Gambling ship Niobe Corinthian blessed in Southside service - Wednesday 30th of April 2008

A controversial gambling ship which sparked protests from the AME church when it arrived in Bermuda was blessed at the weekend by an Anglican minister.

The Reverend Canon James Francis, from Christ Church in Devonshire, performed the official christening of the Niobe Corinthian on Saturday afternoon at Southside in St. Davids.

Llewellyn Peniston, lawyer for Estrellas Management (BBI) Ltd, which owns the vessel, described the blessing as a "momentous occasion" and a "signal of acceptance".

"It should be tolerated as part of the social fabric of this community," said Mr. Peniston. "The blessing, in my view, is a clear signal that as a business entity people ought not to look at it as being odious to the social interests of this community.

"The vessel is about to commence its 2008 season, weather permitting, and the blessing ceremony was most fitting and timely."

Casinos are illegal in Bermuda but the boat gets around the law by picking up gamblers in St. Davids and taking them about 12 miles out to sea into international waters.

Passengers, who pay a membership fee, then spend the night out on the ocean enjoying games such as blackjack, roulette and craps as well as slot machines.

When plans for the ship were first announced in 2004, the AME churches Social Action Committee deplored what it said was "a brazen attempt by casino vessel backers to get around the law and introduce casino gambling to Bermuda". Former Premier Alex Scott also opposed the idea.

Mr. Peniston said the vessel had made between 15 and 20 voyages since its first trip last November and would probably set out again next Saturday depending on the weather.

"There are other social elements of the vessel," he said. "There is a nice lounge with a bar, music, dancing opportunities. All of these things are part of the whole package which enables us to more appropriately call it an entertainment vessel rather than a gambling ship."

The 196-foot boat is registered in Panama and Estrellas is domiciled in the British Virgin Islands but two Bermudian trusts — the Circus Trust and the William Trust — own all the shares in the boat.

"I cant tell you who is behind the trusts," he said, adding that Wiseway Enterprises, headed by Neil Inchup, were the local ship managers in Bermuda.

The Niobe Corinthian was built by Shell Oil Company and originally used for oil-finding missions before ending up in the Galápagos Islands, where it was used to ferry passengers to Ecuador.

Mr. Peniston said its transformation into a floating casino was "magnificent". "The interior of the vessel presents a very cheerful image," he said.

Fermin Alfonso Reyes, the Panamanian ships captain, was fined $15,000 for illegally importing 100 gaming machines into Bermuda after being found guilty along with the ships manager George Kezas after a Magistrates Court trial last year. Both men are appealing their convictions.

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