Following devastation in the Caribbean due to Hurricane Irma earlier this week, cruise lines are lending their massive ships to the relief effort, transporting provisions and picking up stranded tourists.
Speaking from Royal Caribbean International’s Enchantment of the Seas, where the Miami-based cruise line evacuated its employees on a course away from the storm, president and CEO Michael Bayley told the Miami Herald Saturday that four ships will be used for Irma relief efforts. Norwegian Cruise Line, based in Miami, also announced plans Friday to deploy one ship to pick up stranded tourists in the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean’s ships, several of which are sailing empty due to storm-induced cancellations, are fully stocked and staffed, Bayley said. Those resources will instead be used to aid in relief efforts across ports in the Caribbean that were badly hit by Irma.
“We have been such a part of the Caribbean and South Florida communities for so many decades. We are worried and anxious,” Bayley said. “At the end of the day, we want to try to help as much as we can.”
Be the first to know.
No one covers what is happening in our community better than we do. And with a digital subscription, you'll never miss a local story.
At the end end of the day we want to try to help as much as we can.
Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International president and CEO
The Majesty of the Seas, which can fit 2,767 guests at maximum occupancy, is sailing to St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands to drop off water, ice, food and other provisions on Tuesday. The ship will offer meals to first responders before sailing with displaced tourists to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the airport is operational and where travelers can catch flights home, Bayley said.
Royal Caribbean is working closely with authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands to determine which tourists it needs to transport. The number is estimated to be between 1,500 and 3,000 people.
Adventure of the Seas, which is set to sail from San Juan Saturday on a seven-night Caribbean itinerary, will divert to St. Maarten and arrive on the Dutch and French island Sunday morning. The ship will also drop provisions in St. Maarten.
Bayley said Royal Caribbean is working with the U.S. Department of State to coordinate an evacuation for 200 to 300 American tourists still on the island. Due to cancellations from the storm, the ship is sailing with several hundred empty cabins to accommodate the additional guests.
Waves from Hurricane Irma break over the Southernmost Point monument in Key West, Florida, as the storm approaches the Florida Keys.
Displaced travelers can catch a flight from airports at different ports, or sail back with the ship to Puerto Rico, where it will arrive next week, he said.
Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas is sailing to St. Thomas and St. John. Adventure of the Seas will go to St. Maarten. Empress of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas will help in Florida.
The cruise line’s Empress of the Seas is in the Gulf of Mexico standing by to assist Floridians once Irma passes. The ship will likely sail to Key West or the Tampa Bay area, depending on Irma’s final course, to drop off provisions or pick up travelers as needed.
Enchantment, the ship Bayley is on with Royal Caribbean employees and their families, will sail back to South Florida after the storm and also drop off provisions in Key West. It has some room to accommodate additional passengers if need be, Bayley said.
“It’s a very emotional time for everybody, being on Enchantment of the Seas with 2,700 of my coworkers and colleagues. We are all anxious about our homes in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Broward and Miami-Dade County,” he said.
It’s a very emotional time for everybody, being on Enchantment of the Seas with 2,700 of my coworkers and colleagues. We are all anxious about our homes in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Broward and Miami-Dade County.
Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International president and CEO
Also deploying a ship to the relief effort is Norwegian Cruise Line.
The line’s Norwegian Sky, with room for 2,004 at double occupancy, is en route from Cancun, Mexico, to St. Thomas to pick up about 2,000 tourists stranded on the island before Hurricane Irma hit it on Wednesday. The ship is expected to arrive in St. Thomas Monday evening.
“Norwegian Cruise Line is working closely with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and the governor of St. Thomas to execute this rescue mission,” the cruise line said in a statement Friday. “Acting as a responsible corporate citizen and supporting the destinations that our ships operate in is a core value of Norwegian Cruise Line.”
Hurricane Irma slammed Cuba overnight. It's now headed for South Florida, but it won't stop there. Forecasters predict the storm continuing on through next week possibly hitting Georgia and South Carolina.
Tourists who are injured or have medical needs will be prioritized, but the list of evacuees will be organized by the government of St. Thomas, said Norwegian spokeswoman Vanessa Picariello.
The Norwegian Sky is en route to St. Thomas to pick up about 2,000 tourists stranded on the island before Hurricane Irma hit it on Wednesday.
The ship is expected back at PortMiami Thursday.
The line's larger Norwegian Escape is in Cozumel, Mexico, full with 4,000 displaced guests who were unable to secure a flight home after the Escape and the Sky docked in Miami Thursday. Guests who have been able to snag a flight home from Mexico may get off the ship, Norwegian said. The ship will leave Cozumel Sunday morning.
Due to devastation to major ports in the Caribbean, including St. Thomas and St. Maarten, the Norwegian Escape will sail only on western Caribbean itineraries until November.
Not to be outdone, Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line is delivering supplies to St.Kitts via the Carnival Fascination from San Juan this week. The line is also scheduled to deliver supplies to Grand Turk, said spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz Sunday.
The line is in communication with officials in the Caribbean and working to develop a plan to deliver supplies on an immediate and long-term basis via future scheduled sailings, she said.
Arnold Donald, CEO of parent company Carnival Corporation, has sent a letter to leaders of multiple Caribbean islands asking how the company can best support their relief efforts, and Carnival's foundation arm is putting together plans for donations to the Caribbean and Florida following Irma. The company donated $2 million to the Houston/Galveston area after Hurricane Harvey.
Carnival is unable to send cruise ships to pick up displaced passengers, De La Cruz said, because all of its ships are housing guests from voyages that were altered due to the storm.