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Royal Caribbean faces class action lawsuit for endangering passengers during Hurricane Harvey

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. is facing a class action lawsuit which alleges that the company's failure to issue a timely cancellation of a cruise scheduled to depart from the Port of Galveston during Hurricane Harvey put passengers at risk and caused them financial harm.

Related: Learning curve: Hard lessons for businesses in hurricanes

The lawsuit coincided with the announcement that the cruise line had cancelled a more recent trip to send ships to Puerto Rico and aid evacuees of Hurricane Maria:

Liberty of the Seas was scheduled to depart on Sunday, Aug. 27 from Texas which was already under a state of emergency, said Nikki McIntosh, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and other passengers who traveled to Galveston during the storm. In the midst of catastrophic flooding, hundreds of cruise passengers traveled into the storm in an effort to make the boarding call.

McIntosh stated that the company put profits over safety -- assuring passengers that their safety was paramount while also indicated that anyone who cancelled would lose the entire cost of the purchased cruise.

On Saturday, the day before the scheduled departure, Royal Caribbean reportedly emailed passengers to change the boarding date from Sunday to Monday.

The Port of Galveston had been closed since Friday, according to details in the lawsuit. It remained closed into the following week. On Sunday, the cruise line informed passengers they would receive a partial credit for a future cruise. The company did not cancel the trip until 3 p.m. on Sunday, offering a full refund to customers.

Related: Houston leaders start providing grants for Harvey recovery

By then, passengers who had already begun to arrive for the cruise departure were stuck in a category 4 storm.

“Simply put, had the cruise been cancelled a day or two earlier, just like Carnival did, then these passengers would not have been trapped in the path of Hurricane Harvey and subjected to five to six days of terror, hardship and inconvenience in a place foreign to them,” said McIntosh in the Royal Caribbean class action lawsuit.

In contrast, the lawsuit notes that Carnival cruise line had rerouted two other cruise ships that were scheduled to arrive in Galveston on Saturday, Aug. 26 when the National Hurricane Center issued an advisory that the entire coast of Texas was in the cone of danger for Hurricane Harvey.

The class action suit was filed by maritime attorney, Michael A. Winkleman and Marc E. Weiner of Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

“What Royal Caribbean did to these passengers is simply shocking.  They knowingly placed families with small children directly in the path of one of the worst storms to hit the U.S. in centuries.  We look forward to holding Royal Caribbean wholly accountable for its negligence, " Winkleman said.

Last month, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Royal Caribbean canceled a trip on the Adventure of the Seas cruise and sent the ship to transport evacuees and deliver supplies to Puerto Rico, St. Croix and St. Thomas .

The company is also matching donations up to $1 million to aid in Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria Relief efforts.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.