Our cruise lawyers here at LM&W have been lucky that, being in Miami, FL, we haven’t had much to deal with in the way of bad winter weather. Unfortunately though, there have been several areas across the United States that have experienced extremely hazardous weather conditions. And these conditions don’t stop at the shore, they extend all the way out to sea.
In fact, we’ve just come to learn that a Royal Caribbean cruise ship carrying Ohio State football fans and coach Urban Meyer was stranded at sea due to heavy fog. The adverse weather closed the Tampa port and resulted in the cruise ship’s delay. The vessel was scheduled to return to port on Monday.
Ohio State football fans were celebrating an annual cancer charity fundraiser on Royal’s Brilliance of the Seas ship. But thanks to the fog, it looks like the cruise lasted a little longer than everyone expected.
Sports anchor John Telich told Fox news that, “The fog was so thick and heavy that we could not see the water from our room balcony on deck 10.”
It seems that the Buckeye fans and coach are safe and sound for now, but fog at sea can pose serious hazards for ships. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that weather-related accidents cost the U.S. $42 billion in personal injuries, death, and property damage.
Fortunately, NOAA has been able to better gather environmental data and issue dense fog advisories. The administration reports that these advisories can allow ships and transportation services to re-route their vessels. The forecasts offer 2 hours notice for severe fog conditions. According to the NOAA, these advisories can save the industry $29 million. The NOAA also reports that it has improved its marine forecasts, saving the commercial shipping industry $95 million. When it comes to passenger ships, preventing accidents is of paramount concern. But, delays caused by adverse weather can be costly, and in many cases, these costs can’t be recouped by travelers.
Did the Brilliance of the Seas receive these advance warnings? And, even if it did receive the warnings, would they have made a difference? The ship’s final port of call was Tampa, and it is likely that passengers had flights home from there. It’s possible that the captain had little choice but to wait out the weather, in order to ensure that passengers left from the correct port.
Because adverse weather can affect a ship’s itinerary, passengers are wise to take out traveler’s insurance, and to ensure that airplane tickets purchased can be rescheduled without penalty, if necessary. While this might cost cruise passengers a little more money in the short-term, the peace of mind and saved hassle in the long-term can be immense. Unfortunately, most cruise lines won’t reimburse passengers for fees or inconveniences suffered due to weather-related delays. Passenger ticket contracts often stipulate that cruisers will not be reimbursed due to weather delays.
It seems that Royal Caribbean is trying its best to mitigate the costs of the delay to passengers. Passengers were allowed to use the cruise ship as a hotel for an additional night, if necessary. And, for some people like Meyer, a temporary office. The weather didn’t stop Meyer from getting work done. According to the NFL, Meyer used the delay to review films of his players, in addition to looking at film of future draft picks. Though Meyer, and a few fortunate others may be able to get some work done remotely, the same can’t be said for other passenger, who have little choice but to take additional days off from work due to weather delays. This can also be costly, as travelers may not have the additional time to spend on vacation and some may not even have a job to come back to afterward. And, we highly doubt any cruise line is going to reimburse a passenger for lost wages.
News reports explained that in order to dock in Tampa, the Royal Caribbean ship had to navigate under the Tampa bridge before high tide. When ships hit bridges, the structure as well as the vessel can suffer severe damage. For this reason, it was imperative that the ship attempt to navigate the coastal hazards under better weather conditions. Three guide boats were used to lead the cruise ship through the fog.
Well, at least the captain seemed to make a good call. Unfortunately, neither option available at the time was optimal. Luckily, no injuries have been reported as of now.