A Bold Plan To Host Refugees At Sea Ends In Failure

Cruise Ship MS Island Escape, now Ocean Gala
MS Island Escape. Photo by Carlos SM, Flickr

A luxury cruise ship chartered to house asylum seekers has been put up for sale by its owner due to problems with regulators and the reduction of the refugee crisis in Sweden.

US Shipmanagers, a Florida company, claims that a sale may be necessary to cover losses they would incur if the Swedish migration agency (Migrationsverket) fails to pay a 54 million kronor ($6.44 million) bill the company has sent to the agency for the costs of running the ship. The company also intends to sue the municipality for 250 million stating that the municipality and the Immigration Service worked together to stop the Ocean Gala from operating.

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Migrationsverket claims that their agreement to house asylum seekers on the vessel has been null and void since July.

Today the 40,000 tonne Ocean Gala is up for sale for a price of around $20 million.

“We’ve put the Ocean Gala up for sale because it appears that Migrationsverket will try to get out of our agreement. As contractors we have an obligation to try to limit the damage,” Floating Accommodations spokesperson Kjell Tandberg told local newspaper Sundvalls Tidning.

“If someone buys or charters it our demand to Migrationsverket will reduce, and if not, we will continue to demand payment for the whole year as if we were in operation,” he added.

In February 2016, it was announced that the Swedish Migration Agency signed a contract with US Shipmanagers to use the Ocean Gala as an asylum hotel for 1790 asylum seekers. Initially, permission was sought for a 4 year stint 2016-2020 in the Harbour of Härnösand but disputes between the ship’s owners and various Swedish entities ensued.

But, according to Swedish website TheLocal, Härnösand municipality vetoed hosting the ship. The Swedish migration board accepted that decision, before scrapping the deal with the firm entirely in July, claiming that requirements had not been met.

“Our deal depended on the procurement of all the necessary permits. This did not happen so the deal is null and void,” said a Swedish official in a statement at the time.