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 Royal Caribbean Celebrity Cruises Bus Excursion AccidentTwitter 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 Royal Caribbean Bus Excursion Accidentsaid 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 through 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 Cruise Bus Excursion Accident - Mexicoexcursions 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?

Read: NBC News:  Mexico tourist bus crash: Survivors heading home, 2 victims ID’d.

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.

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  • Barbara Spink

    I visited Tulum in 1984 and the drive on that bus was scary. I’ve never forgotten it . We were going way too fast, in my opinion. One of the passengers complained and the response was,
    “ No worries, professional driver!”

  • K Louton

    We went on this excursion several years ago and the bus only has a certain amount of time to get you to the ruins and back. The bus does go extremely fast on small roads! I tried to sleep most of the way there and back so I would not have to worry about it.

  • Becky

    I’m confused. In the article “how many guests were injured?”, it stated that the bus driver was flown to the US for medical treatment. Then, in the part about how the accident occurred, it states there are conflicting reports as to his whereabouts. He’s been arrested or whereabouts unknown. How is that when it states he was flown to US for medical treatment?

  • I was on that same road the day before this accident. The roads are very rough and the drivers to drive too fast. They need more time for traveling so they can drive slower and SAFELY.

  • Lori

    I have on several occasions have reported unsafe practices to RCCL’s excursions desk only to be brushed off. I still use the cruise lines excursions because of the assurance that they will not leave you at the foreign port should there be an unforeseen delay. But when you are on a full size bus traveling the Amalfi coast and you driver is busy texting while driving it is unsettling. Or you take their tubing excursion in Jamaica only to discover the life preservers are in bad shape and only purposes is to fill the minimum legal attempt. So I would bet others has disclosed this exact reckless behavior to RCCL before but speaking from my own experience there will be no record of it and no investigation because then they would have to admit knowledge.

    My heart goes out to those that have lost loved ones and those suffering physically, mentally and emotionally from what should have been an exciting memory for them as they bored their friends and coworkers with each picture.

  • Renie

    During our very first cruise which happened to be with Royal Carribean in 2002, we took this very same excursion. I remarked to my husband about the fast speed of the bus, and within a few minutes we had sideswiped another vehicle. Our bus driver never even stopped. Cruise lines usually ask for feedback about their excursions, but in light of this recent tragedy we should report any unsafe events immmediately to cruise personnel. Maybe even post on-line.

  • Ted Sarosy

    We were on the bus just ahead of this one that crashed. Our bus had a very cracked windshield. Seats in poor condition. Had to wait 3 hours before we could go back to the ship. Equinox). On the was back our bus driver often passed other vehicles. Very scary as we were in the seats just behind the driver. We were often going over 125 KPH according to the speedometer. Wow was just glad to have made it back.

  • Kurt Vierthaler

    I am so sorry to hear about this tragedy.My condolences to all who have lost loved ones. We have been on 10 cruises with Royal Caribbean. I am a business owner and a professional truck driver. Holding valid Commercial drivers license.We have been on many excursions over the years and I have to say most of the excursions we’ve booked have been run quite well and very professional . But, a few have not and this concerns me even more now. As a previous poster stated about complaining on board to Guest Services.I agree, it totally falls on deaf ears.Very sad but true.It seems through the years Royal Caribbean has lost touch with providing passengers with a quality cruise and excusions and instead are more concerned about the quantity of passengers on board.They need to address these issues.I’m concerned about our next cruise in a few months as we would have booked an excursion to the Mayan Ruins but, did not feel right about the long bus ride due to some of the dangerous drivers we’ve encountered on these tour buses in the past. I’m hoping policies will be re- evaluated for the safety on all passengers booking excursions through RCCL.The bus drivers should not be allowed to communicate with passengers while driving.

  • Dini van Zutphen

    Went on excursion with Princess cruises a couple of years ago in Panama. Bus driver was going way over limit and above that had no wipers while it was raining pretty hard. Went complaining later on ship and they said they had no saying how this tours were handled, but gave me halve of the money I paid forvthe tour back

  • Tami Fisher

    I was on this same type bus years ago in Mexico w Carnival. The tour guide told the driver “drive it like you stole it” and that he did. I’ve never been so scared. He was speeding and we almost hit a dump truck head on that was passing a car. These people are given deadlines of when to get you back to your ship and the driving is a reflection of that! Never again!!! Until we as paying customers complain unfortunately this will not be the last accident.

  • Barbara

    This is definitely a tragedy…while you can place blame on the cruise line, the ultimate fault is more likely that the driving laws seem to be extremely different there and more “relaxed.” I’ve been on many cruises and many cruise tours, either run through the cruise or elsewhere. I have also traveled to Mexico on a few trips and a couple other Caribbean locations (aka not related to cruising). In my experience, most people have erratic driving over there (driving really close to one another, no signal lights, few stop lights/signs, constant passing, and definitely a lot of speeding). On my most recent trip to Cancun, the CITY buses sped so much (didn’t even slow down on curbs) and were often bumper to bumper. It seems like the laws in general need to be changed, honestly, however it is not likely to happen…

  • Jon Moore

    My wife and I went on this exact same excursion the day before the accident. There was a 9:30 and a 12:30 trip. We did the 12:30 the previous day, this trip was the 9:30 group. The road was very flat and there were several speed bumps in which our driver went over VERY cautiously. This leads me to believe that the driver in suspicion was the driver of the other bus. No one ever told us to put our seat belts on (and all these very new Mercedes-Benz buses had them). I don’t blame the cruise line in this case- it was specifically the driver. The road to Chaccoben was very flat and straight with drastic speed bumps.

    Can anyone help me find out who the tour guide was who was killed in this accident? I’ve been searching for the past month, but cannot find a name that was released. He was a great tour guide and learned a lot from him. He gave our tour group a very inspirational speech at the end of the tour that left a last impact on me and I’d like to know if he’s okay.