tampabay.com

Deal could get gambling ship Ocean Jewel back under way

A judge will decide today whether to approve the ship's sale to a California buyer that plans a Florida relaunch.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published January 11, 2006


TAMPA - The gambling ship Ocean Jewel could sail again if an offer from new investors wins approval in federal bankruptcy court today.

Yamashiro Financial Services of Pasadena, Calif., struck a deal with bankrupt Titan Cruise Lines to buy the 750-foot ship and other company assets for $7.25-million, said Martin Brill, an attorney for Yamashiro.

Yamashiro plans to form a partnership with gaming operators that would make about $4-million in repairs to the Ocean Jewel and relaunch the ship somewhere in Florida under the name Casino Royale.

But it wasn't clear Tuesday night whether an Illinois bank that bankrolled Titan will block the deal in court. First American Bank has more than $30-million in claims secured by the company's assets.

First American and Titan officials were negotiating Tuesday how much the bank would get from the sale after more than $2-million in claims by creditors that supplied maritime services were paid off, Brill said.

If the sale doesn't go through today, creditors are prepared to ask bankruptcy Judge Alexander Paskay to have the ship taken from Titan and sold at auction to pay off debts.

The Ocean Jewel had a rough, yearlong ride trying to make it in the offshore gambling business. Originally, the vessel was to sail from St. Petersburg's port.

Titan soon decided to keep the ship in the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico and carry customers out on shuttle vessels. The boats had trouble running in rough weather, sometimes leaving passengers stuck on the Ocean Jewel.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in August in hopes of finding new investors. Instead, Titan parked the ship at a Tampa ship yard in October.

At an auction on Monday, Yamashiro was the only bidder to offer a minimum $5-million bid for the Ocean Jewel, Brill said. After First American balked at the price, he said, Yamashiro agreed to pay $7.25-million for the ship and most of Titan's other assets, including a shuttle vessel and a barge.

The investment company intends to form a partnership with casino operators headed by Nigel F. White, a California certified public accountant with more than 20 years experience in gaming and hotels.

The entity to be called Oceans 21 owns one ship and wants to run it and the Ocean Jewel from Florida ports by the middle of this year, White said Tuesday. The Tampa Bay area is among the markets under consideration, he said.

White said the management team, which includes some people who worked on the Ocean Jewel, has lengthy experience in operating land-based casinos and gambling ships.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.