and bus stations.

Interpol's director of counterterrorism, Pierre St Hilaire, told AP news agency that this had led prospective fighters to make alternative travel arrangements in an effort to avoid detection.

"Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there's a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas," he said. Regular stops at ports in the region would allow prospective fighters to disembark undetected and make their onward journey to Syria or Iraq untracked by security agencies.

"There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are travelling mostly to [the Turkish coastal town of] Izmir and other places to engage in this type of activity,"St Hilaire was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Interpol officials said the militants' use of cruise ships had emerged only in the "past three months or so". A recent United Nations report estimated there were 15,000 foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries fighting with Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

"In order to prevent their travel and identify them, there needs to be greater information-sharing among the region, among national security agencies," St Hilaire said.

Norwegian plans $680 million note issue to part finance Prestige acquisition

Norwegian Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it is proposing to issue $680 million aggregate principal amount of senior unsecured notes due 2019 in a private offering

“The company intends to use the net proceeds from the Offering to fund a portion of the purchase price and related fees and expenses for the previously announced acquisition of Prestige Cruises International, Inc. for $3.025 billion including assumption of debt,” Norwegian Cruise Line Holding said in a statement.

“Norwegian intends to finance the remaining portion of the Prestige acquisition, as well as to refinance Prestige's Oceania and Regent Credit Facilities and satisfy and discharge the indenture governing Prestige's Regent Senior Secured Notes using $1.05 billion of borrowings under its New Term Loan A and New Term Loan B facilities available cash and an additional share issuance. The Offering and the New Term loans are expected to close concurrently with the Prestige acquisition,” Norwegian said.

Mitsubishi's losses on AIDA newbuildings mount close to $1.0 billion mark

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Japanese shipbuilding group, says it will book a charge of JPY 39.8 billion in its first half financial year 2014 results, in addition to a JP Y61.4 billion charge that it had booked against the two ship order in its accounts for the previous financial year. In the US dollar terms, it means that the Japanese shipbuilder's losses in the project are approaching the $1.0 billion mark

"Under the circumstances, the scale of losses is now expected to significantly exceed the extraordinary loss that was booked to the company's consolidated financial results in FY2013. For this reason, the company has booked an extraordinary loss in the amount of 39,841 million yen in its consolidated financial results for 1H FY2014," Mitsubishi said. The financial year (FY) of Japanese companies runs from 1 April to 31 March in the following year.

Following the losses last year, the company in March 2014 set up a new project management structure and proceeded with construction. "In the course of confirming and pursuing the advanced specifications with the customer, however, reconsideration of the basic design concept was required for the overall layout of the ship's public areas, cabins and auxiliary facilities, causing a vast amount of design rework and a significant delay in the design schedule," Mitsubishi said.

"Although MHI had assigned additional design resources to the project and taken other measures, in the second quarter (2Q), the company was forced to revise the first ship's construction schedule due to a delay in completing the requisite drawings. Moreover, it has led to a delay on the second ship's work schedule. As a result, MHI expects further increase of costs due to design rework, rush work to make up for the delays, and procurement of additional materials resulted from the changes to the design specifications," the shipbuilder said.

Commenting on the earlier losses on the contract, the company said that as the work proceeded on the 124,500 gross ton ships difficulties in constructing the prototype became evident. "The volume of design work relating to cabins and other areas was vast beyond expectation, and significant design changes were made," the company said.

"The delay in the overall design work caused by these factors not only increased design costs but also made adverse impact on the construction schedule and need for additional material procurement. With this background, the company expected a substantial loss in the project and booked an extraordinary loss of 64,126 million yen in its consolidated financial results for FY2013," Mitsubishi pointed out.

Viking Star