Agency Owner Disappeared, Ship Passengers Say
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ A travel agency owner who allegedly bilked customers out of $5 million disappeared from a cruise ship shortly before a mutiny of its crew in Central America, passengers say.
Fernando Inigo, the agency owner, left the cruise ship Galazy before dawn in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, promising crew members he would reboard in Costa Rica with money to pay them, passengers told the Houston Chronicle.
Crew members refused to continue working when they weren’t paid.
Inigo and his wife, Lorna, of San Antonio are two of five defendants named in a lawsuit filed last week by the Texas attorney general’s office against Golden Cruisetours Inc. and two of its affiliates.
The three other defendants - Fernando Mendrillo, Fermin Gutierrez and Manuel Fernandez - only maintain postal boxes in San Antonio, officials said.
A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Friday in San Antonio.
Assistant Texas Attorney General Raul Noriega, who said he had visited the Inigos’ house in San Antonio, said neighbors have not seen the couple for several weeks.
They appeared to have taken some possessions and left, Noriega said. Their child was removed from school, and the family’s cars remained in the driveway.
Morris J. Kirschberg, attorney for Golden Cruisetours, declined to comment on the case earlier this week but said through a secretary that he has not heard from the Inigos since the lawsuit was filed.
After the vessel left Costa Rica and passed through the Panama Canal, the Galaxy’s captain had all passengers leave the ship in Panama City on Feb. 21.
The Galaxy is owned by Global Cruises of Panama, one of the affiliates named in the suit, of which Inigo owns 5 percent, Noriega said.
″He (Inigo) was very nervous,″ said Galaxy passenger Dorothy C. Hayes. ″We were told he wasn’t feeling well.″
Ms. Hayes said Inigo talked with her and other passengers before leaving the ship. ″He said that he had to leave in Guatemala to meet with his bankers (in Guatemala City) and then he would catch up with the ship in Costa Rica,″ she said. He never showed up, she added.
In a letter to The Associated Press, passenger Peggy Enger of Lakewood, Colo., described conditions on the ship when passengers first boarded Feb. 11 in Acapulco.
″We entered into the main lobby, it was filthy, carpet was oil streaked, it smelled of diesel fuel,″ Mrs. Enger wrote.
Because of failures in the air conditioning system, cruise officials said only 50 passengers could sail, she said.
″I couldn’t believe under those conditions that anyone would have signed up,″ Mrs. Enger said. She and her husband decided against sailing with the ship, which she said left port Feb. 12, a day behind schedule.
An attorney general’s audit of Golden Cruisetours in January determined that the company had booked a high percentage of 36 future cruises on the Galaxy, Noriega said. Each cruise carries about 200 passengers each; the cost was $1,500 cash in advance. A conservative estimate of receipts from would-be passengers on future cruises was $5 million, he said.