Update, January 8: While yesterday's media reports stated that lifeboats were used to take Radiance of the Seas passengers ashore in Grand Cayman, Royal Caribbean spokesman Michael Sheehan tells us today that the vessels were actually tenders: "Radiance carries four tenders for guest use and that is what we used. They are constructed differently than lifeboats, they are safe, and they are the tenders that we utilize for every voyage of Radiance.
"Several teams from Radiance worked all afternoon to get the passengers bused to Spotts Bay and back onboard the ship. The operation was completed by around 6:15 p.m. and Radiance set sail."
Sheehan stated that Liberty of the Seas, which had been in port at the same time, does not carry the onboard tenders and therefore was using the larger tenders operated by the shoreside company. He also said that no cleats had been torn from any of the tenders used by Radiance of the Seas.
(January 7) -- "Love Me Tender"? Not according to several passengers aboard Radiance of the Seas last week.
The second day of the new year started out clear and sunny as passengers on five ships -- Royal Caribbean's Liberty and Radiance of the Seas, and Carnival's Inspiration, Liberty and Imagination -- disembarked for their tender ride to Grand Cayman's Georgetown.
Officers onboard shortened the port stop because poor weather conditions were expected in the afternoon. According to media reports, the port authority in Georgetown had requested that all tender operations cease by 2 p.m. because of a cold front that was moving in. But as often happens when weather is involved, the cold front arrived sooner than expected.
The four ships that were using the port's larger tenders, operated by Caribbean Marine Services, had little problem getting passengers back onboard. Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, however, used its smaller lifeboats to tender passengers into the dock area. Once the seas picked up, these smaller vessels were unable to successfully transfer guests back to the ship despite several attempts.
The lifeboats that left the tender dock around 1 p.m. couldn't tie into the ship's tender bay; the seas were so rough at that point that the boats continued to smack against the side of the ship, and it was too dangerous for passengers to attempt to climb out. The tenders were returned to the dock in town and had a difficult time there as well, with at least one of the lifeboats sustaining hull damage as it hit the concrete pier at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal. Ropes were snapping, sending cleats (metal hooks to which boat ropes are tied) flying in several directions. One cleat hit the windshield of one of the lifeboats.
Eventually, the remaining lifeboat tenders moved to the smaller South Terminal, where it was still difficult to debark because of high surf.
According to Cruise Critic member *Katie*, who had been a passenger on Radiance, "The worst part of the whole thing was watching people getting back off those tenders on to the port. The boats were bobbing up and down by feet and banging against the dock. Men stood on either side of the doors and waited for the step inside the tender to come even with the dock and pulled people out."
Some passengers claim to have been tossed around in crowded lifeboats for over two hours, according to media reports. One passenger spent some time in an ambulance making sure that her blood pressure was stabilized after she spent an hour sweating and vomiting on the floor of the tender. Others desperately had to use the restroom; children were upset and crying.
The ship moved to the less windy area around Spotts Dock, and buses transported the passengers there, with the last finally boarding the ship around 5:30 p.m.
*Katie* posts: "We got in line for the tender back to the ship about 1 p.m. and didn't make it back on the ship until 6:30 p.m. (Grand Cayman local time is an hour behind the ship's time). We were fairly close to the front of the line (which was enormous), and all of us were so grateful we had not made it on those last three tenders that were out there for two hours."
Member Dave85 had been on Carnival Liberty. "It was quite a scene," he says. "We got one of the last tenders back to the Carnival Liberty before they had to suspend service. All of the ships except Radiance were using the larger tenders ... It was really an amazing experience though ... our large tender smacked so hard into the ship while trying to dock that several people who stood up prematurely were nearly sent flying."
According to a Carnival spokesman, all of its guests were onboard by 5 p.m., and Inspiration, Liberty and Imagination were able to depart Grand Cayman safely.
At this point, it's unclear whether Radiance used its smaller lifeboats in lieu of the port's larger tender boats because there simply weren't enough of the latter to accommodate all of the ships in port -- or some other reason. We've requested more information from Royal Caribbean and will post updates as they are received; stay tuned.
--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor
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Update: Cruisers Take Rough Tender Ride in Grand Cayman
January 8, 2008