Florida Couple Stranded By Azamara in Turkey Returns to U.S.

WFTS ABC Action News reports on the case of Dodge Melkonian who fell and broke his hip on the Azamara Journey cruise ship. It's a story we have mentioned several times here on Cruise Law News. 

After the cruise line (Royal Caribbean owns Azamara) left Dodge and his wife, Jill, in a non-English speaking hospital in Turkey, the Melkonians turned to their travel agent, Elite Travel agency owner Tammy Levent, for assistance.  

Travel agent Levent contacted ABC Action News which reached out to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who Dodge Melkonian - Azamara Cruise Shipworked with the U.S. Embassy.

Now, the Melkonians are back in the U.S. where Dodge immediately went to the hospital. 

Mr. Melkonian needs weeks of therapy and their bills are mounting, but there is still no clear answers from Royal Caribbean.  

Ms. Melkonian said she wasn't getting the help she needed from the cruise line and they bought the cruise insurance. She told ABC Action News that, despite having insurance, the cruise line wanted them to pay out of pocket first and then file a claim.

The cruise line, which succumbed to bad press and eventually made an initial down payment on the Turkish hospital bill, claims that it is assisting the Melkoniians. In a statement, Royal Caribbean said "our focus continues to be on Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian's well-being and we continue to work closely with them to provide the assistance they need."

But Ms. Melkonians isn't so sure about that, saying "the rest of the hospital bill is still not decided. So there's a lot if confusion."  

The incident comes at a time when Congress is watching the cruise lines with a skeptical eye.   

"I just hope they change some of the policies," Ms. Melkonian said.

The Melkonian's travel agent, Tammy Levent, said that she has received calls from Washington to discuss the issues surrounding the Melkonian's case.


Story Credit: WFTS ABC Action News / Photo Credit: CBS News

Azamara PR Disaster Continues: Is a Law Required to Prevent Cruise Lines from Abandoning Injured Passengers?

The fall-out over Azamara's abandonment of an elderly couple from Clearwater Florida continues.

The luxury cruise line Azamara, a subsidiary of Miami based Royal Caribbean Cruises, has been accused of abandoning its guest Dodge Melkonian, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, and his wife at a "rural" hospital in Turkey after Mr. Melkonian broke his hip on the Azamara Journey last week.   

The story has been extensively covered, first by a local ABC news station, and later by the U.S. national press like CBS, CNN, and ABC as well as the New York Daily News. The international press has shown interest in the plight of the Melkonian couple. The regular cruise bloggers, like Cruise Critic and Travel Dodge Melkonian - Tampa Bay TimesAgent Central, have also added their perspective.  

Azamara's CEO has made matters worst by gratuitously tweeting comments on his Twitter account stating that 89 year old dodge Melkonian should contact his travel agent and the insurance company and essentially leave the cruise line alone.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson called the cruise line's conduct "outrageous."

The South Florida Business Journal published an article Move Over Carnival, Royal Caribbean Takes Shot at Ruining Industry's Image.

The Tampa Bay Times is the latest news organization to cover the story. Its article Couple Stranded by Cruise in Turkey Receives Outpouring of Support is highly critical of the cruise line's indifference to the Melkonians.

So who are the winners and losers in this story? And what are the lessons to be learned?

The Winners: Mr. Melkonian's surgery was a success because of the couple's persistent travel agents who sprang into action when the insurance company (sold through the cruise line) refused to act responsibly in assisting Mr. Melkonian. And a Turkish tour guide, involved by the hard-working travel agents, not only assisted the couple in reaching a quality hospital but even donated his blood which was needed for Mr. Melkonian's surgery.  

The Losers: "The health & safety of cruise passengers are the cruise industry's highest priorities?" Hardly.  Azamara, Royal Caribbean and the cruise industry prove, again, that talk is cheap. 

Lessons Learned: Even luxury cruise lines can treat their guests shabbily. The case demonstrates the "cut and run" strategy of the cruise industry. When a passenger (or crew member) becomes ill or seriously injured during a cruise, the cruise lines' usual response to to get them off the cruise ship as soon as possible and then wash their hands of the problem.  

This is hardly the first time a cruise line abandoned a passenger ashore and sailed off.  We have seen this exact situation play out numerous times, particularly in ports of call in the Caribbean and Mexico. Read our article British Passenger Stuck In Mexican Hospital Following Heart Attack on Princess Cruise Ship.

Legislation Needed: The Melkonian's travel agents are communicating with Senator Nelson's office about drafting a law that "would ban cruise lines from leaving people stranded." The Melkonian's travel agent was quoted saying: "Where is the humanity in that?  There is no accountability, and that has to change."

 

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Royal Caribbean Takes the Heat Over Azamara's Abandonment of Elderly Cruise Couple

Azamara Journey"Royal Caribbean In Hot Water Over Couple's Cruise Medical Ordeal" reads the internet headline on CBS News. This morning CBS Morning News covered the story of a 89 year-old cruise passenger, on the Azamara Journey luxury cruise ship, who broke his hip on the ship. 

Although the couple was initially satisfied with their treatment on the cruise ship, their feelings changed when they were dumped in a hospital in a small town in Turkey, where no one spoke English and which was ill-equipped to handle the emergency. Their hearts sank when the Azamara ship sailed away, leaving them alone. 

The elderly couple's plight was first covered by a ABC News' affiliate in Tampa, WFTS, and later by ABC national news, and most recently by CNN.

This morning CBS joined the crowd with an interview of the couple in the hospital in Turkey after the Stranded Azamara Journey Passengerscouple's travel agent and a good Samaritan in Turkey intervened. 

Royal Caribbean meanwhile made only the most cursory and cold hearted PR statement. It has taken a hit in the media. The timing could not be worse for Royal Caribbean following recent fires on its Grandeur of the Seas and subsidiary brand Pullmantur's Zenith, not to mention a loss of one month's revenue when its lemon Millennium stranded passengers in Alaska and needed extensive repairs.

Azamara, which actually operates the top brand cruise ship, has not said a peep. It is active on Twitter, as @AzamaraVoyages, but it has ignored the controversy of the abandoned 89 year-old with the broken hip.

Azamara's President, Larry Pimentel is also very active on Twitter as @LarryPimentel. A cruise blogger recently praised CEO Pimentel's social media skills, but his one tweet about the controversy reveals he doesn't Azamara Larry Pimentelunderstand social media or how to handle a crisis in the media. 

Gene Sloan of USA TODAY's popular travel blog called "Cruise Log" posted an article about the 89 year old's ordeal and made an inquiry on Twitter: "Elderly couple says upscale line @AzamaraVoyages abandoned them in Turkey this week after husband broke hip."  Sloan asked cruise CEO Pimentel about the Azamara guests' problems. Sounding like a lawyer, the cruise executive tweeted in response:

"Where did the guest purchase insurance? What did they insure against? Communicate with the agent or the insurance company!" 

Considering that the couple purchased the insurance though the cruise line, the travel agent has appeared on CBS and CNN pointing the finger at the cruise line, and Florida Senator Bill Nelson publicly questioned the cruise line's commitment to its guests, Pimentel appears clueless.

There's a reason why few cruise CEO's are on Twitter. One of the few cruise executives on Twitter, Carnival's former CEO Micky Arison, tweeted about his Miami Heat basketball team immediately after the Costa Concordia disaster. He hasn't stopped tweeting, but Arison was relieved of his duties as CEO due to his insensitivity on Twitter among other reasons.

If Pimentel is going to maintain any credibility in the world of social media, he can't just tweet happy-luxury-cruise news. He needs to accept responsibility when things go wrong on his cruise ships. He needs to learn to become personally involved in finding a solution when his guests are in peril.  In the world of PR, a cruise line president telling a 89 year-old cruise guest stranded in a hospital in Turkey to read his insurance policy and contact his travel agent is a recipe for disaster.  

August 28 2013 Update: After an avalanche of bad press, Royal Caribbean finally agrees to pay Mr. Melkonian's out-of-pocket medical expenses. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, a doctor in the cruise line's medical and risk management departments says in an email to the couple: "Our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve. Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren't more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian."  

Meanwhile CEO Pimentel's Twitter page has ignored the predicament.  

 

 

Credits:

Azamara Journey: Wikipedia / Andy03992

Jill and Dodge Melkonian: CBS NEWS

Larry Pimentel: Cruise Chat

Video: CBS NEWS 

Azamara Abandons 89 Year Old Passenger in Turkey with Broken Hip

Melkonian - Azamara CruisesWFTS, an ABC affiliate in Tampa, Florida, reports on a story that we hear about all too often - an elderly passenger is injured during a cruise and ends up alone in a foreign hospital where no one speaks English. The cruise ship then sails off.

In a case which has received attention from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Jill and her husband, Dodge Melkonian, age 89, were sailing aboard the Royal Caribbean luxury brand Azamara Cruises. Mr. Melkonian fell and broke his hip and ended up in a Turkish hospital which Mrs. Melkonian described as dirty, where no one spoke English, and was not equipped or qualified to perform the emergency surgery.

The news station quotes Mrs. Melkonian stating that "I think Royal Caribbean needs to be held accountable. They have to revamp policies for international accounts."

She bought insurance through the cruise line and tried to get her husband transferred. But the cruise line reportedly would not cooperate and told her to file an insurance claim first.

Mrs. Melkonian reached out to her travel agent who was helpful and summed up the situation saying: "The man could be dying. He is 89 years old with a broken hip, You have insurance, shouldn't it cover you? They drop you in a hospital that's not capable of even doing the surgery."

The travel agent contacted an English speaking tour guide who, in turn, contacted the U.S. embassy which helped transfer Mr. Melkonian to Istanbul, a six-hour trip. The cruise line reportedly ignored the couple once they were off of the ship and the insurance company tried to cancel the transportation.

Senator Bill Nelson said he is working to bring the couple home safely:

"Royal Caribbean has a responsibility to take care of their passengers, even when they have to put them in a foreign hospital," said Nelson. 

Photo & story credit: WFTS (ABC Action News) Tampa Florida

August 21 2013 Update: ABC News picked up the story. Its quotes Florida Senator Bill Nelson saying: "It's outrageous that they would leave an elderly couple in a foreign country without adequate support."

August 22 2013 Update: CNN's Headline News picked up the story this afternoon. "Couple Stranded Abroad After Cruise Injury."

  

 

Did Somali Pirates Chase Cruise Ship?

A newspaper in Oman published a report today indicating that a cruise ship, approximately 15 nautical miles off Masirah Island (east of Oman) "was aggressively approached by two skiffs suspected of belonging to Somali pirates" on November 23rd. The newspaper reports that the two skiffs ended their pursuit only when a shipboard private security team fired warning flares at the craft.

According to the Muscat Daily newspaper, "reports issued by multinational anti-piracy forces operating in the region state that the two white skiffs, a favoured attack craft used by Somali pirates, approached the unnamed cruise ship on Friday afternoon “in an aggressive manner.” The skiffs were equipped with a large outboard engine and each reportedly contained four persons on board."

Somali Pirates Attack Cruise ShipAccording to a report by the Oceanus Live monitoring centre, the embarked security team fired at least two flares at the first skiff, causing it to change direction, away from the unidentified cruise ship. A third flare was fired at the second skiff, resulting in both aborting their approach. 

The issue of pirates attacking and holding cruise passengers hostage is not far fetched.  Consider the following articles we have recently written:

Somali Pirates - A Threat To Cruise Ships?

Are Cruise Lines Taking Adequate Steps to Protect Passengers from Pirate Attacks?

Cruise Line Liability for Injuries to Passengers and Crew Members Caused by Pirate Attacks

Does anyone have information regarding this latest incident?

Does anyone have video or photos to share? (The photo above involves a prior pirate attack against a cruise ship).

Does anyone know the name of the cruise ship involved?

November 26, 2011 Update:  Cruise Critic states that the Azamara Journey was forced to take "evasive" action November 23 when the ship's crew noticed several small boats quickly approaching the ship while sailing off the coast of Oman.

According to Cynthia Martinez, director of Global Corporate Communications for Azamara's parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., "In an abundance of caution, the Captain took precautionary measures, which included asking that guests move to the interior areas of the ship, as well as evasive maneuvers."

"An abundance of caution?" Pirates were stalking the cruise ship! 

Fire Stricken Azamara Cruise Ship Limps Into Sandakan - Passengers Praise Captain & Crew

Azamara Quest Cruise Ship FireAccording to first hand accounts taken by reporters in Malaysia, passengers from the Azamara Quest cruise ship that was stranded at sea for 24 hours after an engine room fire, were full of praise of their Captain and crew members. 

After the passengers reached a hotel in Sandakan, Malaysia, reporters interviewed them on camera.  

"The Captain and the staff and the crew were fantastic, Absolutely Fantastic . . . If it wasn't for the crew, there could have been more serious problem," said passenger Allan Mackenzie from Scotland.

Passenger Jackie from England said," The crew were brilliant. It was a bit worrying, we thought we may have to go into the lifeboat . . . but they managed to put the fire out very quickly"

Passenger John Rosemead said, "There was no panic and everything as far as I am concerned ran perfectly smooth. The officers and the captain kept us fully informed." He continued," the Swedish Captain was very visible throughout the cruise, even when we got off the port tonight, he was there to wish us all well as we left the ship and got onto the buses."

The AP reports that "the smell of smoke spread fear on the cruise ship Azamara Quest, whose passengers put on life vests and gathered for roll call thinking of a deadly capsizing of another luxury vessel."  

However, "for most of the 48 hours it took the fire-damaged ship to lumber into a Malaysian port, they were partying more than panicking.  Passengers said the hardworking crew who quickly put out an engine-room fire Friday night kept their spirits buoyant, even as they suffered without air conditioning in sweltering heat. They enjoyed barbecues on the deck and free drinks."

The AP quotes passenger Diane Becker Krasnick of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, who was celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, "everyone was joyous that they were alive."

A passenger mentioned that one crew member was seriously injured due to smoke inhalation after being trapped in an unspecified location, apparently after the fire doors shut.  Prior reports indicate that five crew members were injured, one seriously.

The passengers will be in Sandakan, Malaysia for two days sightseeing and will be flown by chartered flights to Singapore.

 

 

Photograph credit:  Passenger Marc Kresnick / AP / SeattlePI

Video credit:  Taikonunt

 

Read our first article about the fire here

Azamara Quest Cruise Ship Catches On Fire Near Borneo

An Azamara cruise ship, the Quest, reportedly caught fire in the Sulu Sea, between the Philippines and Borneo.

The story was first mentioned on Twitter by Simon Browning, a reporter for BBC Radio 4, whose twitter handle is @simbrowning.  Around 9:24 AM this morning, Mr. Browning tweeted: "hearing reports a cruise ship is on fire in Borneo - that there is chaos on board #Cruise #Borneo its full of western tourists.

The blaze reportedly occurred in the engine room on the Quest which departed on Monday for a 17-night cruise Azamara Quest Cruise Ship Firefrom Hong Kong to Singapore. Azamara is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., which is based in Miami.  

A cruise spokesperson stated: “On Friday, March 30, at approximately 8.19pm ship time, Azamara Quest experienced a fire in the engine room. The fire was contained to the engine room and was quickly extinguished."

The cruise line states that passengers mustered at their fire assembly stations.  No passengers were reportedly injured although the cruise press release is silent regarding injuries to crew.  The cruise line states that the ship is "currently running on generator power," although there is no information whether the vessel can cruise to a port under its own power.  There is also no information about the weather conditions.

We have written many article about cruise ship fires over the years.  Deadly cruise ship fires occur more frequently than the cruise industry is willing to admit. Consider reading: "Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?"

It will be interesting to hear first hand accounts from the passengers, whether the fire was "quickly extinguished" and how the crew handled the emergency.

Were you on the cruise?  Please leave a comment or send us photos or video.

March 30, 20121 / 11:30 PM Update:

We obtained a copy of an email (below) from the Navigation Officer aboard the Quest cruise ship to the Philippines Coast Guard indicating that one crew member, Juan Carlos Rivera Escobar, was in "unstable condition" following the cruise ship fire.

It is disappointing that the cruise line would state that all passengers are uninjured and not mention the injuries to this crew member.  

The last know coordinates of the stricken Quest ship per the email are Lat: 7' 35'N / Long: 119' 59' E.

The email indicates that the vessel is "not under command." 

This information comes not from the cruise line but from newspaper sources on twitter.

Azamara Quest Cruise Ship - Cruise Ship Fire 

Credit: Miquel Ortilla

March 31, 2012 Update / 1:00 AM Update:

The Azamara facebook page finally indicates that many crew members were seriously injured in the fire, as we suspected:

"Unfortunately, five crew members onboard the ship suffered smoke inhalation during the fire. The crew members are being treated in our medical facility. However, one crew member is more seriously injured and requires additional and urgent medical attention that can only be provided in a hospital. Once the ship arrives in Sandakan, the crew member will be immediately transported to a local area hospital."

The facebook page includes contact information for families:

1 - 888 - 829 - 4050 from the US and Canada.

1 - 408 - 916 - 9001 outside the US.

The Royal Caribbean operators will take calls only from families.

Newspaper / media inquiries must email corporatecommunications@rccl.com

April 2, 2012 Update:  The Quest limped into port in Sandakan, Malaysia and have high praise for the captain and crew.  The seriously injured crew member was finally taken to the hospital.