Update: Couple's Medical Emergency in Turkey Raises Issue of Cruise Line Responsibility Abroad

August 28, 2013

(9:00 a.m. EDT) -- Royal Caribbean Cruises has agreed to pay "any out of pocket medical costs" for an 89-year-old passenger receiving hospital treatments in Turkey.

Dodge Melkonian, who broke his hip while on a cruise with Royal Caribbean-owned cruise line Azamara Club Cruises, and his wife Jill received an e-mail from Royal Caribbean's Global Chief Medical Officer promising to pay any medical bills not covered by the insurance policy the couple had purchased from the line.

Florida's Tampa Bay Times reported that Dr. Arthur Diskin told the couple, "Our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve."

The line's spokeswoman, Cynthia Martinez, confirmed the move in an e-mail to Cruise Critic: "Yes, we will ensure that Mr. and Mrs. Melkonian do no have any out of pocket medical costs... As we have said, we will continue to do what we can to assist Mr. And Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery."

Mr. Melkonian is reportedly recovering from surgery on his broken hip, and the line has committed to assist the couple with arranging their travel back to the U.S., and helping plan for follow-up care.

The Melkonians' story has been widely reported, and one of Florida's U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson, got involved after the couple's travel agency contacted his office.


(4:27 p.m. EDT, August 23) -– A Florida couple garnered international headlines and political attention after they were debarked off an Azamara cruise for medical treatment in Turkey, which has raised questions about how far a cruise line should go to ensure proper medical care abroad.

According to CBS News, Jill and Dodge Melkonian, 89, of Clearwater, were on the first night of their Azamara Journey Black Sea cruise from Istanbul when Dodge fell and broke his hip. The couple carried travel insurance through Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Azamara Club Cruises' parent company.

The cruise line says that it arranged transportation for Dodge to the local hospital in Bartin, a small town on Turkey's Black Sea coast. But Jill told CBS that the conditions in the facility were poor, no one spoke English and she couldn't be with him; cultural norms prohibited women from entering the hospital. Eventually she was able to contact her travel agent, who arranged for Dodge to be transferred to an Istanbul hospital. She also secured the services of an English-speaking local tour guide who called the U.S. Embassy on their behalf, ABC News reported.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez says that the line has been working closely with the Melkonians since Dodge's injury. “We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities.

"Even though Mr. and Mrs. Melkonian had to leave the ship, we still provided assistance to them while in Turkey. Actually, one of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today. The health and safety of all our guests is always our top priority. We will continue to do what we can to assist Mr. and Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery."

News reports state that the Melkonians are in Istanbul, where Dodge could be hospitalized for at least another week. Jill says that the incident won't keep the couple, who have visited nearly 200 countries and were on Azamara Quest when fire broke out in April 2012, from cruising again. “I suppose I will want to make sure that whatever insurance we have will cover anything in the future,” she told CBS.

The incident, however, has attracted the attention of political officials and cast a spotlight on how responsible cruise lines should be when medical incidents happen oversees. "It's outrageous that they would leave an elderly couple in a foreign country without adequate support," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told ABC. "Royal Caribbean has a responsibility to take care of their passengers, even when they have to put them in a foreign hospital."

On the Cruise Critic forums, the issue has been about whether the couple knew what their travel insurance did or did not provide – and whether the cruise line was at fault. Says dln929, “While it's terrible that that elderly man was injured, in no way was he abandoned by Azamara. They did as much as they could by getting him to a hospital and fulfilling their contractual obligations within the framework of the insurance purchased.”

Adds uktog: “The issue is not that care is not being provided, it is where it is being provided. The place of provision was at the choice of the cruise line or more likely their port agent. There are modern, Western-style private hospitals in Istanbul.”

--By Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor