(12:00 a.m. GMT) — Anthem of the Seas pulled into Bayonne’s Cape Liberty port on Wednesday night, returning to the dock three days early after being swept up in a severe Atlantic storm that captured worldwide attention.
The ship’s 4,529 passengers were given the choice to disembark immediately or stay overnight on the vessel. All passengers are being refunded the cost of their cruise and will be able to apply 50 percent of what they paid on this sailing to their next Royal Caribbean cruise. Four passengers sustained minor injuries.
Royal Caribbean, the U.S. Coast Guard and authorities from the Bahamas, where the vessel is flagged, will now evaluate the ship for damages. On Wednesday night, the company said that most of the superficial damage had already been fixed and that Anthem is expected to make its next voyage, scheduled for Saturday, February 13.
«If you look at most of the ship now, you wouldn’t know there was a storm,» said Bill Baumgartner, Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President for Marine Operations. «We’re optimistic.»
Royal Caribbean also issued an apology to the passengers and 1,616 crew, who sailed through 30-foot waves and sustained winds of 120 mph, and promised to do better at monitoring severe weather conditions.
«We apologize for exposing our guests and crew to the weather they faced, and for what they went through,» the line said in a statement. «The event, exceptional as it was, identified gaps in our planning system that we are addressing. Though that system has performed well through many instances of severe weather around the world, what happened this week showed that we need to do better.»
To that end, the line will strengthen its storm avoidance policy and add resources at its Miami headquarters to assist ships’ captains in making decisions. Still, the line is likely to continue to face criticism for Anthem’s sailing; U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has called for the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the incident.
Returning to the port came as a relief to many passengers, some of whom stood out on their balconies and cheered as Anthem of the Seas pulled into Cape Liberty around 9 p.m. on Wednesday. They were met by news media and curious onlookers, who waved and tooted horns as the ship came in.
Anthem of the Seas left Bayonne on Saturday, February 6, on a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas, with scheduled stops in Port Canaveral, Florida, Nassau and CoCo Cay. The storm arose Sunday, when the ship was off the coast of the Carolinas.
In a video message to passengers released Monday, ship captain Claus Andre Andersen said a low pressure system that he and his crew were tracking grew far larger than the predictions he received Sunday morning.
«We were supposed to have four or five meters of sea (12 feet),» he said, with wind speeds of 40 to 50 knots. «It’s very doable.» At 10 a.m., he told passengers over the loudspeaker that the ship would be moving west to avoid the storm.
Andersen said the wind started to pick up around 1 p.m, at speeds that were far stronger than forecasted. «It started to boil around us,» he said. «It just exploded.»
At 3:30 p.m., passengers were instructed to go to their cabins, where they would stay until Monday morning. Internet and Wi-Fi were provided free of charge, as well as the minibar and on-demand movies. Theater shows such as We Will Rock You were canceled.
Several passengers onboard posted to Cruise Critic’s message boards, updating other forums members about the height of the waves, broken glasses and balcony partitions, and expressing fears on the storm outside.
At 5:45 p.m., AdvGirl wrote: «This storm is no joke. Captain is earning his keep. Winds of 100 mph and 30 ft seas. Ship is doing pretty well but we are listing from strong side winds. … I am on Deck 11 and a few times my balcony has had several inches of water. The captain and crew are doing their best. I do not think anyone anticipated weather like we are getting now.»
The worst of the storm happened around 8 p.m., wrote miopyk. «Our wardrobe door flies off its hinges missing my head by inches and in doing so clears the rest of the glassware off the adjoining shelves. Anything else on shelves falls off. The dividing door on our balcony that has been flapping in the wind for two hours finally gives up the fight and disappears towards the rear of the ship. I’m now looking out of our window and the tops of the waves are level with our cabin; we’re on deck 11. Every few minutes spray from the waves hits our windows hard. … According to the monitor the wind speed is now hitting 148 knots. I am now really worried, I’ve never experienced anything like this.»
Cruise director Abe Hughes made several announcements during the evening, members report. At 10 p.m., the captain told passengers that he had been trying to keep the ship turned into the wind for several hours, and it has now been accomplished. While the ship continued to move and the seas were still high, winds started to die down.
On Monday morning, passengers were allowed to leave their cabins and walk around. Windjammer buffet opened at 8 a.m., with some events continuing as planned and crew members cleaning up broken glass and other debris. A photo posted on Cruise Critic showed a hole in Gigi the Giraffe’s neck. Thirty percent of the ship’s china was broken, the line said.
Passengers reported activities were back to normal, and videos show passengers enjoying the ship’s bumper cars and participating in entertainment options like the silent disco. Some people, however, remained seasick. The pools were closed, but passengers were given a one-hour open bar. Drink packages were pro-rated, internet packages and shore excursions were refunded.
By noon Monday, Royal Caribbean decided to send the ship back to Bayonne. In his video, Andersen said another low-pressure system had been forming off the coast of Florida and the company didn’t want to put passengers through another storm.
«I don’t want to take you through another uncomfortable situation with this ship,» Andersen said, standing in front of a weather map. «We’ve been in a very uncomfortable situation. We’ve proven to be safe. We don’t want to add onto that and make guests and crew who have already been scared for 18 hours to have that manifested again.»
Passengers were originally told Anthem would get to Bayonne at 6 a.m. Wednesday, and many began changing flights. The time was moved back several times, forcing more people to rebook travel plans.
«It’s becoming so frustrating,» noted shaun07. «I feel bad for anyone who had to pay to change flights and now will have to change again but have no idea as to when.
It doesn’t make sense that the Port of NY would not be willing to accommodate RCCL and give them a time slot knowing that everyone on board has a very dramatic experience. I realize I may not be sounding too rational but I JUST WANT OFF.»
The line is refunding some change fees on a case-by-case basis, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said. Although the casino and shops will be closed, passengers who are staying on the ship Wednesday will be able to go to shows and activities, as well as restaurants and bars.
On Wednesday, the ship made a slow sail back to Bayonne. At 10 a.m., marine trackers showed the ship off the coast of New Jersey south of Atlantic City. However, the ship didn’t pull into port until 8 p.m. The ship traveled slow on purpose to make sure that all the mechanical systems were OK, Baumgartner said; the ship used one of its pods to travel. Passengers onboard reported vibrations and rocking on the journey back, but Baumgartner said that all of the stabilizers appear to be in good condition.
He also offered reassurance to passengers that Royal Caribbean’s ships were safe, and that the line was going to do more shoreside to make sure an adverse event like this doesn’t happen again. The current captain will be leaving the vessel to assist with the investigation, he said.
«We have very well designed ships,» Baumgartner said. «This is a one of a kind incident.»