BAYONNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Battered but home safe, the Anthem Of The Seas returned to New Jersey on Wednesday night.
The Royal Caribbean cruise ship was supposed to return to New Jersey Wednesday morning, but returned to the port on Wednesday night instead.
The ship sailed into port with bright lights lit up. As TV 10/55’s Tracee Carrasco reported, passengers cheered as the ship approached Bayonne.
The ship passed under the Verrazano Bridge around 8 p.m. Wednesday, and was led into port by a tugboat.
Many couldn’t get off the ship fast enough, with some kissing the ground as they came ashore.
“We were first in line to get off, four hours ago,” one passenger said.
Now, there’s a call for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.
Video captured two passengers being led off the ship in handcuffs. A source from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told CBS2’s Tony Aiello that they were busted on marijuana charges. The two men are in their 20s and from Massachusetts.
CBS2 learned that 1,600 passengers disembarked, while another 3,000 are staying on the ship overnight. They will begin disembarking at 6 a.m. on Thursday.
The ship, carrying more than 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members, departed Saturday on a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas. But on Sunday, the 1,141-foot vessel sailed into a major winter storm.
The captain asked passengers to stay in their cabins as powerful winds topping more than 100 miles per hour and waves as high as 30 feet tossed the vessel around.
Royal Caribbean said four passengers reported minor injuries and the ship sustained some damage to its public areas and staterooms. Large chunks of ceiling were left dangling and various other damage was recorded by passengers on the nearly 200,000 ton liner.
Speaking via Skype, a frustrated Joao Melke showed CBS2 the minibar snacks they ate during the 12-plus hours they were asked to stay in their cabin during the storm.
“My wife, she got sea sick and crying,” Melke said. “We want to leave as soon as possible, we don’t want to be here anymore.”
Melke said initially, they were told they’d arrive back in New Jersey by 6 a.m. Wednesday. But then the captain announced that wouldn’t be possible.
Melke also shared video of the captain explaining to passengers that wind speeds were higher than what was forecast.
“In 24 hours, it moved from being this to what you see here,” the captain said.
With just hours to go before returning to port, Jacob Ibrag and thousands of others were anxious to disembark.
“The worst part was knowing you had absolutely no control over your own life,” Ibrag told CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock via Skype.
Passenger Scott Tomback said the ship’s master made it clear from the start that he was going to try to outrun the storm.
“Came on the pa system, we have a storm coming, I’m going to put the pedal to the metal and try to outrun the storm. That’s what he said,” Tomback explained.
In a video broadcast to passengers Captain Claus Andersen said he expected seas of 12 to 15 feet.
“I have not seen a low pressure that was not forecasted anything near what we actually experienced,” he said.
Andersen said the storm developed and intensified very quickly.
Rapid intensification can happen and did. As for whether or not it was forecasted, the National Weather Service wouldn’t directly respond, but did provide a timeline leading up the traumatic experience.
On Wednesday forecasts indicated hazardous seas for Sunday, by Friday hurricane force winds were believed to be possible, and on Saturday some warnings were upgraded to Hurricane Force Wind Warnings with seas of 33 feet.
Maritime Attorney Jams Walker was surprised by the decision.
“To me it’s inconceivable that the captain decided to sail into these conditions with the marine advisories being what they were,” he said.
Walker said it likely boils down to money.
“Cruise ships don’t make any money in port. I think it’s financial pressure to keep the ships operating,” he said, “The question you’ll have to ask yourself, did the cruise line exercise the highest degree of care/ And I don’t think so by a long shot.”
Upon the ship’s return to New York Harbor, it was to be met by a team of inspectors from the Coast Guard, officials said. Inspectors from the Bahamas will lead the investigation with aid from the Coast Guard, officials said, since the Anthem of the Seas is a Bahamian-flagged vessel.
Officials said inspectors will assess the extent of the ship’s damage and make sure all repairs are completed before the cruise ship can depart on its next voyage.
But Florida Sen. Bill Nelson wants to go one step further and is calling for the NTSB to investigate what happened.
“The thing about this storm was, 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.
Some passengers praised the ship’s crew after it was all over.
“I think the captain and crew did a good job. It was safe as far as we could see. We didn’t know about how bad it was until the next day,” one passenger said.
Passengers told CBS2 that they’ll still cruise again.
“I love cruising. I’m not going to let this get me down,” Ibrag said.
Passengers will get a full refund and a certificate toward 50 percent off a future cruise. Some passengers opted to remain on board Wednesday night, and disembark in the morning.
The ship has another voyage planned for Saturday, and is expected to sail as planned.
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