In Transit: After Stormy Royal Caribbean Cruise, Seeking Answers
Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas vessel returned earlier than scheduled to its port of origin, Cape Liberty, N.J., on Wednesday evening after facing 120 m.p.h. winds on Sunday off Cape Hatteras, N.C. The cruise ship departed last Saturday and was on its way to a port call in Port Canaveral, Fla., as part of a seven-day trip to the Bahamas when it ran into the storm.
The Coast Guard is examining the cruise ship, and a Florida senator has said that the National Transportation Safety Board should also conduct an investigation.
Of the 4,529 guests and 1,616 crew onboard, four sustained minor injuries, according to Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. She said that the return journey — which took nearly three days rather than the one it took to reach Cape Hatteras — was intentionally slowed to make sure the ship’s mechanical systems were working. Passengers will get a full refund as well as a 50 percent discount on a future cruise.
In a statement emailed shortly before the ship’s return, Royal Caribbean apologized for exposing guests and crew to the inclement weather .
The company also identified gaps in its planning system. “Though that system has performed well through many instances of severe weather around the world, what happened this week showed that we need to do better,” the statement said.
In an email to The New York Times on Friday, Ms. Martinez said during the storm, the ship experienced a technical problem with its steering gear clutches on the propulsion system pods. “The ship is equipped with two pods and can function on just one,” she said. “Pods on today’s ships are extremely resilient. While this issue doesn’t happen often, when it does, the parts are easy to replace. The pod has already been repaired.”
Anthem of the Seas, a Bahamian-flagged vessel, is scheduled to resume its itinerary next week.
The United States Coast Guard Sector New York is inspecting the vessel to make sure it is fit to sail, spokesman Charles Rowe said. “The Coast Guard inspects a cruise ship every time she sails from a U.S. port to ensure sure its safety to be on the seas,” he said. “But in this case, we are conducting a more thorough inspection.” The inspection began Wednesday, soon after the ship docked, and it is scheduled to continue Saturday. The process could take several days to complete, he said.
The Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Administration will examine why the vessel ended up where it did and whether Royal Caribbean might have avoided the storm.
This review could take several months, Mr. Rowe said. “Right now, there is no reason to hold anyone accountable,” he said. “But there are consequences in any incident, not just this one, for preventable actions.” He declined to say what those consequences were.
Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, called for a safety board investigation of the Miami-based company. The incident was particularly important to him, the senator said Wednesday in a telephone interview, because of the 33 Florida residents who died on the cargo ship El Faro last October. That boat departed Jacksonville, Fla., for Puerto Rico and was lost at sea Oct. 1 in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin. “Why did Anthem of the Seas do what El Faro did and leave port knowing that a storm would be coming?” he asked. “It’s my responsibility to ensure that this gets investigated.”
Terry Williams, a safety board spokesman, said because Anthem of the Seas is a Bahamian-flagged vessel, that Bahamas investigators would lead the investigation, with the United States’ assistance.