60 hurt when cruise ship turns sharply to avoid drifting buoy

At least 60 passengers were injured when a Carnival Corp. cruise ship listed hard to starboard during a sudden turn to port in the Gulf of Mexico.

Carnival Ecstasy was en route to Galveston, Texas, from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on April 21 when the officers encountered an object in the water. As they swerved to avoid it, the 855-foot ship tilted, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

“It was a buoy that was adrift, and they went to dodge it, and turned, and the boat listed over,” said Petty Officer Richard Brahm, a Coast Guard spokesman in Houston.

The accident occurred at 1255. Passengers reported that the force of the tilt flung them out of chairs and sent people sliding across decks. Plates, glasses and liquor bottles smashed. Water poured out of swimming pools. Casino chips slid off of tables.

Passenger Mike Williams, of Plainview, Texas, was in a buffet restaurant on the top deck when he felt the vibration from what he thought were the bow thrusters and then a hard sway.

“I was looking out the right side of the ship, and you could see the water coming up, and if you looked to the left, you could see the sky coming,” Williams said. “It felt like the ship just fell into a hole.”

In a statement, Carnival officials said the cruise ship “was forced to perform a maneuver” to avoid the floating obstruction, which almost went unnoticed. The weather was sunny, and seas were very calm.

“The object was a large buoy which was adrift and mostly submerged, thereby preventing it from being detected by the ship’s radar,” Carnival’s statement said.

The Miami-based company said the starboard list was 12°. The incident caused minor injuries to 60 people. Three passengers were treated at a Galveston hospital.

“It was pretty scary. It was quite a shock,” Williams said. “Do we go and get life jackets? Do we jump off the ship? It really felt like the ship was turning over on its side. … People were running and screaming, and dishes were falling off the stacks and breaking, and food was all over the floor. Stainless steel serving carts turned over and hit people in the legs, and one lady had her leg bashed open.”

Company officials declined to be interviewed about the incident. Neither Carnival nor the Coast Guard would reveal the location of the accident or the exact speed and heading of the ship. Williams said he thought it was in the middle of the voyage, roughly halfway between Cozumel, Mexico, and Galveston.

The Panama-flagged Carnival Ecstasy‘s cruising speed is 21 knots, according to the company’s Web site. The 70,367-gross-ton ship is part of the cruise line’s Fantasy-class fleet. It was built in 1991.

Carnival Ecstasy was carrying a full booking of 2,340 passengers and 900 crew, Carnival said. The Galveston-based vessel was returning on the final leg of a five-day cruise to Cozumel and Progreso.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff