CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The Carnival Sunshine’s decision to sail through a coastal storm last weekend has left some questioning what protections passengers have when the unexpected happens during a voyage.
Tropical-storm-force winds and strong waves battered the Sunshine for nearly 12 hours, sending debris flying and flooding hallways as the ship made its way back to port in Charleston on Friday night.
While the cruise line said there were no serious injuries reported, many passengers recalled being “terrified” during the ordeal. Some, like Sharon Tutrone, also expressed disappointment in the communication from the ship’s captain and crew, claiming only a few announcements were made throughout the night.
In a statement to News 2, a spokesperson for Carnival said the captain made “several announcements about the weather and the delay it caused in returning to Charleston, asking guests to use extra precaution walking around the ship.”
“Some of the worst weather occurred in the overnight hours when announcements are not typically made, but guests and crew were safe,” the statement continued. “The ship’s officers worked through the night to minimize discomfort as much as possible from the added movement caused by the rough ocean.”
The spokesperson maintained that the ship’s crew followed the company’s protocols for rough weather, but that the storm was “unexpectedly strong, causing conditions that were rougher than forecasted.”
“Given the circumstances as they were, the ship’s officers and our Fleet Operations Center team using real-time meteorology data coordinated to keep the ship in its safest location,” the Carnival statement reads. “Attempting to sail out of the large front could have been dangerous. The ship proceeded to the port as soon as the weather began to clear.”
Storm Team 2 Chief Meteorologist Rob Fowler rejected that claim, however, saying “all the right warnings were up,” noting that the National Weather Service had issued several gale warnings prior to the ship’s departure.
Now, passengers who were onboard are calling for the cruise line to be held accountable for what happened.
“Carnival to me, personally, they really dropped the ball,” Tutrone said. “You know they needed to be more transparent with us. They need to hold themselves accountable as to how they handled this.”
According to a maritime lawyer who sometimes litigates cases involving cruise lines, there are not many protections for cruise passengers in a situation like this one, unless there were serious injuries involved.
“It’s really difficult for passengers on cruise lines to go after the cruise line for money or change,” Scott Bluestein of Bluestein Law Firm said. “If they have personal injuries then you can sue the cruise for personal injuries. But cruise lines really fight passenger injury cases very hard and make it very difficult for passengers to sue them.”
If a passenger does choose to go the legal route, Bluestein said federal lawsuits against cruise ships are required to be filed within one year, instead of the usual three years that applies to other maritime cases.
“If you are a cruise line passenger, you need to inform the cruise line very quickly that you have suffered an injury or have emotional distress,” he added.
However, Bluestein concludes that most ticket contract agreements when booking a cruise are ironclad, leaving passengers with limited options.
“My advice is not to file suit against the cruise line but to contact the customer service representative of the cruise line and explain their situation to see if the cruise line will provide them with special compensation,” he said.
If reaching out directly to the cruise line does not work, passengers can file a formal complaint with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs for assistance.