Coast Guard Forces Celebrity's Galaxy To Depart Charleston

April 12, 2004
In what appears to be the result of a computer snafu, 382 passengers on last week's 11-night Galaxy cruise from Baltimore to the Caribbean were ... stranded. In Charleston, South Carolina, that is -- a genteel port city where it is fair to say the concept of being stranded is an oxymoron.

The ship was slated to dock in Charleston and duly -- as is required by post-September 11 law -- filed its passenger manifest to the U.S. Coast Guard via email somewhat in advance of its deadline. Alas, due to a boondoggle that, at this point is still not quite unwound, the ship's dispatch wasn't received in time.

The ship arrived, as scheduled, in the relatively early morning hours of April 7 ... and began to disembark passengers for the day's excursions in Charleston. Alas, sometime around mid-day, the Coast Guard figured out that it hadn't received the manifest within the required time frame and so, at about 2 p.m., ordered the ship to head for international waters. Which Galaxy did indeed do -- sailing 12 miles out while some 382 passengers were still meandering around Charleston, completely unaware that the ship had, well, left. Galaxy staffers did remain at the port to alert unsuspecting travelers (and let's be honest, who wouldn't want the luxury of a few extra free hours in Charleston?).

Ultimately, Celebrity Galaxy was permitted to return once the 24-hour mark had passed (about 7 p.m.) and it quickly picked up remaining passengers and headed out for two days at sea before its next port call at St. Maarten. The Coast Guard and Celebrity Cruises are still disputing the issue (Celebrity maintains, and according to a source has the records to prove, that it sent its list a full day and a half in advance of its arrival at Charleston). "We were able to show that our computers were speaking to the Coast Guard computers," says Michael Sheehan, a Celebrity spokesman, "and for reasons no one yet knows the transmission didn't arrive for 21 hours."

This is the second instance in 2004 when the Coast Guard has played "tough guy" to ships not adhering to the 24-hour regulation (whether it was the fault of a computer connection, or manifests simply were ignored). Earlier this year, P&O's Oceana neglected to file its manifest -- at all -- and yet still assumed its scheduled anchor position in St. Thomas. Passengers were being readied for tender transport onto the island before Coast Guard officials ordered the ship to depart.