NEW YORK -- Telephones went unanswered at First European Cruises' U.S. offices this week, raising agents' concerns about the future of the cruise line's parent company, Festival Cruises.

A recording directed callers to leave a message and said the First European offices were closed. No one answered the door at the line's New York offices when a Travel Weekly reporter visited one afternoon.

Festival, which was the second-largest cruise operator in Europe, halted operations in January after a creditor said the Genoa, Italy-based cruise line had failed to meet financial obligations.

The company has since struggled to reorganize; several published dates for restarting operations have come and gone. Festival has since pared down its fleet of six ships to three. One of the remaining vessels, the European Vision, was auctioned in Barbados this week.

A spokeswoman at Festival's Genoa headquarters said the company still has a reorganization plan on the table and that negotiations are continuing with creditors. She said she was unaware that the New York offices were closed.

"We have a plan to restart operations, of course, and we hope this would be done very [soon], depending on the decisions of the lawyer on the success of the business plan," she said.

There is interest from an investor, she said, adding that Royal Caribbean Cruises also has "manifested [its] interest in the company," but she said she could not discuss details.

A spokesman for RCCL said the company would not comment on "speculation or rumor."

Of the two ships that remain in the fleet following the Vision auction, the European Stars is in Barcelona, Spain, and the Mistral is in Marseilles, France. The Festival spokeswoman said there was "no action being called on them."

But because the company hasn't declared bankruptcy or officially ceased operations, U.S. agents were in limbo and searching for information.

Because Festival did not offer cruises from the U.S., it was not required to post a nonperformance bond with the Federal Maritime Commission.

First European's president, Jim Applebaum, said in an e-mail to Travel Weekly that "we are still waiting to hear something from [the company's headquarters in] Italy. Until I get something official from them, I can't do too much." He declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, ARTA sent a letter to the office of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, saying that "our concern ... is that First European may be in the stages of shutting down." It also advised members that it was unable to contact anyone at First European.

"In light of Far & Wide, Premier, Renaissance ... we have, in fact, a responsibility to keep you abreast of these types of developments," the letter said.

John Hawks, ARTA's president, said it was "very frustrating." About four or five agents contacted him with concerns.

"We tried every back-office number we know," he added. "E-mails [were] not returned, fax machines not picking up."

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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