Apr 19, 2016

    HK casino ships 'sunk' by China's anti-graft drive


    CAPTAIN Valerie Lyzhyn and his 45 crew are stranded in Hong Kong - big losers in a gambling slump triggered by a Chinese crackdown on corruption that has scared off the high-rollers.

    Cpt Lyzhyn, 62, a Russian-born Ukrainian and veteran seaman, and his colleagues, refuse to leave their 140m casino cruiser New Imperial Star until they get the six months of pay they say they are owed.

    Hong Kong's Marine Department has impounded the ship due to what it called "serious deficiencies" found during an inspection.

    Rations are running low, the ship's owners cannot be reached and the cobalt blue felt covering 16 baccarat tables is gathering dust.

    "There's one egg per crew member per day," Cpt Lyzhyn told Reuters onboard the ship, moored a short barge ride away from a bustling port in eastern Hong Kong.

    Hong Kong's casino cruises flourished alongside the world's biggest gambling hub of Macau, across the mouth of the Pearl River from Hong Kong, until 2014.

    It was then that Chinese President Xi Jinping launched an anti-graft campaign.

    The gamblers have been steering clear.

    Cpt Lyzhyn said: "One year ago, we had 200 passengers; before we stopped operating, we had only 50."

    He added that the ship was detained in October last year after the owners failed to pay maintenance fees and it did not pass its inspections.

    The crew is waiting to be paid salaries totalling US$400,000 (S$543,000), he said, adding that he did not know who the ship's owners were but it was managed by a company called Skywill Management.

    Phone numbers for Skywill did not work.

    Prior to 2014, there were 12 casino ships operating out of Hong Kong but Cpt Lyzhyn said the number has plunged to four.

    The cruises typically pick up passengers at Tsim Sha Tsui pier in Hong Kong's Kowloon district and set sail at 8pm for international waters, returning to Hong Kong 12 hours later.

    The boats are mostly owned by Macau junket companies which make use of convoluted ownership structures with multiple investors.