Cruise passenger told to leave in art auction row

Cahal Milmo,Chief Reporter
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:15

When Mark Jacobs boarded the Jewel of the Seas cruise ship in the Essex port of Harwich with his extended family, he did so expecting to enjoy 12 days learning about the cultural and artistic riches of Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

But the American teacher’s sedate voyage was abruptly ended 48 hours before his scheduled return to Britain this week when he found himself being escorted off the vast vessel operated by the world’s second largest cruise operator in the company of Norwegian police officers in Oslo.

His compulsory expulsion at the request of the captain of the Jewel of the Seas, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), came after the Florida-based cruise giant took exception to the level of interest shown by Mr Jacobs in another type of art, namely prints and paintings by artists from Salvador Dali to Rembrandt which are sold on board during auctions run by a controversial American gallery.

The New York State-based teacher’s apparent transgression was his decision to produce and distribute a one-page flier to fellow passengers at one of the champagne-fuelled art sales after he did an internet search of allegations made against Park West Galleries, which is facing a number of lawsuits accusing it of selling over-priced or fake prints on cruise ships for more than a decade.

As a result, Mr Jacobs was told by senior staff on board the ship that he had broken RCCL’s guest conduct policy and would be ejected when it docked in the Norwegian capital last Sunday.

The dispute, which Mr Jacobs insists amounts to a breach of his right to freedom of expression, left the American with a £450 bill for a hotel and air tickets back to London, where he was reunited with his wife and two children and his elderly parents, who had stayed on board to avoid the cost of extra flights.

Mr Jacobs told The Independent yesterday: "What happened to me was outrageous. All I did was distribute information. I overheard the claims being made for the art on sale at this auction and was curious about the company behind it.

"After a search on Google on my laptop I found the details of the various lawsuits and media reports that there have been about this company. I felt that people attending these auctions had a right to know that there were these claims just so they could make up their own minds. I went out of my way to say these were just allegations.

"Royal Caribbean obviously took a different view. I was shocked that because we were in international waters, they were able summarily inform me I had to leave the ship. One minute I was playing table tennis with my son, the next I was being escorted away by the Oslo police."

The extraordinary row comes after The Independent revealed the involvement in one of the lawsuits of a London-based couple, who claim that a set of Dali prints bought from Park West for more than £250,000 following a different RCCL cruise are worth only a fraction of what they paid for them. Sharon Day and her husband Julian Howard allege the prints carry a fake Dali signature which make them virtually worthless.

Park West, a Michigan-based company which sells more than 300,000 works of art and has revenues of more than £180m a year, denies that the signatures are fake and insists it has never sold an "non-authentic" item in its 40-year history. It says it is the victim of a smear campaign by claimants and an American-based website aimed at destroying its reputation.

RCCL is one of eight cruise lines who host the Park West auctions in return for a commission on each sale. One lawsuit against Park West alleges that the RCCL commission is set at 20 per cent.

Mr Jacobs, who said he only became aware of the claims against Park West after boarding the Jewel of the Seas, printed off 50 copies of his leaflet before distributing it to passengers shortly before one of the auctions began. Two hours later he was called to the ship’s administration offices and told complaints had been made against him by passengers concerning the flyer.

In a statement, RCCL said: "The ship’s Hotel Director and Staff Captain met with Mr. Jacobs and explained that his behaviour was inappropriate and in violation of the guest conduct policy. In addition, they explained that failure to act in accordance with the policy could result in removal from the ship at the next port of call. Mr Jacobs continued to be uncooperative and difficult, which resulted in a decision to disembark him the following day in Oslo."

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