MIAMI (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Royal Caribbean cruise ship ran into high winds and rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, forcing frightened passengers into their cabins overnight as their belongings flew about, waves rose as high as 30 feet, and winds howled outside. The cruise line says that although no one was injured and the ship suffered only minor damage, it’s turning around and sailing back to its home port in New Jersey.
The Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas cruise ship is expected to return to Cape Liberty in Bayonne on Wednesday morning.
Pictures and videos from passengers showed the damage that happened aboard the ship.
“I was shaking all over,” Shara Strand, of New York City, wrote to The Associated Press via Facebook on Monday. “Panic attack, things like that — I’ve been on over 20 cruises, I’ve been through a hurricane, it was never like this. Never.”
Passenger Scott Tonback spoke with CBS2 by phone and said he was stuck in his cabin on the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas for over 12 hours.
“I’m on the seventh floor and literally had waves up to my deck,” he said, “They said, ‘Oh, help yourself to the minibar free of charge, and we’ll give you free movies.'”
Tonback was angry about the decision to attempt to outrun a storm that produced hurricane force winds and 30 foot waves.
“When we boarded the ship the captain said, ‘Well, we’re going to put the ship full speed ahead and try to outrun the storm,'” he said.
George Sycip told CBS2 that his vacation soon became a nightmare.
“You could hear the waves crashing, metal twisting, all night long. It was scary,” he said. “There was a point where I was like this thing is going to tip.”
Passenger Jared Johnson shot video after the captain ordered everyone back to their rooms.
“At one point, people were falling over and they said, ‘Hold the wheelchair,'” Johnson described to CBS2. “Myself and others were standing over holding the wheelchairs so they weren’t going to be sliding around.”
Sen. Bill Nelson has called for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate.
“The thing about this storm was that it was forecast for days. So why in the world would a cruise ship with thousands of passengers go sailing right into it?” Nelson said on the Senate floor on Monday, according to a news release from his office.
The National Weather Service’s Ocean Prediction Center had issued an alert for a strong storm four days in advance, said Susan Buchanan with the weather service. The first warning was issued Saturday for possible hurricane-force winds in the area the ship was scheduled to sail through.
The massive cruise ship was headed to Port Canaveral, Florida from its home port of Cape Liberty, New Jersey on Saturday and ran into high winds and rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, giant waves crashed into windows, knocked the ship around, and damaged anything that wasn’t bolted down.
A noon arrival had been planned, but the weather caused a delay. Passengers were asked to stay in their rooms and given complimentary access to their minibars.
Luckily, only four passengers were injured during the event, though none seriously, according to spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez.
The 4,905-passenger ship is billed as the most technologically advanced cruise vessel ever. It boasts fast internet speeds, an all-digital check-in process, a skydiving simulator at sea and the first bumper cars at sea.
“Anthem of the Seas will turn around and sail back to Cape Liberty, New Jersey,” Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said. “This decision was made due to weather forecasted for the next few days that is likely to impact the ship’s original itinerary. We are also sensitive to the fact that our guests have already been through an uncomfortable ride. Returning to Cape Liberty minimizes the risks of further bad weather affecting our guests’ voyage; we are optimistic that they will have a smooth sail home.”
“We appreciate the patience and cooperation of our guests. We know it was tough day on Sunday and apologize for their discomfort. We also thank our captain and crew for guiding the ship safely back to better weather,” Martinez added.
Passengers posted dramatic photos and video featuring broken vases, and overturned tables and chairs on social media. One passenger videotaped what it looked like outside his cabin, with a view that WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron said “looked like the inside of a washing machine.”
Gabriella Lairson said via Facebook that the storm started about 3 p.m. Sunday. She said the captain instructed everyone to go to their staterooms.
Sixteen-year-old Lairson and her father, of Ocean City, New Jersey, heard glasses in their bathroom shatter and they put belongings in drawers and closets to prevent them from flying across the room.
Video that her father, Sam Lairson, shot shows wave after wave rising outside the balcony. He said in an email, “The winds were so strong that I thought the phone would blow from my hands.”
Lairson said that by about 1:30 a.m. Monday, the storm had calmed. She praised the captain and crew and said the ship held up well, with damage in only a few places.
Royal Caribbean International said it will give each guest a full refund of the fare paid for their cruise.
“We will also provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for 50% of the cruise fare paid. Safety is our highest priority and ships are designed to withstand even more extreme circumstances than Anthem of the Seas encountered. While the weather was unpleasant, the ship remained seaworthy at all times,” Martinez said.
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