Walker says that cruise lines have no legal duty to an injured or ill passenger, and he says they are working hard to keep it that way. “Cruise lines have spent millions of dollars lobbying against efforts to change the law,” he says.
A Royal Caribbean representative denies that the couple was “dumped” in St. Kitts, saying that the Claussens were taken to Joseph Nathaniel France because it was the closest reliable medical facility. “The health and safety of our guests is always our foremost concern,” says Cynthia Martinez, a cruise line spokeswoman. “The guest was taken to a hospital in St. Kitts so that they could receive lifesaving medical care as soon as possible.”
I asked Royal Caribbean about its policy on dropping off passengers and whether the Claussens could have done anything differently. It declined to answer. Walker says that cruise lines keep their policies on emergency care confidential.
Patrick Deroose, a general manager for assistance operations at International SOS, a company that offers medical evacuation services, says that the Claussens’ situation is not unusual and that the cruise industry’s policies, though not disclosed, are common knowledge. “It is usual practice for a ship to offload a passenger with medical conditions to the nearest island hospital,” he says. “But that choice is not always the best for the passenger.”
How do you avoid a similar problem? Deroose says that you need to do your homework before you leave on a trip. If you bought travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure that medical evacuation is covered, and pay close attention to information about preexisting medical problems. If you have a condition that could flare up while you’re away, you might need a different policy or a separate medical evacuation plan, the kind offered by International SOS, Medjet Assist and other companies.
Claussen says that it’s too late for her and her husband. His heart is damaged beyond repair, to the point where he can’t even answer a reporter’s questions about his ill-fated honeymoon. His doctor blames the hospital in St. Kitts, according to Connie. Now, she says she wants to warn others.
“If the cruise line and insurance company looked into these hospitals and the kind of care available there, hopefully they could prevent this from happening to someone else,” she says.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at .