July 23, 2012 Updated July 23, 2012
The cruise passengers were on a Royal Caribbean-sponsored visit to Loterie Farm for a treetop ropes course and zipline adventure when the accident occurred. Though the ship docks in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the excursion itself is located in St. Martin. Both St. Martin and St. Maarten are located on the same island, though the first is French and the latter Dutch.
Six passengers (all from the U.S.), along with the bus driver, were injured, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman told Cruise Critic. The majority of the injuries were minor, with the most serious being a broken wrist. Most of the injured sustained "bumps and bruises," the spokeswoman said.
All the injured "were immediately transported to the local Louis Constant Fleming Hospital for treatment." Guest care team members and a ship doctor remained with the passengers during their stay at the hospital. All returned to the ship the same day. The guest care team and onboard medical team also continued to provide onboard treatment for passengers, including counseling, for those who asked for it.
The line will not confirm whether any compensation has been offered and added that even if any compensation were offered the "details of any compensation discussions are not disclosed."
Cruise Critic member TBtoronto was among the passengers on the bus and among those transported to the hospital. She posted about her experience on the message boards: "I was on the bus sitting front row, directly behind the driver. My twin boys were sitting front row on the passenger side… It was the most frightening experience of our lives and one which will haunt us forever. I got seriously banged up and required stitches, as well as one of my sons. Had I not dove over to protect them and absorb their impact before we hit, they would have been much more seriously injured. How no one was killed is a miracle."
Royal Caribbean has given no indication that it will terminate its partnership with Dutch Tours Enterprises N.V., the operator of the tour.
"This was a traffic accident, a type of which can happen anywhere and is no reflection on the bus company," the Royal Caribbean spokeswoman told Cruise Critic. "The bus driver had to take an evasive maneuver to avoid an oncoming vehicle."
However, TBtoronto disagreed. "This should never [have] been an endorsed excursion by the cruise line -- not for the zipline part itself -- but for the access in and out of the property."
According to Today, a St. Maarten newspaper, the bus driver lost control of the bus as it descended the steeply inclined road that leads onto the Loterie Farm property. The driver was trying to avoid a taxi that was heading up the incline at the same time. The bus hit the taxi causing it to overturn. The driver of that taxi suffered a broken foot; his passengers escaped with minor scrapes and bruises.
Matt Stead, a Freedom of the Seas passenger who was on the bus, told Today that he believed the brakes on the bus failed. "Just after we went through the Loterie Farm gate we felt the driver hit the brakes, but no brakes and then the bus just started careening down. About half way down we hit a speed bump and everyone hit the ceiling and then the bus just continued rolling down the hill. There was a guy driving coming up the hill while we were going down so we ran into him, flipped that vehicle over and then ran straight down into the ditch. Tree branches got into the bus and many people received whip lashes from the branches. Everyone was screaming manically, we thought we were plunging to our deaths but the tree saved us."
However, the president of the Collectivite d'Outre Mer de Saint Martin, the governmental authority for the St. Martin section of the island, told the newspaper he did not want to speculate about whether the brakes on the bus may have given out. "There was no conclusive evidence that the accident was caused by malfunctioning brakes," he said.
Freedom of the Seas was in the midst of a seven-night Caribbean cruise that departed Port Canaveral on Sunday, July 15, and returned to the same port yesterday.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor
Photo courtesy of StMaartenIslandTime.com