Gambling Ship Seeks To Build Clientele - Saturday 12th of March 2005

The Ocean Jewel gambling ship, which can accommodate up to 2,000 passengers, has averaged no more than half that capacity since it began operating offshore last fall, records show.

The new head of Titan Cruise Lines, which owns the 450-foot, eight-deck vessel, said he's pleased with the number of passengers thus far. The Ocean Jewel sails daily Wednesday through Monday from the Port of St. Petersburg.

``The company hasn't fully implemented its marketing programs yet,'' said Michael Hlavsa, Titan's chief executive officer. ``I think you'll ee some more awareness in the next 30 to 60 days, and we expect the passenger level will increase.''

For March, the peak of tourist season, Titan was averaging 907 passengers a day as of last week, said David Metz, director of St. Petersburg's Downtown Enterprise Facilities Department.

In February, Titan averaged 1,115 passengers per day. In January, it averaged 1,097 per day. In December, there were a day. November averaged to 856 per day.

Titan uses high-speed catamarans to ferry patrons to and from the vessel hourly, and that arrangement likely is a factor in the ship's operating below capacity, Metz said.

``They probably don't reach [2,000] with their transportation arrangements of shuttles going back and forth fairly frequently, articularly on weekends,'' he said.

Hlavsa, the former chief executive for SunCruz Casinos, agreed. ``The two numbers kind of don't relate,'' he said. ``The number of passengers that come on is one thing, but they come on over a 14-hour period of time, not all at one time.''

Titan was ``a few days'' late this month in submitting $46,858 in February passenger fees to the city, Metz said. The city charges Titan $2 per passenger.

Titan also has yet to reimburse the city for sanitation fees incurred by the port, Metz said. He said Titan asked to review documentation before it pays the fee, which is more than 60 days past due.

The company is current on its monthly dockage fees, Metz said. Hlavsa wasn't sure why passenger fees were paid late, but noted the company's chief financial officer was out of the office the week they were due.

``It's always been our full intention to make payment in accordance with our agreement,'' he said.

``Obviously, anything that we need to reimburse them for we would do.

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