BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Returns to Bayonne After Encountering Severe Weather

By Erin Delmore
Correspondent

Passengers of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship battered by 30-foot waves and hurricane force winds whooped and hollered as they disembarked in Bayonne last night.

When passenger Jacob Ibrag was asked how it felt to be back on solid ground, he said, “I could kiss it right now.”

The “Anthem of the Seas” sailed right into a severe winter storm off the coast of North Carolina, en route to Florida, sending water washing over decks, furniture tumbling and ceiling fixtures crashing down.

The ship went on lockdown, confining the more than 4,500 passengers on board to their cabins from 3:30 p.m. Sunday until after midnight on Monday.

“It was like being on the Titanic,” said Nicole Houlihan.

Houlihan was traveling with her 3-year-old daughter.

“We had to eat peanuts, peanut M&Ms and bananas for six hours because they didn’t bring us any food when they put us in our rooms,” she said.

“All your stuff was tipping off the bureau. We broke all the glasses. It was horrible,” said Kim Robinette. “He has pictures. He was on the 14th deck and water was coming in. It was coming down the stairs. It was like a roller coaster you can’t get off of and you weren’t strapped in.”

Four passengers sustained minor injuries.

“There was older folks, people in wheelchairs. Elevators were stuck. It was like a scene out of a movie,” said Jordan Feldman

“My son Ryan is on this ship and he’s deaf. He also has cerebral palsy,” said Nancy Estey.

Estey’s adult son traveled with a group that caters to people with hearing disabilities. So did Natasha Buckman.

“We were watching the map a lot trying to figure out what was going on,” she said.

Buckman says she couldn’t understand updates announced through the ship’s loudspeaker. She’s reading my lips in this interview.

“It was really terrifying. I’m not going to lie. I was really scared. I was praying to God to get us through this trip,” she said.

“We are so sorry this happened. We know that it was a very stressful day for our guests and also for their loved ones ashore,” said Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Global Marine Operations Bill Baumgartner.

Baumgartner served 33 years in the Coast Guard and says he welcomes its investigation.

“I don’t know whose job it is to read weather reports accurately but they made a mistake there. What we went through, the captain put a lot of people’s lives at risk,” said Feldman.

“It forecast a storm that would be 55 to 65 knots. The captain looked at that. Fifty-five to 65 knots of wind is not something that would be a problem for this class of ship. What we found on Sunday was not 55 to 65 knot winds, but 125 mile per hour sustained winds. Something significantly worse,” Baumgartner said.

NOAA, the federal agency charged with tracking dangerous weather, predicted hurricane-force winds in the Atlantic days in advance and issued a warning on Saturday. The ship sailed through on Sunday.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called for an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The thing about this storm was that it was forecast for days. So why in the world would a cruise ship with thousands of passengers go sailing right into it?” he asked.

Royal Caribbean is offering its passengers a full refund plus a voucher to be used within the next year, worth 50 percent of what they paid for this cruise. And while some passengers tell me they won’t be getting on a boat again anytime soon, others tell me, why not? They figure lightening never strikes twice.