LOS ANGELES (CN) - Eleven "attractive young men" claim in court that a cruise company hired them to "mix and mingle" with gay passengers "on a gay Mediterranean cruise," but when the male models attracted "too much attention," RSVP Vacations forced them off the ship and stranded them in war-torn Tunisia.
Lead plaintiff BAOL dba Bel Ami, a Czech company specializing in gay erotic entertainment, and 11 of its employees sued RSVP Vacations and the Holland America line, in Federal Court.
BAOL claims RSVP Vacations broke its promise of food, free cabins and safe passage for its 11 models on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise, in exchange for "interacting" with passengers.
The plaintiff models are from the Czech Republic, The Slovak Republic and Hungary.
"Defendant RSVP hired a group of attractive young men to 'mix and mingle' with their gay passengers on a gay Mediterranean cruise aboard defendant Holland America's cruise ship the Nieuw Amsterdam," the complaint states. "In return, RSVP promised the young men a 'vacation' including food and safe passage from Barcelona around the Western Mediterranean and back to Barcelona and promised plaintiff Bel Ami that it would be permitted to photograph and video graph the young men during the cruise. Instead of a vacation, the young men experienced a nightmare.
"RSVP's entertainment manager contacted Bel Ami, the producer of gay erotic movies, and requested that Bel Ami arrange for a group of its models to attend the cruise. However, the entertainment manager requested that the young men 'not discuss with anyone including other representatives of RSVP or Atlantis Events ([its] parent company), that [RSVP] provided them with free cabins,' and further suggesting that the young men should lie and say the cruise was a 'reward from Bel Ami for their hard work' if anyone asked.
"Rumors as to the circumstances relating to the young men's presence on the cruise began before the ship even left the dock. RSVP then had a change of heart. Suddenly, concerned about how the secret arrangement might look to customers or their parent company - or perhaps not satisfied that the young men were fulfilling their end of the bargain, RSVP forced the young men off the ship at the first port of call and left them stranded in Tunisia.
"At the time, Tunisia was in the aftermath of the tumultuous civil uprising that became known as the Arab Spring; an uprising so powerful that it led to the removal of long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The protests constituted the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades and resulted in scores of deaths and injuries.
"With no reasonable explanation and under threat of arrest and confiscation of their personal belongings and passports, RSVP forced the young men off the ship, disregarding their request to wait at least one additional day when the ship would be in Italy - a politically stable country within the European Union from where the young men could have at least conceivably made it home by train." (Parentheses and brackets in complaint).
BAOL claims it arranged for its models to attend the cruise and paid their salaries and flight and lodging costs in exchange for permission to shoot footage of the cruise. But BAOL says that as soon as its photographer started taking pictures of the models enjoying the cruise, RSVP employees asked him to stop, claiming the models were getting "too much attention."
"Bel Ami models are well known among Bel Ami's viewing audience and easily identifiable," the complaint states. "Many of the ship's passengers recognized the models and rumors quickly circulated that Bel Ami was on board to film a movie. The young men received considerable attention from the other passengers, as one would expect. Passengers asked the models if they were shooting a pornographic film, but when the young men truthfully denied this, the passengers did not believe them."
BAOL claims RSVP barred its crew from filming on the ship, despite the written agreement, and booted the models in Tunisia.
The models say RSVP took their passports and threatened to confiscate their belongings and equipment if they did not leave the ship.
"That evening more rumors circulated, and it became clear that RSVP had informed passengers that they were forcing the Bel Ami models from the ship," the complaint states.
"Emboldened by RSVP's drastic measures and negative representation of the young men that was now being circulated, some passengers approached the young men and requested that they engage in sex for money. It was clear that the passengers now felt the young men were not worthy of even the most basic of human dignities. The young men of course refused these requests.
"The young men returned to their cabins, although they could not sleep, fully aware that the next day they would be forced off the ship in Tunisia and not knowing what steps they would need to take to get home. They had little choice but to put their faith in [RSVP's photographer] Mr. Benko and hope for the best.
"In the morning, the young men were forced off the ship, while hundreds of other passengers watched. They waited for hours, sitting on the curb next to the port while Mr. Benko attempted to obtain visas. Hungry, scared, humiliated, and despondent, they passed another sleepless night - this time in a strange country in the aftermath of a tumultuous civil uprising.
"When they returned home, the young men suffered even more indignity as they were teased by friends about being forcibly removed from the ship. Blogs were already reporting the news, causing the young men further humiliation."
BAOL claims that RSVP, disregarding the models' safety, "marooned them in an Islamic country in crisis," without visas, without means of return or the ability to speak the local language.
It claims its reputation was damaged, and it spent more money to get the models home.
BAOL and the models seek compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract, fraud, intentional interference with contract, negligence, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Gill Sperlein of San Francisco.