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NJ Sues Cruise Line for Keeping Cruise Ship Away

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NJ Sues Cruise Line for Keeping Cruise Ship Away

New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs and the New Jersey State Attorney General have sued Royal Caribbean Cruises for diverting a Bermuda-bound cruise ship to Canada last summer, instead of sailing to Bermuda and ignoring the approach of a possible hurricane.

Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas was scheduled to leave Cape Liberty in Bayonne last July 24 for a five-night cruise to Kings Wharf, Bermuda.

As passengers checked in at Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NJ, they were handed a letter informing them that Tropical Storm Franklin was headed toward Bermuda and the National Hurricane Center was predicting that Franklin would become a hurricane.

As a result, the letter said, the ship would sail north to Canada instead, calling at St. John, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Sailing south would likely have put Voyager in rough seas.)

Cruise contracts which all passengers sign reserve the right of cruise ships to change ports of call for any reason. While passengers may believe they are signing up to cruise to specific destinations, this is NOT the case. Travel agents should tell them that.

A change of ports of call happens with some frequency (cruise ships often, for example, are unable to tender passengers into Grand Caymen during the winter because of rough seas). Major itinerary adjustments were made in the Caribbean last year during hurricane season.

But passengers bound for a warm climate rarely find themselves rerouted to a much cooler climate. Many passengers on this cruise, prepared for sunny Bermuda, were totally unprepared for the rainy, chilly weather they encountered on the cruise to Canada.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs said that since the cruise, they had received formal complaints from 53 of the 3,600 passengers aboard the cruise ship who said they were told that if they chose not to sail because of the change in itinerary, they would forfeit the money they had paid.

"The safety of our guests and crew members is our top priority, and our obligation to ensure their safety required us to alter the sailing to Bermuda," said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Michael J. Sheehan.

But New Jersey's lawsuit -- the first anyone can remember by a state attorney general over a change in destinations caused by a possible hurricane -- accuses the cruise line of violating the state Consumer Fraud Act. It seeks restitution for the people aboard the ship plus civil penalties.

"It is unconscionable that consumers showed up for a cruise they paid for with hard-earned money, only to be sent somewhere they didn't want to go, without access to the amenities they paid for and activities they looked forward to, and were told there was nothing they could do about it," said Consumer Affairs Director Kimberly Ricketts.

"The only thing that would have been unconscionable would have been sailing a ship full of people into a possible hurricane," said Sheehan.

New Jersey also contended that a cruise to Canada is significantly cheaper than one to Bermuda, but said Royal Caribbean offered passengers only a credit of $42.50 representing the difference in port fees and taxes between the two destinations.

Sheehan said New Jersey's claim about the price difference is not correct, and said Royal Caribbean also offered all passengers on this cruise a 25 percent discount on a future Royal Caribbean cruise.

Source: Cruise Ship Report

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