Marriott rescue boat turned away non-guests looking to flee Irma
A group of tourists stranded on an Irma-battered island said they watched a rescue ferry chartered by Marriott International evacuate its own customers and then sail off, leaving all non-guests behind.
Hundreds were left trapped on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in the wake of the hurricane, cut off from supplies, food and water. People had no idea how long they’d be stranded and were bracing for Hurricane Jose when a large ship for all the tourists unable to catch a flight ahead of the storm approached the island Friday night.
Marriott International, facing its own devastation after the Hurricane, shelled out $100,000 for the 177-foot, 30,000-ton ship from the Dominican Republic and coordinated with local governments for permission to land and evacuate its trapped guests, Forbes reported.
It seemed relief had come just in time for those stuck on St. Thomas, but the boat in the end turned away about three dozen people — all tourists who had not stayed at the Marriott — and pulled away from the dock with seats still open, the Washington Post reported.
Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, damaging many houses.
Dallas resident Naomi Ayala, who’d been vacationing on the island, shared video of the boat floating away as she remained trapped on the island, blasting Marriott for leaving them behind.
“And it was Marriott’s decision. Marriott did not let us on this boat to get to San Juan so we can get flights back home,” she wrote on Facebook. “Instead, we have to ride out Hurricane Jose on St. Thomas when we just went through Hurricane Irma.”
Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America region for Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International, told the Post that the St. Thomas port manager told the crew those not listed on the manifest could not be allowed on the ship. He added that while the hotel did work with authorities to get the boat into the port amid the emergency, the company did not control the dock.
“The security personnel employed by the dock company would not — and we asked them repeatedly — allow them through the port gates and boarding area, because they were not on the manifest we prepared in advance, as requirement for the boat to depart for international waters,” Sheldon told Forbes.
Hurricane Irma brings violent winds, flooding as it touches down in Puerto Rico, Caribbean islands, and Florida
At the time, Hurricane Jose had yet to turn north and little time remained to negotiate the matter.
In the end, Marriott was able to ferry about 600 guests from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico.
“There were a number of additional people gathered at the dock who were not our guests who also expressed a desire to leave St. Thomas,” the company said in a statement. “We very much wanted to assist these other travelers to Puerto Rico, however, the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization to board additional passengers who were not on the approved manifest.”
Professional storm chaser Cody Howard, who had been contracted to shoot weather footage on the island, rejected the hotel’s excuse.
“The whole sense that I got out of it was: We didn’t pay enough money to stay at a Marriott place,” he told the Post, “therefore, we weren’t good enough to get on that boat.”