Royal Caribbean cruise ship thrashed by Atlantic storm returning to US port

Passengers aboard he Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas captured photos of the storm and resulting damage.
Passengers aboard he Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas captured photos of the storm and resulting damage.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Royal Caribbean cruise ship forced to turn back early after being battered by an Atlantic storm was expected to return to its New Jersey port at 10 am Singapore time on Thursday, bringing with it 4,500 rattled guests and 1,600 crew, cruise line officials said.

The Anthem of the Seas ship departed on Saturday for what was supposed to have been a seven-night cruise. On Sunday it encountered a storm with high winds and 9 metre waves off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

At least four people suffered minor injuries as the rocky ride toppled furniture, collapsed ceilings and shattered glass on the vessel. Passengers posted images and video to social media of rough seas and cabin rooms in disarray.

Royal Caribbean said the storm was more severe than expected.

The company said in a statement that the ship's operation was not affected but concerns about more rough weather prompted the decision to return to Cape Liberty, New Jersey, rather than continue on to Port Canaveral, Florida.

Passengers posted pictures on social media of a collapsed ceiling and rooms in disarray and said they were told to remain in their cabins as the ship rocked for hours.

Robert Huschka, executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, told USA Today that the experience was "truly terrifying".

"The good news?" Huschka tweeted. "They never lost the Super Bowl signal. Perfect TV picture throughout storm!"

On Monday, a high-ranking member of the US Senate Commerce Committee called for a federal investigation into the event, saying the crew should have known not to sail the ship into the"the heart of a hurricane-force storm."

Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the panel that oversees the National Transportation Safety Board, asked that the agency include Sunday's event in its investigation into last year's sinking of El Faro, a cargo ship that ran into a hurricane.

"I want the National (Transportation) Safety Board to come up with answers very quickly and make an admonition to mariners: when the storm is brewing you don't go out of port," Nelson said during remarks on the Senate floor.

There are about 4,500 guests and 1,600 crew on board for what was supposed to be a seven-night cruise that departed on Saturday, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said.

The company said in a statement that the ship's operation was not affected, but concerns about further rough weather prompted the decision to return to Cape Liberty, New Jersey rather than continue on to Port Canaveral, Florida. "We are also sensitive to the fact that our guests have already been through an uncomfortable ride," the company said."We are optimistic that they will have a smooth sail home."

The cruise ship had contacted the U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday"just to notify us that everything was fine and no distress,"said Petty Officer Mark Barney, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard in Miami.

None of the reported injuries were severe, Royal Caribbean said. Passengers will receive a full refund and a discount on a future cruise.