Carnival Cruise Lines said Monday that the 1,020 passengers who sailed to Mexico aboard the liner Tropicale last week will be offered 25% discounts on a future cruise and will be paid for any injuries or damage they sustained when the ship was buffeted by huge waves.
Bob Dickinson, Carnival senior vice president, said 19 passengers suffered injuries, 18 of them minor, and the ship had to change course for 15 hours after a series of what he said were 20- to 35-foot waves hit the vessel off San Diego Jan. 17, seven hours after it sailed from Los Angeles.
Some passengers said they were terrified when the ship's lights went out, windows were broken, a row of slot machines in the ship's casino tipped over, the stabilizer on the port side went out of commission and some of the ship's crew donned life jackets.
The waves were part of the same powerful storm that struck Redondo Beach and other points along the Southern California coast, causing an estimated $68 million in damage onshore. Dickinson said it was the worst storm to strike any of the cruise line's seven ships in its 16 years of business.
In a letter to passengers circulated the next day, the Tropicale's captain, Giampaolo Casula, said the storm had "personalized your cruise, making it an unforgettable event." But, he emphasized, "At no time was the ship in danger."
Casula explained in the letter:
"An exceptionally violent wind of 50 knots created a heavy swell and caused very heavy rolling of the ship, obliging me to change our course to meet the waves at an open angle from the bow. I also had to reduce the ship's speed in order to minimize discomfort on board during the night."
The Liberian-registered, Italian-officered ship finished its cruise Sunday. The storm-caused change of course plus a stop of several hours to try to recover someone who had fallen overboard from another ship caused it to miss one of its ports of call, Puerto Vallarta. It made scheduled stops at Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
By the time the Tropicale returned to Los Angeles Harbor, more than 450 passengers had signed a petition asking for an adjustment in their fares, which, according to Dickinson, ranged from $575 to $2,095 a person.
Called a Disaster
"I think it was more than a misadventure, it was a disaster," said Robert Rowe, a passenger from Clovis who supported the call for a partial refund. "The crew was saying there was nothing to worry about, but the crew was putting on life jackets. We thought we were not really being told the truth at all. A lot of people got panicky."
Another passenger, Edward Odian of Burbank, said many passengers had gone to the purser's office on board to argue about their bills. "He was saying we should feel lucky we were alive," he said. "Those were his exact words."
Dickinson, however, said no refunds will be made.
"No one knew the severity of the storm," he explained. "Nobody anticipated that it would turn in the way that it did. So, if somebody had a problem, they should talk to God. It was his storm, not ours."
Nonetheless, he added, he spoke to the line president on Monday afternoon and it was decided to offer the 25% discounts on a future cruise, either in the Caribbean or the Pacific.
Dickinson said that only "a very few people" actually were unhappy with the cruise. "They continued to work on the rest of the people the rest of the week," he said. "It's easier to sign the petition than fight with a guy. The vast majority of people had a good time.
"A few people are maneuvering to get a free cruise because of an act of God," he said. "We don't think that's fair."
He said that 800 of the passengers, including some who had signed the petition, had declared on "comment cards" that they enjoyed the cruise.
This was not the case, however, with Susie Dzik of Westchester, Ill., and her husband, Craig.
"It was the worst thing in the world," she said Monday. "We thought we were dead. We were very unhappy with Carnival Cruise Lines. They should have known about the weather before we left port. I don't remember any warning."
Another passenger, Bill Buckingham, provided videotape to Los Angeles television stations showing the high waves that persisted into the next day and some of the damage aboard ship.
"My wife lost her grip on the blackjack table and flew across the side of the ship, smashed into chairs, and suffered bruises and lacerations," Buckingham said.
According to the captain's letter to the passengers, the ship had received numerous reports of stormy weather, and it was trying to outrun the storm from the time it left Los Angeles at about 4 p.m. on Jan. 17.
"According to the radio information forecast, (that) Sunday afternoon the storm was heading east at a speed of 25 knots and at a distance from us of 250 miles," he wrote.
"For this reason, in order to attempt to avoid the full strength of the wind and waves, we proceeded from San Pedro at full speed on a southeasterly course." Nonetheless, he added, the huge waves hit the ship at 10:45 p.m.
Passenger Odian recalled:
"There was no communication on the ship. The lights went off in about one minute. . . . When I got down to my wife in our stateroom, the lights went out. Beds were sliding. They are not anchored down. Nothing was said over the radio. . . . The crew was more scared than we were and none of them came to help."
After five or 10 minutes, the lights came back on, only to go out briefly again, he said.
Dickinson said that well before the waves hit, the captain had told the passengers through loudspeakers to stay indoors.
As for the conduct of the 550-member crew, he said that a few had become concerned and donned life jackets. "This was extraordinary," the cruise line official said of the conditions. "Some of the crew, they never saw some of this."