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Massachusetts-based Tom Harper River Journeys — which earlier this year had announced planned operations on its first company-owned ship — filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on June 5 in Massachusetts, liquidating all assets in a nightmare scenario that left many without reimbursement for their bookings.
On May 16, 2015, Tom Harper sent out a cancellation notification by email indicating that it was filing for bankruptcy protection. The line’s assets were placed between $500,000 and $1 million, and its liabilities were estimated between $1 million and $10 million. The filing, made by CEO Bret Gordon (a former Vantage Deluxe World Travel executive), indicated that uninsured creditors would not be paid.
The first indication — an ASTA alert that the company had closed its offices — came to select travel agents prior to their clients’ departures. In early May, some passengers who had booked with Tom Harper were contacted and told that their trips had been canceled. According to these passenger accounts, the passengers were told that Tom Harper was still financially solid and that they would receive refunds. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office urged travelers to seek refunds through their credit card or travel insurance companies.
Tom Harper, whose name was derived from two of Mark Twain’s literary characters, was founded in 2013 to sell tour packages that included river cruise space on other lines’ ships from Scotland and Egypt to the Southeast Asia and Botswana. The company was preparing to launch the 88-passenger Birdsong in Europe in March 2016.
The prospects for passengers who had no insurance and didn’t pay by credit card looks grim. Tom Harper River Journeys doesn’t appear in the membership of CLIA or in USTOA, which requires three years in business and a $1 million letter of credit to reimburse customers in the event of bankruptcy. River cruise lines operating in the U.S. provide protection through a performance bond of up to $15 million, administered by the Federal Maritime Commission, which covers passenger refunds for “non-performance of transportation.”
Bankruptcy law specialist W. Thomas Bible, Jr. pointed out that liquidating company assets through Chapter 7 can allow owners to reconsolidate their finances to mount another attempt of successfully doing business. There is no further indication that the principals may try again later.