Gambling boat's last trip: auction, bankruptcy court

By Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2006

It might be time to say bon voyage to the star-crossed Ocean Jewel.

Representatives of bankrupt Titan Cruise Lines will take bids this morning on the 450-foot gambling ship. They hope to present the best offer for Bankruptcy Judge Alexander Paskay's approval Wednesday and distribute the proceeds to certain secured creditors.

That would mark the final chapter in the ship's tortured history here. Titan announced plans to sail the ship from St. Petersburg's port in December 2002.

Various obstacles - including new homeland security rules, U.S. Coast Guard screenings and four hurricanes in Florida - kept the ship from sailing until nearly two years later.

The Ocean Jewel immediately ran into trouble navigating in and out of the port. It ended up operating as a floating casino in international waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with catamarans shuttling customers from St. Petersburg and Treasure Island.

Those plans floundered, too. The shuttles hit barriers protecting the John's Pass Bridge. Customers got stuck on the Ocean Jewel when shuttles broke or couldn't sail in heavy seas. Titan filed for bankruptcy Aug. 1 and parked the Ocean Jewel at a Tampa shipyard in mid October .

Creditors have filed claims against Titan totaling nearly $69-million. The ship likely will fetch just a fraction of that, leaving most creditors with nothing more than a bitter taste over the boat's yearlong stay.