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Public letter to Mr.Grant Jones (cruisepassenger.com.au)

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02/02/2024

Dear Mr Jones,

Victoria Cruises started planning the residential ship project in 2019. Due to a COVID that occurred in 2020 during the planning phase, the project was put on hold and was not revisited until 2021. VCL never wanted to buy a ship for this project and we have stated in all our press releases that we are only thinking about charters, because the purchase of a ship costs about 40-50 million usd. For that amount of money you can buy a 30 year old ship and we did not see any potential advantage in that. That is why we decided that charter was the only option. It is stated on our website, in the booking conditions and in the charter contract that the departure date may be subject to change due to changes in occupancy levels. The minimum booking for departure must be 80%. We can only sign a charter contract for any vessel if this level is reached, as charter fees are payable from the date of contract signature. This is a pretty high amount if you are informed monthly, so we do not sail. You don't think that a company starts by immediately chartering or buying a ship for a residential ship project. It's a financial expense that will bankrupt any company by default. There are several projects underway that have started or are planning to start with a similar residential ship character.

I think you were contacted by an Australian client because they had problems with deposit refunds. The client sent an email on January 2, 2024 stating that if the deposit refund was not received in his bank account by 5PM on January 5th, 2024, he would go to the media and make statements that could discredit VCL even if the allegations were not true. In fact, based on the content of the email, our lawyers interpreted it as blackmail (not enough deposit return, more money will be needed) and we have filed a police report. We informed the client and the Australian Embassy about this. The client's 90-day refund date was due on 13th January 2024, not 5 January!

The other Australian client sent us the same letter, so he probably just copied it. So we took the necessary steps in that case too. The VCL booking conditions also include that if the client is subject to legal proceedings, the deposit fee will be withheld until the proceedings are over.

If the court upholds the VCL, the deposit will be used to cover the claim.

The Google Drive data loss in December 2023 was reported on the internet by several media outlets.

This data loss also affected VCL because we rent 2TB of storage from Google. We have informed all our customers about this problem on our social media pages and website. We have asked all customers who cancelled their contract after 1st September 2023 to resend us the cancellation document and the rental contract. We have informed everyone that processing will be slower, so please be patient.

In 2023, we have had a total of 81 cancellations and based on complaints so far, 20-22 customers are experiencing problems. These customers cancelled their contracts after 1 September. We can provide you with bank documents for all the refunds that have been made so far, as soon as any authority asks us to do so.

In 2022 and 2023, the booking levels have been continuously changed. If you have been following the VCL residential ship project you will see that our target group is the 65+ age group. For them, we have developed an alternative to nursing homes that can provide a more efficient senior living. As the vast majority of our clients are 65+ years of age, cancellations have occurred (illness, death, etc.) and therefore our maximum occupancy rate has been 71%. Due to the current cancellations, the occupancy level today is 53%. We have very few Australian customers, as Australia was not specified as the main destination country, because preliminary surveys indicate that few Australian customers aged 65+ are interested in the residential ship scheme. We currently have one Australian client with an active booking.

The company accounts of the VCL company are public and you can find all the details in them, the client who sent them to us claims to have done the research! What? Public data? Did you send us a photo of the house at 83 Nánási út in Budapest? Is this an investigation? This address is in all the company's documents, in the contract with the client. It's not secret. I would like to inform you, if you are uninformed, that VCL is based in one of the most important districts of Budapest, in Óbuda, where the value of properties starts at 1-2 million usd. But feel free to check this out. It's not a secret either.

The VCL rental contract states where the customer can seek redress if they have any legal complaints. But I understand that this is not the place for the media. I am aware that for you

journalists any story like this is very good, but it is not the way to find a solution. I know that to you an Australian client is more credible than a statement from the VCL company, but I suggest you take statements from both parties and verify them. Because so far I don't see anything in the "customer investigation" that is not publicly available to anyone. I know that there have been refund problems with the big and well-known cruise lines. The VCL is not a billion dollar business, we started and developed everything with our own private wealth. In the last 3 years we have spent about EUR 1 million on salaries for our staff, PR activities, innovative developments. That's a lot of money! Interestingly, if a well-known cruise company starts selling tickets for a ship under construction several years before the launch, it is not a problem, it is a natural thing. But when a small pioneering company does it, you journalists are already writing about a scam. COVID has shown how vulnerable the big cruise lines are, because more than one company has got into trouble and only managed to escape bankruptcy by issuing new shares.

So it would be good if media people would think a little bit and not just voice their scepticism. I'd like to see you, though, how many own businesses have you started that employ a lot of people? The number of current active employees of VCL working in processes before start-up is currently 65. Because a project like this doesn't start like a car, I get behind the wheel and press the accelerator. You have to have all the regulations in place, you have to have them approved in every country where the ship is planning to dock. You have to book the mooring dates, in which case you have to give a bank guarantee, which also costs money. So if you are not familiar with the process of starting such a project, don't just rely on idiotic letters from clients!


I attach some basic errors that show that dear customers can't fill in a deposit refund form (signature, illegible, wrong swift code, or no swift code, etc.) from which you can also decide that it's not always the VCL that is at fault, but it's easier for the customer to shout this than to check whether the error is his or not. There are many more such mistakes - these are just examples.

refund problem

What I forgot to tell you is that the Australian client posed as an Interpol agent when he called the PR company we were contracted with and called our colleagues, as well, posing as an Interpol agent. The client just didn't have the sense to change his name. These telephone conversations were audio-recorded and forwarded to the relevant police authority. I suggest you write this too! Don't just present the case from one side's point of view.

Author: Marcel
02/02/2024

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