Passengers Miss Ship, Sue Cruise Line

March 10, 2006
Five passengers sailing on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas in the Eastern Caribbean are suing the cruise line. The reason? They missed the ship while in the port of St. Maarten. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the attorney for the travelers, based in Utah, suggests, that cruise lines "ought to have a program or policy in place of what to do when you leave somebody behind."

Alas. One cruise industry insider remarked upon hearing about the lawsuit that she couldn't believe the lawyer even took the case. That's because it couldn't be spelled out more clearly -- not on only the cruise ticket contracts, which are legal documents, but also in numerous cruise feature stories -- that folks who miss their ship in port are required to get themselves to the next one. And at their own expense.

One caveat to this rule is that cruise lines won't leave if one of their own shore excursions is late returning -- and indeed in that case would be responsible for transporting passengers to the next port of call.

Otherwise, the onus is on passengers. "The kids missed the ship and it's hard to put it more simply than that," says Royal Caribbean spokesman Michael Sheehan. "It's unfortunate, yes. However, our guests have the responsibility to get back to the ship on time."

Ships do have systems in place, Sheehan notes, that alert them to passengers who have not returned onboard by the time designated by the ship. Often, they'll begin by paging the missing passengers, just in case the computer system somehow missed their return. At that point, the ship provides its port agent with names of folks who did not board -- all ships in all ports of call have port agents -- and these folks can provide on-the-ground support to some degree.

"There are times when you might be able to delay your departure," Sheehan says, "but that is so dependent on a number of circumstances. Issues that have to be weighed include weather, distance to the next port, labor policies of this port, and even berth factors -- if another ship is waiting to dock."

It's better to take precautions, he says, just in case. Among the tips he offers:

Carry with you a photocopy of your passport (or the real thing), as different islands and countries (especially in the Caribbean and Europe) often have varying requirements.

Carry credit cards in case you have to fork out for hotel stays and airplane tickets.

Most ships' daily newsletters will include information about the port agent (telephone number and location); take that with you.

And if the thought occurs to you, as you race up to the pier and see your ship, a mere 40 feet away, steaming out of the harbor, that you might be able to get a speedboat to take you out there, Sheehan demurs. "It's difficult and dangerous enough for even pilots who get onboard big ships from small ones every day. With passengers there would be extremely significant safety issues."

While the story in the Salt Lake City Tribune reports that the attorney has filed the lawsuit, Royal Caribbean notes it has not yet been served.