Cruise ship from ‘hell’ arrives in Victoria for refit

Parksville’s Mae-Claire Locke says her family endured “16 days of hell” during what was supposed to be a relaxing cruise through the Panama Canal, on a ship that’s now at Esquimalt Graving Dock for a refit.

“It wasn’t a vacation,” she said from Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday.

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Shortly after the Lockes boarded the Norwegian Sun in Miami, Florida, work crews began refinishing the outer decks.

Strong fumes wafted through the ship into cabins, particles of materials and dust clouds filled outdoor areas, and the sounds of pounding and grinding continued late into the night, Locke said. She was on the trip with husband Lindsay and sons Ramsay, 13, and Hamish, 11.

“It was a full-on construction zone.”

One morning Ramsay woke up with his eyes “glued shut,” she said.

He had been playing basketball outdoors the day before and she believes he was affected by the construction.

Compresses eventually opened his eyes and the boy visited the on-board doctor, who prescribed drops, Locke said.

The Locke family is among many passengers voicing their unhappiness with the Miami-Los Angeles trip. They are posting their experiences on a Facebook page called Panama Canal Sun. Passengers came from places such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, the U.S. and Mexico, Locke said.

Along with others, Locke is worried about what chemicals they were exposed to during the cruise. She said some passengers had itchy eyes, bleeding noses, and respiratory problems.

She said she felt like passing out from fumes in her cabin. “It smelled like a paint can was open in my room.”

Locke chaired a meeting of several hundred concerned passengers during the cruise.

She wants to ensure that no one has to go through a similar situation. She also wants a full refund for the trip.

This experience was a surprise for Locke, who said it was their third time on the Norwegian Sun and that she had been a “cheerleader” for the company.

The Norwegian Sun sailed into Victoria on Tuesday for a scheduled refit by Victoria Shipyards at Esquimalt Graving Dock. It is slated to pull into Ogden Point on April 20 at 7 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m. This year’s cruise ship season kicks off on April 11 when the Westerdam arrives at 1 p.m.

Another Norwegian Sun passenger, Victoria’s Cecilia Jenkins, has had a chest X-ray and blood work done since returning home.

During an interview punctuated by coughing, Jenkins said at one point she needed help because she nearly passed out from strong fumes, and also experienced nausea, headaches and swollen eyes.

Passengers should not have their health and safety put at risk, said Jenkins, who is concerned that the crew was exposed as well.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not tell them this work was going to happen or communicate with them, Jenkins said.

She was travelling in a party of five that included her husband and daughter, and father-in-law and a friend.

Work on the decks created a “huge amount of dust,” she said, adding that it went onto food that was eaten outdoors, into drinks and into the pools.

“I tried to stay indoors as much as possible.”

Norwegian Cruise Line issued a statement stating that as part of its Norwegian Edge program, it is “currently undergoing enhancements to better serve our guests.”

While it tries to minimize impacts on guests, “we recognize that in this situation our guests have experienced some inconvenience.”

It is offering passengers a credit of 25 per cent of their cruise fare for use on another Norwegian cruise of their choice from now through March 31, 2019.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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