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Impounded Chinese cruise ship finally leaves South Korea

By Chuck Thompson and Ke Feng, CNN
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Henna has been called China's first luxury cruise liner, but its passengers were subjected to a rude wait over the weekend.
The Henna has been called China's first luxury cruise liner, but its passengers were subjected to a rude wait over the weekend.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Detained in South Korea since Friday, China's first luxury cruise ship has finally left port for home
  • Planes were dispatched to fly passengers and crew back to China
  • Impounding is part of legal dispute between two Chinese shipping companies
  • The story has attracted massive attention on Chinese social media

(CNN) -- After being detained in the South Korean port of Jeju since Friday, the Chinese luxury cruise ship, Henna, finally set sail just after 7:30 p.m. local time on Monday.

The ship is now headed back to China and expected to arrive at the Tianjin Dongjiang International Cruise Port near Beijing at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

The departure was confirmed by the ship's operator, HNA Tourism Cruise and Yacht Management Corp.

According to HNA, by the time of departure, 1,558 passengers had been flown back to China after their vacations were interrupted by a South Korean court order and unexpected detainment.

Perhaps the most shocking news surrounding the departure is that 87 resolute passengers, undeterred by the international commotion and four days in Jeju, were so determined to finish their trips that they chose to return to China with the ship.

Henna saga

The Henna was impounded in Jeju on Friday by a local court following a seizure application filed by Chinese state-owned shipping company, Jiangsu Shagang Group, against Beijing-based travel organizer HNA Tourism, according to China's state news agency, Xinhua.

Jiangsu Shagang Group filed the application with South Korean authorities due to a legal dispute with HNA Tourism, related to a legal proceeding over outstanding lease payments with an HNA subsidiary, Grand China Shipping.

The Henna is under the ownership of Sanya Artemis Yacht Entertainment Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of HNA Tourism.

At least seven airplanes were dispatched to fly the 1,659 passengers and approximately 650 crew members back to China, according to a statement from HNA Tourism.

They shouldn't let the tourists suffer no matter what happened! This (shows) a lack of respect to the Chinese.
Weibo post

Passengers will receive compensation of approximately RMB 2,000 (about $250) for the stunted trip, said the company.

Difficult detention

China state media reported that during the ship's weekend detention, two passengers suffered heart attacks; according to HNA, however, only one passenger suffered a heart attack. A child suffered from a fever. All were taken to a local Korean hospital for treatment.

An HNA Tourism spokesperson told CNN the company believes the timing for the seizure was "deliberate."

The Jiangsu Shagang Group filed its application on Friday at 4 p.m. local time, knowing many public offices would soon be closed for the weekend, according to an HNA spokesperson.

HNA says the timing led directly to the suffering and inconvenience of its passengers. 

According to HNA (link in Chinese only), the company paid an RMB 16,880,000 ($2.75 million) bond by 3 a.m. on Saturday to release the ship, after receiving the detention notice. However, the Jeju court delayed payment of the funds over the weekend.

Representatives from the Jiangsu Shagang Group were unavailable for comment.

Described by HNA as China's first luxury cruise ship, the Henna made its maiden voyage in January of this year.

'Lack of respect' toward Chinese

On its official Weibo page, HNA says South Korean authorities ignored the rights of Chinese tourists and acted "inappropriately" in dealing with the issue. 

According to state-owned China Youth Daily, China accounts for 35% of tourists in South Korea, and that number is on the rise.

The story of the Henna has gone viral on Chinese social media networks. Many Chinese Netizens question the detention order issued by the South Koreans.

"They shouldn't let the tourists suffer no matter what happened! This (shows) a lack of respect to the Chinese," posted one commenter.

Anger has also been directed at HNA, following Chinese media reports that HNA's unpaid debt was the primary reason for the legal dispute.

"Someone loaned money to a villain, the villain doesn't want to return. Then, you ask people to shush, and not talk about it aloud," posted another Chinese netizen.

South Korean officials in Jeju said that while the incident was regrettable, they weren't concerned about long-term damage to South Korea's reputation as a holiday destination for Chinese travelers.

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