Two cruise lines on Saturday said they were diverting ships to the hurricane-ravaged island of St. Thomas to drop relief supplies and evacuate stranded travelers.
Norwegian Cruise Line said it was sending the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky to the island with the goal of retrieving as many as 2,000 vacationers who were unable to leave before Hurricane Irma hit on Wednesday. The ship currently is off the coast of Mexico and should arrive in St. Thomas by late Monday.
Royal Caribbean said it was redirecting its 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas to the island to similarly evacuate several thousand travelers and also to drop water, food, ice and other provisions that are needed. The ship is off the west coast of Cuba and expected to arrive in St. Thomas on Tuesday.
Royal Caribbean also plans to redirect its 3,114-passenger Adventure of the Seas to the hard-hit island of St. Martin on Sunday for an unscheduled stop to drop relief supplies. The vessel is departing San Juan, Puerto Rico late Saturday on a previously scheduled cruise to the Southern Caribbean and is loading on provisions that are needed for a mounting relief effort.
“We will be landing ice, water — anything we can land that is going to help people out,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley told USA TODAY of the run to St. Martin. “We also hope to pick up about 200 stranded travelers.”
Speaking by satellite phone from Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas as it sailed off the west coast of Cuba, Bayley said the company also was positioning a third ship, the 1,840-passenger Empress of the Seas, to help out Floridians in either Tampa — its home port — or the Florida Keys after Irma passes over the state.
Like Majesty of the Seas, Empress of the Seas is sailing nearly empty this weekend after its latest sailing was canceled due to Irma’s approach. It’s been seeking refuge from the storm in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bayley and much of Miami-based Royal Caribbean’s management team as well as more than a thousand employees, their families and even their pets evacuated Miami on Friday on Enchantment of the Seas. Based in Miami, the ship also was idle due to the cancellation of its weekend sailing in advance of Irma.
“We all feel that anything we can do to help out is important and necessary,” Bayley said. “We’re in a fortunate situation in that we have these big beautiful cruise ships
that have these provisions and supplies that we can help with.”
Bayley noted that thousands of Royal Caribbean’s employees and their families live in South Florida, which has been in the crosshair of Irma all week.
“We’ve all been extremely anxious; we’ve all been worried about our homes. When you go through that kind of situation, you become very grateful (for what you have),” Bayley said. Helping out “is about that (being part of) the community.”
Irma caused widespread damage on both St. Thomas and St. Martin as it cut a path of destruction through the Eastern Caribbean, killing at least 20 people. On St. Thomas, Irma’s winds ripped off roofs, crippled the island’s only hospital and knocked out about 70% of the utility infrastructure, according to officials. The storm also wiped out all of the electricity and telephone service on adjacent St. John.
Irma has been “really catastrophic to the islands of St. Thomas and St. John,” Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the Virgin Islands’ delegate to Congress, told USA TODAY on Saturday….