By now, the news about an elderly couple who was stranded in Turkey by Azamara Cruises has gone viral. Thousands of angry passengers, travel agents and even government officials have voiced their opinions in the matter, offering their support and denouncing the cruise line for their lack of assistance throughout the matter. This is not the first time that a Cruise Line abandons an injured guest in a foreign country to fend for themselves, but the recent actions of an Azamara’s executive – the CEO no less – has left each cruise injury lawyer at our firm, Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., stunned at just how little the cruise industry really cares about their apathy toward cruise passenger plights becoming public knowledge.
The nightmare began on Aug. 19 for Dodge Melkonian, 89, and his wife Jill, 65, who thought they were on the cruise vacation of a lifetime. Little did the couple know that they would be at the center of one of the most highly publicized tales of cruise line negligence this year.
Late at night on Aug. 19, Mr. Melkonian fell down in his cabin and was taken to the ship’s doctor to have his injuries examined. There it was determined that Dodge had broken his hip and that the level of medical care he required was not available onboard the vessels medical facility. This is not a rare occurrence but rather a pretty routine one. Most, if not all, ship’s medical facilities are not TRUE HOSPITALS as one finds even in a small town in the U.S. but are more akin to a U.S. land based Urgent Care Center. Ship’s Hospitals can do a fairly decent job of taking care of minor injuries and simple fractures, but if you are unlucky enough to have a more serious condition, chances are good that you are in for a very serious and rude awakening. This fact has caused lives in the past and will continue to do so until the U.S. Congress decides to change the laws currently on the books and enables cruise passengers to sue the Line for the actions and inactions of their “independent contractor” doctor’s and forces the lines to be responsible for the wellbeing of their injured and debarked passengers until they are provided the care and treatment they need landside.
Instead this is what happens now. Since the vessel’s “Hospital” could not adequately treat Mr. Melkonian, while the vessel was docked in Turkey, Azamara arranged for their injured guest and his spouse to be transported from the ship to a local hospital. This sounds like a good thing right, but in fact this is where the nightmare really begins.
The hospital did not allow women to go inside, so Dodge and his wife were unable to be united in his time of need. To make matters worse, barely anyone in the hospital spoke English and so Dodge was left to communicate solely through hand gestures and a translation manual. To top this all of the hospital’s conditions were poor and Dodge has described the center as dirty.
So what was Azamara doing this whole time while Dodge, in obvious pain due to his broken hip, was struggling to obtain medical attention? Absolutely nothing! The cruise ship left the couple stranded in Turkey and proceeded to sail toward its next port of call. They did not even bother to provide their guest with the services of a translator or anyone to act as their liaison with the Hospital.
Mrs. Melkonian attempted to contact Azamara and Royal for assistance to have her husband at least transferred to a decent and sanitary hospital, but the cruise line refused to offer help. Luckily for the couple, their travel agent back home in Florida, Tammy Levent, was able to help them get transferred to an American hospital in Istanbul and put the Melkonians in contact with a Turkish tour guide who even went so as far as to donate blood for Mr. Melkonian’s surgery.
Mr. Melkonian was finally able to have surgery and is now recovering with his wife by his side. But the nightmare continues. Now, the couple has to deal with an exorbitant medical bill, they were charged with over $10,000 to their accounts each day. And although the Melkonian’s had purchased travel insurance through Royal, to date neither the insurance company nor Royal has compensated the couple for their transportation costs or medical expenses.
Usually, when an incident like this transpires, the cruise line quickly at least apologizes to the guests involved and offers some sort of reimbursement for their troubles, but not this time. Not only has Azamara refused to comment on the situation, but Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel turned to Twitter of all places to give his own opinion of the incident.
In response to the couple saying they were abandoned in Turkey by the cruise line and have to date received any compensation from the travel insurance policy, Pimentel, whose Twitter handle is @LarryPimentel, wrote the following apathetic response on the social media site:
“Where did the guest purchase insurance? What did they insure against? Communicate with the agent or the insurance company!”
It is sad and appalling that the cruise line’s CEO would chastise his guest and ask of them the questions he did. Questions he can very easily obtain answers to himself, rather than apologies to the couple and take steps to make sure this kind of thing does not happen again on his Line.
Royal Caribbean was praised for their swift assistance this May following a fire onboard the Grandeur of the Seas. In that case RCCL’s officials sailed the ship to the nearest port, Freeport, Bahamas, where the ship could be extensively evaluated and fixed. Meanwhile, cruise guests whose rooms were impacted by the fire were put up in local hotels free of charge. Even Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein and Vice President for Operations Lisa Lutoff-Perlo flew over to Freeport to personally apologize to the passengers for their inconvenience and the very next day, after the vessel was unable to be repaired, guests were flown home at the expense of Royal.
True the facts are different between the Grandeur incident and the Azamara Melkonian incident. After all Freeport Bahamas is a short plane ride from Miami, Florida where RCCL is based. Azamara’s actions in the Melkonian case reflect very poorly on RCCL . It is shocking that a luxury cruise line, like Azamara refuses to apologize to its guest or lift a finger to help them obtain compensation from the insurance sold to them and instead taunts and scolds them.
Let this be a lesson learned by all future cruise travelers: When in need don’t expect your cruise line to come to your rescue. Having a cruise injury lawyer close at hand and quickly being able to retain their services is often the first step towards getting the attention of the Cruise Line and eventually is the best way to obtain the compensation you are due for the lines negligence not only for your injury (if they caused it) but also for how they treat you after it.