A rescue boat chartered by Marriott was sent to pick up tourists fleeing Hurricane Irma, but left dozens behind because they weren’t guests.
According to The Washington Post, several hundred people had gathered on the dock at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma — which hit the island as a category 5 hurricane — devastated the airport and left numerous other buildings in ruins. The local Marriott resort hotel sent a boat to the dock with the capacity to pick up all of the stranded tourists with plenty of room to spare. However, ship staff informed the group that they were only authorized to pick up tourists who were guests at the resort. Others were left to fend for themselves.
“They had 600 and something seats,” said Dallas resident Naomi Ayala in a video posted to social media. “They filled it with 300 Marriott guests and there are 35 people over here waiting and we can’t get on this large boat that will hold at least 2 to 300 more people.”
“Marriott did not let us on this boat to get to San Juan so we can get on flights back home. Instead, we have to ride out Hurricane Jose on St. Thomas when we just went through Hurricane Irma,” she added.
In its defense, the hotel chain told the Post that while they wanted to pick up all of the tourists, they were prevented from doing so by the St. Thomas port manager, which strictly enforced the rule that nobody who was not on the ship’s manifest would be able to board the boat.
“The ferry departed St. Thomas Friday, September 8, with the Marriott guests onboard. 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,” a company statement read. “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. This was enforced by dock security.”
However, storm chaser Cody Howard — one of the people stranded on the dock — told the Post that local officials wanted the tourists to get on the boat, due to scarce resources that local governments wanted to devote to local residents who didn’t have the ability to sail away from the disaster. Howard posted to his Facebook page that Marriott “didn’t want the liability” of non-guests on its chartered boat.
Grit Post’s calls to the Virgin Islands Port Authority were not returned. However, Marriott sent Grit Post the following statement:
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. 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 manifest. This was enforced by dock security.
(UPDATE, 9/15/17, 3:30 PM ET:) This article was updated to include an emailed statement from Marriott.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.