Cruise ship passengers in port Wednesday had a bumpy tendering experience when a cold front brought rough seas sooner than expected.
Some passengers from the Royal Caribbean Cruise liner Radiance of the Seas spent up to two hours bouncing around on small tenders in rough seas after it became impossible to get them back to their ship in George Town Harbour.
Captain Andrew Pearson, the semi-retired operation manager of Caribbean Marine Services, said it was beautiful in George Town Harbour yesterday morning. It was known, however, the cold front was coming.
‘The cruise lines were advised to make the last tender at 2pm, but the front came through sooner than anticipated,’ he said. ‘We were forced to move the tendering from George Town over to Spotts Dock on the south side [of Grand Cayman].’
A total of five cruise ships stopped in Cayman yesterday. Rather than using the services and larger tendering vessels of Caribbean Marine Services, Radiance of the Seas chose to use their own lifeboats to tender passengers.
The small lifeboats started to get into problems around 1pm when the wind shifted more to the north, exposing the west side of the island to large swells.
Kimberly Blazie from Stuart, Florida was with her three-year-old daughter Elizabeth out in the rough seas.
‘We got on the tender at 1pm and went out to the Radiance of the Seas,’ she said. ‘The boat pulled up alongside the ship but was unable to offload us because of the waves were banging us against the ship.
‘The captain on the tender told us we were going to stand off while they moved the cruise ship so we would be out of the wind. They then moved the ship and it was still too rough for us to board, so we then spent another hour bouncing around in 8 to 12 foot seas while they tried to figure out what we were going to do.’
The experience was not pleasant for the cruise passengers, Mrs. Blazie said.
‘People were upset; people were sick; they needed to use the restroom; they didn’t have water or food and they were getting hungry and angry,’ she said.
The decision was eventually made to cease tender operations in George Town Harbour and the Radiance of the Seas lifeboats began returning to the dock with the passengers so they could be taken by bus to Spotts Dock.
But the waves made offloading passengers difficult at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal as well. At least one lifeboat sustained hull damage when waves slammed it against the concrete pier.
Eventually all the lifeboats moved to the smaller South Terminal, where they were able to offload the passengers. Even there, however, offloading was not easy; waves were continually washing over the dock and passengers were walking though water that sometimes was more than one-foot deep.
Cruise passenger Roger Meyers, who was visiting from Florida, described his experience. ‘We circled around for almost two hours,’ he said. ‘One woman was lying down on the floor throwing up and it was really scary with the boat bouncing up and down.’
The situation remained scary when the boat returned to shore, Mr. Meyers said.
‘One of the lines snapped and something hit the windshield of the boat.’
That something turned out to be a cleat, one of the metal hooks to which boat ropes are tied.
One passenger described seeing a metal cleat come flying off the lifeboat and shooting hundreds of feet through the air until it struck the crane on the cargo dock.
Mrs. Blazie said two cleats were ripped off the tender she was on.
In all, it took Mrs. Blazie and her family more than four hours to get back to the Radiance of the Seas.
Several hours after her experience on a Radiance of the Seas tender, a woman from Spain was still recovering, sitting wrapped in towels in the back of a vehicle belonging to the shipping agency.
‘There were about 100 of us in a small boat crammed in there bobbing up and down in the water for about an hour,’ she said. ‘At the end, I had to lie down in the bottom of the boat. I started sweating and vomiting, and when I got back to shore an ambulance came to see if my blood pressure was okay.’
One group of passengers said a man was forced to climb onto the roof of the lifeboat because he urgently needed to urinate and there were no facilities on board.
At least one man from a lifeboat was taken to the hospital by an ambulance.
David Charmichael, who is now heading up operations for Caribbean Marine Services, admitted it was a challenging day for everyone, not just for the Radiance of the Seas.
‘I am very proud of how our team performed in difficult conditions,’ he said. ‘None of the passengers that came on our tenders were injured; we got everybody back to shore and then back to the ships safely and the captains, the crew and the linesmen must be commended.’
In the end, some of the passengers traveled by tender from George Town Harbour to Spotts Dock and others were transported there from the South Terminal by bus.
The last passengers were eventually taken on board the Radiance of the Seas at about 5.30pm.
Despite the continued rough weather on Thursday, two Carnival cruise called on Grand Cayman at the Spotts Dock, said Port Authority cruise operations and security manager Joseph Woods. The Royal Caribbean ship Mariner of the Seas was schedule to call on Grand Cayman but did not.