Coast Guard Performs Complex Passenger Evacuation From Royal Caribbean Ship

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The United States Coast Guard successfully executed an evacuation of a passenger from the cruise ship Symphony of the Seas. The complex operation took place in the Caribbean Sea, not far from Puerto Rico, during an 8-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

The evacuation took place after the ship completed its visit to Curacao, and was making her way back to Fort Lauderdale. Teamwork between Royal Caribbean International, the US Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rico-based air station ensured the passengers could be evacuated quickly and safely.

Timely Response to a Medical Emergency

An emergency situation with a passenger onboard the Oasis-class Symphony of the Seas occurred on March 14, 2024, which forced the cruise line to call in the US Coast Guard for assistance. 

The operation began early Thursday morning after Sector San Juan’s Coast Guard received a distress call from Symphony of the Seas. The ship, which was cruising 116 nautical miles southwest of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, requested urgent assistance for a 57-year-old American passenger experiencing severe symptoms indicative of a possible stroke. 

As the type of specialized medical care needed was not available onboard, the Coast Guard started a quick response operation.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Passenger Evacuation
Royal Caribbean Cruise Passenger Evacuation

A Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from Air Station Borinquen was dispatched to the cruise ship’s location. Upon arrival, the aircrew deployed a rescue swimmer to the cruise ship to prepare the patient for evacuation. The rescue team then safely hoisted the passenger aboard the helicopter using a litter, a stretcher designed for sea evacuations.

Combined Efforts Lead to Succesful Evacuation

Commander Raymond Jamros of the MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter which carried out the rescue, highlighted the teamwork that led to the successful evacuation.

Cmdr. Raymond Jamros: “It was a great team effort on all fronts. We appreciate the coordination between the air station, sector and Royal Caribbean. The effective coordination and communication allowed us to get on scene in a timely matter and transport the patient to higher medical care.”

Even with calm weather, evacuating from any vessel is a highly specialized and risky operation. Dealing with adverse weather conditions, ensuring the safety of the patient and the rescue team, as well as keeping a helicopter steady over a moving cruise ship all add to the challenges that the aircrew must keep in mind. 

Read Also: San Juan Cruise Port – A Traveler’s Guide

Furthermore, the helicopter pilots and the Captain of Symphony of the Seas must maintain constant communication to ensure the ship maintains the correct course and speed. Stopping the ship in the open sea introduces further challenges, as swells can lead to additional danger due to the ship swaying.

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

The successful operation between the US Coast Guard and the Captain and crew of Symphony of the Seas underscores the crucial role of training, coordination, and preparedness in responding to emergencies at sea. Crew members on board cruise ships undergo daily training specifically for these types of emergencies.

Itinerary Already Adjusted Amidst Unrest

The rescue operation from Symphony of the Seas took place during a Southern Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Oasis-class cruise ship already completed stops in Aruba and Curacao, while the stop to Labadee, Haiti, was cancelled. Symphony of the Seas is currently making her way back to Fort Lauderdale, where she will arrive on March 17, 2024.

Royal Caribbean decided to cancel all visits to its private beach in Labadee until further notice due to the growing unrest in Labadee. As a result, the itinerary for March 17 has also been changed, replacing the stop in Labadee with a day at sea, while also increasing the time in port for other stops.

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