Non-profits say struggling Arctic cruise company offered them thousands, but didn’t deliver

One Ocean Expeditions occasionally docks its ship, the RCGS Resolute, next to the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion at the downtown Sydney marine terminal. (Tom Ayers/CBC)
As cruise company One Ocean Expeditions fights to solve its financial problems, two polar non-profits say they are out thousands of dollars they were expecting from the company.

Oceanites, an American charity that tracks penguins, says it’s still waiting for two years worth of money the company raised using it and other groups’ names.

Dawn Currie, executive director of the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut, says the association had anticipated $40,000 in 2019 from One Ocean that it never got.

“I’m not mad, I’m disappointed,” Currie said.

One Ocean Expeditions, based in Squamish, B.C., has had a difficult run. In 2018, one of three ships chartered by the company was damaged after running aground near Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Then last summer, two of those ships were recalled by their Russian owners. One Ocean’s remaining ship, RCGS Resolute, was arrested in Nunavut in May for $100,000 One Ocean owed to a Nova Scotia-based company. It was later arrested in Halifax and detained in Argentina for what a federal judge there called “significant debt.”

“Regrettably the immense difficulties … made it impossible for [One Ocean] to continue to match benevolence,” One Ocean founder Andrew Prossin wrote in an email. “We do regret this situation as it has impacted a number of our regular recipient partners.”

Carol Waldo, from Cambridge, Mass., supported One Oceans’ charity fundraising by buying a painting at an auction. She was disappointed to hear that two polar charities suffered when One Ocean faced financial hardship. (Submitted by Carol Waldo)

But some cruise passengers are taking the charities’ deficits personally because a portion of the donations came from them — through auctions on board.

Repeat passenger Carol Waldo, from Massachusetts, was on an Arctic cruise in the summer of 2019 when she purchased a watercolour painting during a charity auction.

“I appreciated where the money would go, for very good causes,” she said.

But that fall, Waldo and her partner began reading more about One Ocean’s alleged troubles paying its workers.

“[It] made me question, ‘I wonder if this money … actually did go to the charities?'”

One Ocean’s Prossin said the company gave out far more money to charities than it ever received from passenger fundraising. He said in the last two years, the company collected $183,706 CAD through various efforts — but during that same period, it distributed $450,722 CAD to various beneficiaries.

Andrew Prossin says One Ocean gave out more money to charities than it received from passenger fundraising. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

According to One Ocean’s website, as passengers’ donations grew, the company started a foundation in early 2017 to “house” those donations along with its own charitable funds. The 2018 tax filings say the One Ocean Foundation received $25,420 in tax-deductible donations that year but it spent $0 on programs or expenses.

Prossin said that’s because money from auction sales was often forwarded to recipient organizations directly, to cut down on time and administrative costs.

One Ocean ‘has NOT forwarded’ funds: charity

Oceanites executive director Ron Naveen said he’s still waiting for that to happen.

“One Ocean has NOT forwarded any such funds to Oceanites for two years … despite numerous promises that funds ‘were coming,'” he wrote in an email.

Ron Naveen, executive director of Oceanites, says the company chased One Ocean Expeditions for two years for revenue they thought was on the way. (Submitted by Ron Naveen)

Naveen said for years, his charity had a “really good arrangement” with the cruise company. Along with financial donations, One Ocean gave the Oceanites scientists beds on its Antarctic cruise lines, allowing them to get to hard-to-reach parts of the globe.

Naveen said One Ocean never made specific commitments regarding how much money Oceanites would get.

He declined to say exactly how much money the charity is waiting for from One Ocean. But did say it’s two years’ worth of “five-figure” donations — at least $20,000.

Prossin said One Ocean gave Oceanites $7,000 over 2018 and 2019. Naveen refutes this. Prossin also noted the cruise line has given out more than $800,000 of in-kind services like beds for various scientists, some of which benefited Oceanites.

Naveen agreed the in-kind donations were valuable, but said those scientists showed passengers film clips, gave lectures, and educated passengers about Antarctic wildlife giving One Ocean what he called “spectacular public relations.”

One relationship ends, another begins

In 2018, while Naveen says Oceanites was waiting on money, the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut was receiving financial contributions from One Ocean, funding the association’s Currie thought would continue in 2019.

In autumn of 2017, One Ocean and the recreation association announced a new partnership that Currie expected would put $40,000 annually in her non-profit’s pockets for four years. But Currie said she began asking questions in April 2019: the annual funding was supposed to come in four chunks, and the association still hadn’t received the first one. But One Ocean representatives promised the money was en route, albeit a bit late, she said.

Dawn Currie, executive director of the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut, says she’d be happy to partner with One Ocean Expeditions in the future if their financial situation improved. (Submitted by Dawn Currie)

“We took it in good faith that the ongoing communications meant that [the money] was still coming,” Currie said.

Expecting the funds, the association hired two summer students. The association also treated One Ocean passengers to a barbecue when a cruise stopped in Iqaluit in August, costing about $1,000, Currie said. It also gave out a “One Ocean Expeditions Youth of the Year Award.

One Ocean told CBC it gave the association a total of $55,000 in 2018 and 2019 and that it was “just getting things started” with the non-profit when Russian ship owners pulled out their ships, sending the company into a tailspin.

Company founder Prossin wrote that any financial commitments “would always be made under the understanding that … [One Ocean’s] financial performance might force the limiting of any payments.”

Currie said she was never advised of those caveats when they made their agreement. Now, she’s figuring out how to pay off the deficit the association incurred from last year’s spending.

“I’m planning to move on … I’m not expecting it at this point,” she said.

Currie did say she would be happy to work with One Ocean again if things improve for the company.

Struggling company communicated well: museum director

At the Vancouver Maritime Museum, executive director Joost Schokkenbroek said while One Ocean’s financial woes impacted the museum, he admired how the company communicated during a stressful time.

The museum had planned a fundraiser for 2019 with a raffle of a Chilean fjord cruise the company had donated. But as the cruise’s future became more uncertain, the museum cancelled the raffle in December and refunded anyone who had bought a ticket. Schokkenbroek said that was “a very tough decision to make.”

Joost Schokkenbroek, executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, says One Ocean Expeditions was a good partner. (Submitted by Vancouver Maritime Museum)

Ottawa non-profit Citizen Advocacy also confirmed to CBC that three cruise packages from One Ocean the charity auctioned off for fundraising were later cancelled. Citizen Advocacy said it also gave refunds.

Schokkenbroek said he touched base with One Ocean’s Prossin every few weeks throughout the year about the state of the company.

“We respect each other’s professionalism,” Schokkenbroek said. “It’s just beyond imagination how fast this snowball has grown.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic cruise operators brace for coronavirus uncertainty, CBC News

Finland: Giant cruise ships bringing tourists in record numbers to Helsinki, Yle News

Norway: Cancelled Norwegian cruises to Arctic Russia: competitor denies any involvement, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Longread – Why a Soviet-built polar cruise vessel left Atlantic Canada as a derelict ghost ship, CBC News

Katie Toth, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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