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June 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Happened to Larry Smith's Liveaboard?

from the June, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In last month’s issue, we reported the passing of famed dive guide Larry Smith. He was divemaster for the liveaboard Adventure Komodo, run by the company Adventure H20. His death was a blow to those who had booked to go diving with him, but they got more of a shock than they expected. Adventure H20’s owner, Steve Jacobs, has shut down operations and took a circuitous route in letting customers know and refunding their deposits.

Undercurrent reader Judy Foester was the first to let us know about the trouble after receiving an e-mail from Adventure H20 that her liveaboard trip for the following week had been canceled due to engine trouble. She had to scramble to find another liveaboard or dive resort in the area so she could use her round-trip air ticket to Singapore. Turns out every passenger booked for Adventure Komodo trips got the same e-mail. They and their travel agents, scrambling to rebook, requested their deposits back but Jacobs took his time in responding.

In late April, he finally admitted that engine trouble was not the reason for canceling trips. He wrote Undercurrent that he was closing down because “people didn’t pay their final payments and this caused me to be very uncertain about this business.” Jacobs said Larry Smith’s death was a factor. “His death hastened the final decision but in fact the boat was not making a good return on the money deployed.” When asked how he is making it up to those who booked, Jacobs replied, “Refunds to those who paid on time and in accordance with booking conditions.” When we asked what those conditions were, he did not respond.

Jacobs was probably using deposits for future trips to handle current operating expenses. In the 1990s, we reported on two travel agencies – Sea Safaris and See and Sea Travel – that did exactly that. Both went bankrupt and people who had made deposits with them for trips were out of luck. However, a week after Undercurrent contacted Jacobs, Adventure H20 passengers started getting refund checks for their deposits.

What if your liveaboard or dive resort goes belly-up after you’ve sent them money? You may have some recourse if you have paid a deposit with your credit card. Under Federal guidelines, credit card companies work with the merchant to get your money refunded. If that doesn’t work, they will replace the money in your account. But contact your bank that issued the credit card as soon as you suspect problems; the longer you wait to report a problem, the longer an investigation will take. Many travel agencies will refund your money, even if the supplier defaults, but don’t expect it. A small travel agent can face too large a loss to survive.

Also don’t expect that defunct liveaboard or resort to reimburse you for your nonrefundable airline tickets overseas. You can try to find another dive operator in the same area and time frame, or change the dates. You typically have a year to use a plane ticket and will be charged $100 to change dates, but beware: If the airline’s rate went up for your new itinerary, you’ll have to pay the difference. That could cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Ken Knezick, president of Island Dreams Travel in Houston, recommends divers buy travel interruption insurance for expensive dive trips on the other side of the world. (For more details, read the article “When Do You Need Dive Travel Insurance?” in the February 2007 issue of Undercurrent.) “And work with reputable sources who have been around for a while,” he says. “The longer they’ve been in business, the more of a good reputation they’ve built up with customers.”

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