A massive luxury liner sailed into the grip of a monster winter cyclone churning off the East Coast Sunday, leaving shaken passengers confined to their cabins, meteorologists questioning the ship’s path and a leading lawmaker asking for a federal investigation.
Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, a 1,141-foot ship that can carry 4,900 guests, was tossed in hurricane-force winds as high as 100 mph as a low-pressure system heavy with snow for New England crawled up the coast.
In a statement from Royal Caribbean, the storm was called “unexpected” with wind speeds “higher than what was forecast.”
But meteorologists balked at the idea the storm was not predicted. According to National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Prediction Center was alerting to a strong storm four days in advance of its formation and issued a graphical alert Friday at 1 p.m. for “developing hurricane-force winds.”
The 18-deck Anthem of the Seas sailed Saturday into waves that would eventually reach 30 feet
in height off the coast of the Carolinas.
UPDATE 12:54 p.m.
Royal Caribbean is sailing its Anthem of the Seas back to Cape Liberty, New Jersey after guests spent a harrowing day at sea in the grip of a monster low pressure system.
According to spokesman Owen Torres, passengers will each get a full refund of the fare paid for their cruise.
“This decision was made due to weather forecasted for the next few days that is likely to impact the ship’s original itinerary,” Torres said in an email. “We are also sensitive to the fact that our guests have already been through an uncomfortable ride.”
Robert Huschka, the executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, told USA Today that even the captain had been shaken by the trip: “The captain told everyone this morning that the day was among his most challenging — if not his most challenging — at sea.”
Previous story: Ship sailed into storm
NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center was alerting for a strong storm 4 days in advance of the monster low-pressure system encountered by the Anthem of the Seas on Sunday.
According to National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan, a graphical alert was issued on Friday at 1 p.m. for “developing hurricane force winds,” for Sunday.
The first official warning was issued at 3:34 p.m. Saturday.
And the Noreaster that damaged the ship and kept people in their cabins was predicted even earlier than that.
“The models started picking up on this three weeks ago,” said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. “It was very well forecast and for a ship to go into a bombing storm like this kind of baffles me. The storm intensified as predicted.”
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez released a statement on the company’s blog saying that the wind speeds were “higher than what was forecasted.”
She said the storm was “unexpected.”
“In an abundance of caution, the captain asked all guests to stay in their stateroom until the weather improved,” she said.
The massive Anthem of the Seas cruise ship was rocked Sunday by the impressive winter cyclone that set up along the east coast.
The low-pressure system quickly took on a hurricane-like appearance on satellite images as it crawled up the coast with promises of snow for New England.
But for passengers of the Royal Caribbean ship, it was waves and high wind that caused the biggest concern.
Kottlowski said seas were reaching heights of 30-feet, a fact that was seemingly confirmed on social media but passengers who said water was reaching the 5th deck of the ship.
The 1,141-foot Anthem of the Seas can carry 4,905 guests.
Petty Officer Mark Barney, of the public affairs office of the U.S. Coast Guard, said that coast guard officials contacted the captain of Anthem of the Seas on Sunday knowing they were in heavy seas and after seeing social media posts.
“When we have 3,000-plus passengers on board a ship in our waters, we’re aware of it,” Barney said. “The captain said there were no reports of distress, they were still seaworthy, they were just in some heavy weather.”
USA Today reported that Rober Huschka, executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, was on the ship.
He said the captain made an announcement at 3:30 p.m. Sunday that the strength of the storm had surprised everyone.
“A very nervous cruise director kept coming on. He didn’t sound very reassuring. He said, ‘We are okay,'” Huschka told USA Today.
As of 5 a.m. this morning, the ship was still experiencing 46 mph winds and was off the coast of Charleston,” Barney said.
The ship was diverted to Port Canaveral but drew similarities on social media to the ill-fated El Faro cargo ship that sank in October during Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 crew members.
As with El Faro, questions as to whether the Anthem could have been diverted sooner were asked by passengers who spent some of their time confined in their rooms for safety.
USA Today reported that Royal Caribbean issued a statement saying there were no reports of serious injuries.