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The Pirates Have Left the Harbor

March 18, 2009 — Pirate lore says that Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Black Bart, once said, "A merry life and a short one shall be my motto."
Perhaps that is the way of all pirate ventures, and in the case of St. Thomas, the way of Pirate's Harbour Tours.
Less than a year after their maiden voyage, Pirate's Harbour Tours set sail on their last tour Wednesday. The final day was dedicated to making passengers as excited as possible about St. Thomas and its latest chapter in pirate history.
Carnival Cruise Lines, which serves as the umbrella organization for a number of cruise ships, this week cancelled its contract with the tour company, according to company president Steve Vasaturo.
The tour company was making the most of the situation on its last day, still greeting its passengers with hearty pirate-speak and educating them as to pirate lore.
"We are going out the way Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did — all guns firing and making guests as happy as possible," Vasaturo said.
Carnival said no one was available for comment Wednesday.
The Pirates have recently come under fire from a sting operation led by the Virgin Islands Taxi Commission. Cited for working as a water taxi, the company was assessed over $,2000 in fines. (See: " Be They Tour Guides or Scofflaws? Pirates Harbour Tour in Hot Water").
Vasaturo's other business, Deliver It, is also in hot water in connection with its activities as a ship's agent. The company is alleged to have collected some $2 million in fees from the cruise lines which it did not turn over to the V. I. Port Authority.
In addition, Kenn Hobson, the authority's executive director, said that Pirates Harbour Tours is on cash-basis account with the authority, but that it was paid up.
However, Hobson said that there was a disputed outstanding amount with Deliver It of over $35,000.
While beset by financial and administrative woes, the Pirates are beloved by their passengers.
"It's been one of the funnest parts of the day," said Joe Kwiatkowski, a passenger from the Eurodam.
Kwiatkowski was very unhappy with taxi drivers who tried to discourage him from joining the Pirate tour, while he waited in line to get on the tour.
"The cab drivers are rude and pushy," he said. "'No' doesn't mean 'no' anymore. They continued to badger us."
Kwiatkowski was also critical of the taxi driver's prices, saying they wanted $20 for one stop when he could ride on the Pirate tour all day for $10.
"Even Holland America line was recommending we take the tour for safety," Kwiatkowski said. "I don't think [the recommendation] was a 100 percent business decision. Holland America was looking at what was the best option. It's a shame."
Other passengers were disappointed that the tour wouldn't be around for their next time in St. Thomas.
"It's so sad," Judy Poirier, another Eurodam passenger said. "They were awesome. They were fun. It's too bad, it was a great way to start a vacation in St. Thomas. It was just a short ride to Charlotte Amalie, but it gave us background, absolutely."
Vasaturo expressed some satisfaction that his concept had proven popular.
"I think that I've proven that people want to have choices," Vasaturo said.
However with the taxicab commission preventing Vasaturo from selling the tour aboard his boats, he has no venue to market his service.
"If I was able to sell this tour on the boats, then I would be able to continue operations," Vasaturo said.
Business owners will also miss the Pirates and the business that they drummed up.
"We're going to miss them, they were just great customers," Eugene Stiltner, manager at the Big Kahuna Rum Shack said. "It was a great concept."
The tours worked out a deal where passengers could exchange a coupon at Big Kahuna and Fat Turtle to provide a free round of drinks, bringing business to both of those establishments.
The company's future is unclear for now. Most of the tour's 17 employees will start searching for other jobs Thursday.
"It is hard to lose a job this time of year, at the end of season," pirate Wendy Gill said. "I loved this job, but sometimes you just have to go with the ebb and flow."
Vasaturo said that he has had several phone calls from potential buyers for Pirates, and he sets a potential sales figure in the $2 million range. The business' assets include four boats in the water, and one in the yard.
"I hope that somebody sees what a great thing Pirates was and picks up where I left off," Vasaturo said.
Dustin Smith contributed to this story.
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