What happened? On December 19, 2017, an excursion bus (identified as tourist bus number 1012, Mercedes Benz, license plates 82 RA7V), operated by a Mexican transportation company on behalf of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., carrying passengers from the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas and from the Celebrity Equinox (also owned by Royal Caribbean) ran off the road while dirivng to a Mayan ruins tourist attraction in Chacchoben, in Quintana Roo state, Mexico. The accident resulted in the bus flipping over, shattering windows and ejecting some of the passengers onto the road and the shoulder of the road. The two cruise ships sailed from ports in South Florida, with the Equinox leaving from PortMiami and the Serenade leaving from Port Everglades, with both ships arriving at the port of Costa Maya (Mahahual). Royal Caribbean stated via Twitter that there were 27 passengers aboard the excursion bus (in addition to the bus guide and the bus driver), although the federal police in Mexico stated that there were 31 people on the bus.
How many guests were killed? Eleven passengers and a Mexican guide were killed in the accident.
The Swedish and Canadian governments confirmed the deaths of cruise passengers from those countries. There were two passengers from Sweden and one from Canada (from Quebec) who were killed. The U.S. embassy in Mexico City confirmed that there were eight American deaths. There are news accounts of multiple injuries to U.S. passengers as well as Royal Caribbean guests from Canada.
How many guests were injured? The Quintana Roo state prosecutor’s office had reported that seven injured tourists had returned to the cruise ships while 13 remained hospitalized, six of them in Tulum and seven in the city of Chetumal, near the Belize border. Of the thirteen people seriously injured, there are three Americans, four Brazilians, three Canadians, and two Swedes (who reportedly have already been flown to the U.S. for medical treatment), as well as the Mexican bus driver.
How did the accident occur? The cause of the accident remains under investigation. Initial information is that a passenger on another bus which passed the crash site observed skid marks on the dry pavement. According to NBC News, Quintana Roo state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech Cen said at a news conference that a preliminary investigation indicates that the bus driver’s negligence led him to lose control, and when he tried to return back to the narrow highway, the bus flipped, struck a tree and landed in vegetation along the roadside. “Due to a lack of care the driver lost control of the bus’ steering to the right, leaving the asphalt,” Pech Cen said. He said signs found at the scene indicate the driver was going too fast.
The Associated Press reported via NBC News that Mexican authorities said “driver negligence and excessive speed caused the crash.”
Reuters is reporting that the front tire of the bus may have exploded, according to the local police chief in Mexico.
There is conflicting information regarding the whereabouts of the driver of the excursion bus. Some sources say that the driver has been arrested and will be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Others reports indicate that the driver’s whereabouts are not known to Mexican prosecutors.
At least one passenger (photo left) was quoted as saying that “the seat belts were tied below the seats, no one told us to put them on . . .” This may explain why some of the bus passengers were apparently not restrianed in their seats and were ejected from the bus.
Is Royal Caribbean Responsible? Cruise lines have a legal duty to conduct a thorough background check into the reputation, qualifications and safety record of the tour operators which they involve in their excursions for their guests. They are legally required under U.S. maritime law to vet the individuals and companies who/which drive their customers in ports of call. Cruise lines also have a legal duty to warn passengers of dangers in foreign ports of call. If other passengers complained that the tour drivers were speeding or driving recklessly or there were no functioning seatbelts available for use by the guests on the buses, then the cruise line had a duty to intervene and correct these dangerous conditions or warn of these dangers. Cruise lines can be held liable in the U.S. court system for accidents which occur in foreign ports of call for the negligent operation of excursion buses operated by the local agents, particularly when the cruise lines misrepresent that the excursions are carefully vetted and safe.
Royal Caribbean operates many thousands of excursions around the world. It would require the cruise line to vet and inspect ten to fifteen foreign cruise excursion and transportation companies around the world each and every day of the year if it were inclined to perform a background check on each tour operator at least once a year. The cruise line does not devote the resources necessary to properly vet and oversee the safe operation of excursions aroud the world, despite the hundreds of millions of tax-free dollars it collects from its passengers who take such cruise excursions.
There are reports on social media that other cruise customers have experienced unsafe conditions on this excursion before this accident. Posters leaving comments on the popular Cruise Critic site have stated: “We went on probably this same exursion which is down a dirt road at top speeds for 45 minutes. We feared our life and would never do it again . . . ” Another poster stated: “This is the exact cruise port and the exact bus tour and the exact road we were on, a week and a half ago . . Speed and driving and safety rules are not the same in other countries. On the way back from the tour, the bus was going extremely fast. I commented that we better hope nothing unexpectedly comes out of bush. It is a lery long, 45 minute straight stretch of road.”
A newspaper in Mexico writes regarding the local tour company ” . . . is not the first time that (it) is involved in an accident due to the lack of caution of its operators that drive exceeding the speed limits . . .”
What is Royal Caribbean’s Excursion Safety Record? There have been at least six bus excursions throughout the Caribbean in the last ten years where Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises passengers have been killed or seriously injured. You can read more about prior cruise excursion accidents here.
Cruise lines collect hundreds of millions of dollars promoting and selling shore excursions in foreign ports of call, and are not even subject to U.S. taxes on this highly profitable business. Yet, they claim that their local agents are “independent contractors” who are not subject to jurisdiction here in the U.S. when their cruise guests are injured or killed during these excursions.
Read: Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel: Can cruise lines ensure shore excursions they offer are safe?
Image credit: Celebrity Equinox (top) – CBS News; cruise passenger (middle) – Time magazine; scene of accident (bottom) – CBS News; video below – CBS News; Facebook loading page of Serenade of the Seas by Sunnya343 CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.