When Capt. Ken Caine arrives at his office each day at Dania-Beach-based QPS Marine Ships, he is more likely to find inquiries from curiosity seekers than from serious buyers of the vessels he’s advertising for sale.
His principal offerings: used cruise ships and ferries.
“I have dreamers, I have scammers and I have real buyers,” said Caine, 72, director of commercial vessel sales, who since early 2014 has collaborated with Nautical Ventures Group in the business.
One would-be customer asked if he could take a cruise ship for a “spin.”
“I wrote back and told him, ‘You can spin all you want but just give me $4 million for the fuel and the crew,’” said Caine of the inquiry that went nowhere.
But when he hits pay dirt, the rewards can be great in a cruise ship resale market that appears to be thriving.
About a month ago, Caine brokered the sale of the MV Voyager on behalf of a United Kingdom-based cruise line to a Mexican hotelier for $14 million. The buyer plans to renovate it and use it to start the first cruise line in Mexico.
In early 2014, Caine arranged the sale of the Saga Ruby cruise ship to a Singapore-based real estate investment fund, also for $14 million.The 655-passenger cruise ship, built in 1973, was retired by British cruise line Saga Cruises after 40 years. The vessel’s new owner intended to convert it into a floating hotel in Myanmar.
The two cruise ship sales are his largest in recent years.
Caine’s company also charters ships, sometimes for unusual occasions in far-flung places. Recently, he arranged a $3.36 million charter of the 443-foot long MV Ocean Majesty to the Saudi Royal Office for a cruise to the Maldives. The ship was to ferry the King’s court of 600 people, which including 25 princes, 10 ministers and their 506 tons of baggage.
While only about two percent of the inquiries QPS receives are from serious buyers, the time and effort is worth it, Caine said. And although some deals may take several months or even years to come to fruition due to vetting, indecision, bureaucratic snags and other issues, the compensation is worthwhile.
While he declined to discuss the commissions he earns from sales and charters, he said: “There’s a good payoff in it.”
A former top executive with Windstar Cruises, Caine said he opted out of retirement to parlay his experience with ships and international marketing into his new career. He is a licensed boat captain who lives on a 48-foot SeaRay yacht on Williams Island with his wife, Stella.
He conducts business principally online and via Skype.
“There aren’t that many people who do it the way that we do it on the internet,” Caine said, noting there are brokers who quietly sell used cruise ships by word-of-mouth working with industry insiders. “We primarily look to the internet for obtaining customers.”
There are typically two sources for used cruise ships – the major cruise lines and smaller, regional operators, Caine said.
“The major cruise lines typically will replace smaller, older vessels with new build vessels that are better suited to current trends,” he noted. “The redundant vessels are either moved to subsidiary companies, or are sold, or chartered to smaller independent cruise lines.”
But many unwanted vessels end up in the bone yards of South Asia.
“Usually retired cruise ships get recycled, which means scrapping,” said Teijo Niemela, publisher and managing editor of industry publication Cruise Business Review of New Jersey and Finland.
The technical condition of a ship and its commercial value are two factors cruise lines often consider in deciding the fate of an older vessel, Niemela said.
And the demand for the used ships on Caine’s website appears to be as strong as it is diversified.
Today, Caine is working on requests for a ship charter to house media attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018, and he’s also dealing with a customer who wants to buy a used high-speed 500-passenger ferry for use in Japan.
Since the normalizing of U.S.-Cuba relations, he’s received inquiries from four companies interested in obtaining a cruise ship to establish a floating hotel in Havana harbor.
“There’s always something different,” he said.
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