By Jonathan Berr, MoneyWatch
Royal Caribbean (RCL) is being sued for allegedly pressuring passengers booked on a cruise into traveling to Houston even as Hurricane Harvey was set to strike the region, or risk losing the ability to get a refund on their tickets. Royal Caribbean’s “Liberty of the Seas” had a scheduled voyage from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, Mexico, from Aug. 27 through Sept. 3.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25 near Houston, which is the nearest major airport to Galveston, home port for the “Liberty of the Seas” cruise ship. The suit alleges that Royal Caribbean made it appear to travelers that the trip would leave as scheduled despite the challenges wrought by Harvey.
“Consequently, hundreds of passengers were subjected to days of danger, terror, and trauma as a result of being forced to travel into the path of a category four hurricane,” said the 20-page lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Florida. The company’s “misconduct was predicated on a profit motive because, simply put, cruise lines …make no money when passengers don’t sail,” said the suit.
According to the suit filed by Nikki McIntosh of Canada, the Port of Galveston suspended operations on Aug. 25. On that same day, rival Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) rerouted two of its ships that had been set to arrive on Aug. 26. Another Carnival ship stayed an additional night in Cozumel as the National Hurricane Center declared that the entire Texas coast was in the hurricane’s “cone of danger.”
Even so, the suit alleges that Royal Caribbean on Saturday, Aug. 26, informed passengers that the massive hurricane would only delay the ship’s planned departure to Aug. 28. But then, the voyage was canceled on Aug. 27.
“Simply put, had the cruise been canceled a day or two earlier, just like Carnival did, then these passengers would not have been trapped [in Houston] in the path of Hurricane Harvey and subjected to 5 to 6 days of terror, hardship and inconvenience in a place foreign to them,” the lawsuit said.
Royal Caribbean declined to comment.
According to McIntosh’s attorney, Michael Winkleman, Royal Caribbean’s actions were inexcusable.
“They knowingly placed families with small children directly in the path of one of the worst storms to hit the U.S. in centuries,” Winkelman, a maritime lawyer with law firm Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman, said in a press release.
Harvey may have caused as much as $190 billion in damage to Texas. Cleaning up the storm’s mess will take months. Officials in Houston estimate that there are 8 million cubic yards of trash in Houston alone. That’s enough to fill NRG Energy Stadium, where the NFL’s Houston Texans play, two times over.