Lost in Colombia? Cruise Line, Passengers' Son at Odds Over Parents' Treatment

October 20, 2011

(5:50 p.m. EDT) -- The son of an elderly couple is taking Norwegian Cruise Line to task for allegedly failing to alert him when his parents' two-week Panama Canal cruise was cut short by illness.

Mark Coleman, the emergency contact for parents Ronald and Betty, both 79, says he was left guessing as to their whereabouts after they disembarked Norwegian Star in Colombia so his father could receive treatment for gastrointestinal illness (G.I.). Onboard medical staff determined that Ronald Coleman's vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration would be better treated onshore, and a port agent arranged for a transfer to a clinic in Cartagena, Colombia, on October 12. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 of Norwegian Star's 2,326 passengers, or 2.75 percent, came down with G.I.)

Coleman, posting on the Cruise Critic message boards as ncl12345, says he didn't find out until his mother called him from the clinic two days later (October 14). She was confused and unable to provide her location, says Coleman, so he reached out to Norwegian for help. Coleman says the customer service representatives were also unable to say where she was. He says he was so worried that he reached out to the U.S. State Department. Finally, an official at the U.S. consulate in Bogota, Colombia, helped locate his parents at the clinic late in the day on October 15.

Coleman posted that he did not understand why he, as the Stateside emergency contact, was not alerted that his ill father had debarked mid-cruise.

His parents agreed. "My son is on the paper you sign, for next of kin to be called in case of an emergency. I would have thought they would have notified him if they are leaving me in a foreign country," said his mother in a piece published by WTSP.com, the Web site for Tampa-based 10 News that picked up the story after spotting Coleman's Cruise Critic posts.

But there's a good reason he wasn't contacted, says Norwegian. According to a statement from the line, the Colemans were given the option to contact their family via phone before disembarking -- but chose not to.

Norwegian offered additional details about services rendered to the Colemans: "[Our] port agent in Colombia assisted the guests and accompanied them to the hospital, ensuring that all necessary paperwork there was accurately completed so that Mr. Coleman could receive the care he needed. On both Thursday and Friday, Norwegian's port agent visited the couple in the hospital in the morning and the afternoon. The port agent also assisted the couple in obtaining plane tickets for their return to Tampa [where the cruise ended]. On Saturday, Norwegian's port agent visited the couple at 2 p.m. to again tend to their needs."

Mark Coleman contends that the line did not help his parents with their insurance, which it had purchased through the line. Not so, says Norwegian. "Since the guests had travel insurance," reads the statement, "they were also provided with the relevant contact information for emergency assistance through the travel insurance company."

The Colemans, who flew back on October 16, said all they want is an apology from the line. But Norwegian isn't sure why. "At no time during their stay in Colombia did the couple express any dissatisfaction with how the situation had been handled," said the line. "To the contrary, the port agent advised that the couple were so appreciative of the efforts on their behalf they wanted to send an email thanking them."

Norwegian acknowledged to Cruise Critic Tuesday that they spoke with the couple's son Monday night, but the line did not reveal the content of the conversation. Cruise Critic attempted to contact Mark Coleman via e-mail, but did not hear back at the time of publication.

--by Dan Askin, News Editor