Are Cruise Ship Auctions a Rip Off?

Cruise ship art auctions have become a popular feature for passengers, but are you really getting a deal on that Dali, or Warhol or Picasso?

Some cruise passengers don't think so, and are suing Detroit-based Park West Gallery, the biggest operator of shipboard auctions.

The Detroit Free Press quotes one woman, Marti Szostak, 60, of Bargersville, Ind., as saying she bought 21 pieces of art on Royal Caribbean ships, between 2005 and 2007, and paid $48,000, only to discover most were worthless prints. She says experts on land told her the Dali signatures, in particular, were forged.

"I was sick, I could hardly breathe," Szostak told the newspaper.

She and several other angry customers are accusing Park West and its founder, Albert Scaglione, of selling artwork that is fake, forged or overpriced. Scaglione in turn is suing several of the plaintiffs for defamation.

Those purchasing art at sea are given appraisals and certificates of authenticity, but the suing customers say these are phony.

Scaglione has repeatedly denied the allegations. "These charges are ridiculous," he told the newspaper. "We have never done anything wrong."

He says the publicity alleging forgeries has hurt his business, telling the newspaper Park West's annual revenues have dropped to $100 million, from $250 million in 2007, and that he has had to layoff half his workforce.

Park West recently lost its contract to run art auctions on Royal Caribbean ships. Lines that continue to have Park West auctions include Norwegian Cruise Line.

In addition to Michigan, six suits have been filed in Seattle, and there are others including a potential class action suit.

Scaglione told the Detroit Free Press that Park West has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau. On its website, Park West calls its shipboard auctions "entertaining and educational."

Photo, prayitno, flickr
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