Originally, the Diamond Royale was built as the M/V Andrew Fletcher, a side-wheel diesel excursion boat, for New York’s Seaport Line. The ship was completed in 1985 by Offshore Shipbuilding of Palatka, Florida. It would ferry passengers around New York Harbor on 90-minute cruises and offered a narration of the harbor’s history. The boat was modeled after turn-of-the-century steamboats from Hudson River & Long Island Sound. In the 1990s, the ship was converted into a gaming boat by Jacksonville naval architects DeJong and Lebet.
The Diamond Casino website described the Diamond Royale as being “the finest casino cruise vessel” with two floors of Las Vegas-style gaming. The ship was outfitted with 240 slot machines and 18 tables for roulette, blackjack, craps, and poker. According to a grand jury indictment, the floating casino ferried passengers from the Bull River near Savannah on illegal gambling cruises.
In November 2011, agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Coast Guard, armed with search warrants, boarded the casino cruise ship. Agents seized more than $986,000 in cash as well as an additional $6 million from the alleged illegal gambling proceeds. In addition, prosecutors also wanted to seize the boat itself. This was not the first time that Diamond Casino had been in trouble with authorities. A few months prior, federal agents performed a raid on the casino’s Savannah headquarters, seizing laptops and documents. According to prosecutors, the warrant was issued based on charges from an investigation involving federal and state agents.
Federal prosecutors indicted Diamond Casino general manager Gregory Sicilia with boat captains, John Sternberg and Jeffrey Thomas, also getting charged for their involvement. During a 16-month period, from July 2010 until November 2011, passengers were allowed to gamble as the ship sailed less than three miles offshore. Casino ships must be in federal waters before passengers are allowed to gamble. Apparently, Diamond Casino did not adhere to this rule with the indictment saying that “on a regular and routine basis, the boat’s operators unlawfully opened and operated the casino aboard the Vessel within state waters of Georgia and South Carolina.” The defendants faced a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The individuals charged all pled guilty and were sentenced to probation. As part of the prosecution’s agreement, the Diamond Royale was to be forfeited to the federal government.
In 2012, the crew of the Diamond Royale moved the ship farther up the coast to South Carolina where it was later abandoned. After sitting for nearly a year, the ship’s owners owed the local shipyard over $300,000 in unpaid storage and maintenance fees. The shipyard filed a lawsuit in court in 2013 seeking to seize and resell the vessel to recoup the money.
The owner of the Diamond Royale never responded so the judge ruled in favor of the shipyard. The U.S. Marshals office attempted to sell the Diamond Royale at auction for $100,000. Without a buyer, the ship continued to sit idle. Vandals broke windows and painted graffiti on the boat. Last year, the Diamond Royale was sold to salvage company and towed to Florida. Once the boat is completely dismantled, it will be towed several miles offshore and sunk to create an artificial reef.