Azamara Cruise Passenger Left Stranded in Turkey Calls for Changes in the Industry

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise ship Cruise ship accidents are inevitable. No matter what cruise line, what the conditions are or how safe a cruise line may be, there are times when accidents just cannot be avoided. Passengers may slip and fall through no fault of the line itself, may suffer a complication with a pre-existing condition or may have a medical emergency that has nothing to do with the cruise line.  But, even where the cruise line does nothing to cause the incident, the cruise line still has a duty to use reasonable care to provide proper medical care to the injured passenger.  After all, when in the middle of the high seas, a passenger only resource for medical care is the ship itself.  Thus, it’s what the cruise line does in the aftermath of an accident that counts as well. And for one cruise passenger who needed medical attention after suffering a fall, what the cruise line did was, well, absolutely nothing.

Dodge Melkonian is still in pain two months after he was injured and left stranded in Turkey by Azamara Cruises. Dodge was on a cruise vacation in the Mediterranean on Aug. 19 when the something terrible occurred. The 89-year-old fell in his cabin late at night and went to the ship’s medical quarters for treatment, where he was diagnosed with a broken hip. However, due to the severity  of his injuries, Dodge had to be transported to an off-ship hospital for surgery.

No problem, thought Dodge, who along with his wife Jill debarked the vessel in Turkey and sought medical care. But what was in store for the couple was more than they could ever imagine possible. The injury itself was the beginning of a nightmare few can fathom.

Azamara arranged for their injured guest and his wife to be transported to a local hospital, but several things went wrong after that. First, the hospital did not allow women inside so Dodge was left completely alone to face doctors and nurses whom he could barely communicate in English with. Things got so bad, Dodge had no choice but to try to communicate using hand gestures and a translation book he had in his possession. Worst of all, Dodge described the hospital as being dirty and his treatment as poor.

One would think Azamara would have sent a representative to assist the Melkonians but the ship’s crew did absolutely nothing to help. In fact, Azamara left the couple stranded in Turkey! Yep, the cruise line carried on with its itinerary as scheduled and didn’t even bother to stay in contact with the Melkonians to see if they were ok.

When Mrs. Melkonian attempted to contact Azamara and Royal Caribbean (Azamara’s parent company) to see if they could at least arrange for her husband to be transferred to a better hospital, the line refused to help. The only assistance the Melkonians got was from their travel agent back home in Florida, Tammy Levent, who was able to have Dodge transferred to an American hospital in Istanbul and sent a tour guide to assist the couple with translations.

After struggling for what seemed like an eternity, Dodge was FINALLY able to undergo surgery, but he’s still in pain and now has to deal with over $10,000 in hospital charges, despite having purchased travel insurance through Royal.

So let’s recap…Royal has yet to compensate the victim for their transportation costs or medical expenses and hasn’t even gone as far as to offer the couple reimbursement for their actual cruise vacation. All they did was offer a free future cruise. What’s worse, shortly after the incident, Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel turned to Twitter to give his opinion on the matter (albeit a very rude one!) basically denying liability and telling the couple to talk to the travel insurance company.

Pimentel’s actions are not only unprofessional, but completely inexcusable. As a luxury cruise line, Azamara should have gone above and beyond to help the Melkonians, but didn’t even do so much as issue a statement of apology.

Meanwhile, Dodge is still in a lot of pain from his hip surgery. He still can’t walk and is undergoing therapy for his injures. But what he isn’t doing is keeping quite. Dodge and his wife Jill are speaking out about his horrific experience, in hopes that by doing so he will bring about a change in the cruise industry’s policies.

“[Azamara] dumped me off in this hospital, in this strange town and I can’t even speak the language,” explained Dodge.  “They had no interpreter or anything.  It was a mess, it was a terrible mess.”

The Melkonians also explained that Royal “guaranteed the hospital bill in Turkey,” but they haven’t heard from the cruise line since.

Trying to turn a terrible situation into a positive one, the Melkonians are hoping to get their story out there and have the cruise industry make some necessary changes, including getting cruise lines to send staff members to accompany injured guests when off-ship hospitalization is required.

But the cruise industry has a lot more to work on than just their policies regarding off-ship hospitalizations. The industry is getting a lot of criticism for their overall lack of onboard safety and this is an issue that applies to virtually every cruise line.

Lines love spending money on unnecessary features, like more restaurants and entertainment options, when a huge chunk of those funds should be allocated toward improving safety features and training crew members to better handle emergency situations. There have been more cruise ship accidents in the past two years than the cruise lawyers at our law firm have seen before. Yet, we don’t stop hearing about all of these new entertainment features like the brand new AquaDunk slide on Disney Cruise Line or the new mobile casino app on Celebrity. Sure, these features are a lot of fun, but cruising is fun in and of itself. The industry has come a long way throughout the years and there’s already plenty to do on all ships. We really don’t need the industry to keep spending money on useless entertainment venues do we? Absolutely not!

We don’t know what else we can do as attorneys to hopefully knock some sense into the industry, but hopefully the Melkonians’ story will have an impact. Sadly, this is just one of very few cruise ship accidents that made headlines. There are many more that will never see the light of day because the industry is just too good at brushing incident under the rug.  What’s worse, because virtually every cruise ship is registered in a  foreign ports, they are able to  avoid U.S. federal regulation and oversight, which is so desperately needed to properly police the cruise lines.  Oh and that  cruise passenger ticket contract you get when you buy a cruise, all it does it try to strip you of every single right you could think of, other than forcing you to donate a kidney…

From our standpoint, enough has happened that merits a complete safety overhaul of all ships in the cruise industry, but of course, we can only dare to dream that a change of such magnitude will ever occur.

Carnival Cruise Line, the largest cruise company in the world, claimed it would be making several changes to its fleet following the Carnival Triumph fire back in February. Yet, we have yet to see any progress from this multimillion-dollar upgrade. Was it all just one big joke? Did the line ever have any intention of following through with its promises?

We may never know the answer to that question, but given the fact that accidents on the high seas and in port continue to happen in almost a weekly basis, it’s pretty safe to say that the industry has no intention of making safety changes any time soon.