The trouble started after the Carnival Legend, which can carry more than 2,000 people, set sail from Melbourne to the French territory New Caledonia last week — though there are disputes of exactly when and why it all began.
“This is all over a thong [flip-flop sandal] — not a foot, a thong being stepped on,” a passenger told the radio station 3AW, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The thong’s trampler apologized, the man said, but its owner threatened retaliation, and the groups began to feud.
Others, however, said a single family of about two dozen people seemed intent on provoking conflicts — spitting in the pool, screaming in the smoking area and fighting with passengers and staff over any provocation.
“They were looking for trouble from the minute they got on the ship,” Kellie Peterson told 3AW. “Anyone and everything. They even picked on a 16-year-old boy because they thought he looked at them.”
After several days at sea, chaos broke out on the pool deck. It’s not clear what caused the dispute, though one passenger told News.com.au that it went on for 45 minutes, some of which was recorded. Children watched from behind a row of sun chairs as dozens of adults shouted on the far end of the deck. A man got into a brief shoving match with a uniformed staff member — a prelude of the melee to come.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Carnival confirmed “several instances [of] extremely unruly behavior” on the ship.
Some passengers described it more as a state of constant fear.
Peterson told 3AW that security warned her, her husband and their three young children not to travel the decks alone. Lisa Bolitho said she and her son simply locked themselves inside their cabin, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“We’ve all made several complaints, saying kids were scared,” Bolitho said. “The captain said, ‘What do you want me to do about it — throw them overboard?’ ”
The skirmishes escalated for several days at sea, passengers said, until a massive brawl broke out in the ship’s nightclub early Friday morning.
As on the pool deck, it’s unclear what provoked it. Carnival said the aggressive family group “physically attacked other guests.”
As seen in one passenger’s video, a man in a blue T-shirt pins a man in tangerine shorts to the bar floor while people around them scream and jostle. A woman throws herself on top of the pair, at which point several black-shirted security guards begin to punch and kick the people on the floor.
While some passengers defended the guards’ actions, others said they behaved like thugs. Guards waved broken bottles at passengers to intimidate them, Michael Haddara told the Herald, and “put handcuffs around their hands, as knuckle dusters.”
“No camera!” a staff member screamed at a man taking video of the nightclub brawl, after another worker tried to swat the camera from his hand.
Before the video ends, a security guard balls his fist and draws his arm back as if to punch a woman in the face, but he lowers his fist at the last moment.
“The actions seen on the video by our security team are not in line with our Carnival values and policies,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are conducting a full investigation and will take appropriate corrective action as necessary.”
News.com.au published photos it said came from the fight’s aftermath, showing a man bruised and bloodied across his face and back. David Barkho, who was not on the ship, said his son called him from the nightclub at 1 a.m., as people lay bleeding around him.
“He said, ‘Please Dad, please, call the federal police,’ ” Barkho told 3AW. “I could hear a lot of screaming, crying in the background.”
The police were, in fact, called to meet the ship off the coast of Eden, a couple hundred miles east of Melbourne.
Until the ship docked, 9News reported, several aggressive passengers were locked in their cabins in a form of house arrest. Other passengers complained of a crackdown and said guards confiscated phones and deleted videos of the violence.
At Eden on Friday, police boarded to remove 23 people, the Australian Associated Press reported — all apparently members of the same family group. Some had been ordered removed; others left voluntarily. No one was immediately charged, though Carnival said it’s cooperating with authorities in their investigation.
Other passengers gathered on the Legend’s deck, booing and clapping as the family was loaded into a police boat. One of them appeared to be wearing a head bandage, and all looked defiant.
“Losers!” a woman cried out from the ship. A man on the police boat raised a middle finger in response.
On Saturday, Carnival said, the Legend docked back in Melbourne, 10 days after leaving port.
“We sincerely regret that the unruly conduct and actions of the passengers removed from the ship may have prevented other guests from fully enjoying their cruise,” read the company’s statement, which did not go into details about the incident.
For some passengers, the apology was not enough.
“I won’t be travelling Carnival ever again,” Mark Morrison told the Associated Press.
As a goodwill gesture, Carnival said, passengers who made it through the cruise have been offered a 25-percent-off coupon for their next one.