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Owner flip-flops; MS River Rouge will cruise river again

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/1/2011 (2403 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WINNIPEGGERS will still be able to book a river cruise this summer.

MS River Rouge owner Kyriakos Vogiatzakis said the city's only remaining big-boat pleasure cruise will set sail this summer, despite his previous threats to quit the business and move elsewhere.

Kyriakos Vogiatzakis

Kyriakos Vogiatzakis

Last summer, Vogiatzakis put the MS River Rouge up for sale for $1.6 million and told the Free Press he was ready to quit due to mounting frustration over bad weather and government red tape. The businessman initially spent more than $400,000 to retrofit the ship in 2007 to market it as a floating nightclub.

Vogiatzakis said he pulled the 450-tonne vessel off the market three weeks ago and decided against moving the operation to Minneapolis. He said his decision has nothing to do with Steve Hawchuk, longtime captain of the Paddlewheel boats, announcing Monday he will retire.

Hawchuk said he lost about 70 per cent of his business last year due to an unusually high Red River.

Both of Hawchuk's ships -- the Paddlewheel Queen and Paddlewheel Princess -- are for sale, but Vogiatzakis said he has no interest in purchasing either of the vessels, and he's lost interest in selling his big boat.

"It was tempting but I don't want to remove a piece of Winnipeg's history," Vogiatzakis said of talks to move the MS River Rouge to a U.S. market.

"Even if the water is high we can still operate. I'm excited to operate."

Vogiatzakis said he believes he's made it past the worst hurdles in starting a riverboat operation, and may have a captive market if there are no interested buyers in the Paddlewheel boats.

He said this year he will focus on getting his ship out of the locks at Selkirk in time to ensure it can dock in Winnipeg. In the last two years, Vogiatzakis said the River Rouge operated for less than two months due to problems getting it out of Selkirk.

Last year, it was stuck on the Red River in less than two feet of water for a week, after it ran aground on its way to Lower Fort Garry, stranding dozens of passengers for hours. Vogiatzakis was then forced to shut down several weeks in September, after officials told him members of his crew were "unqualified."

He said one of his captains did not have a medical certificate and another was missing a piece of required paperwork.

Vogiatzakis has also had run-ins with Manitoba Labour and Immigration while owning the River Rouge, for failing to pay his staff. There have been more than a dozen claims made against him in 2008 and 2009 on behalf of River Rouge staff who didn't receive their paycheques.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

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