Local pastor watched as ship hit dock in Puerto Rico



Passengers on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic cruise ship saw a rainbow as they came into port in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 12. They thought it was a good omen after a rocky start to their cruise. Then, the ship hit the dock.

Local pastor Jane Hillman of Trinity United Church of Christ in Jasper was on the Epic, watching from her cabin’s balcony as the colossal ship scraped against the dock.

“We were right there,” Hillman recalled Tuesday. “We watched it.”

The roughly 4,000-passenger ship hit and sunk two mooring points, taking a part of the dock down, too. Hillman remembers watching as people on the dock waiting to board their own cruise ship scrambled to get off the dock as the Epic came through. The dock fared worse from the encounter. The ship, Hillman said, only had some dents.

The event made national news, with a video of the incident going viral on Twitter. The official word, according to Norwegian’s Twitter, is that “prevailing winds” caused the ship, which had been having mechanical problems for about a day, to veer toward the dock.

For the passengers, Hillman said, the crash was only the biggest hiccup on what would be a disappointing trip.

“For first-time cruise people who saved up for this big adventure, it did not go well,” Hillman said.

The Epic set out from Port Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 9 on what was supposed to be a seven-day cruise with stops at Tortola Island in the British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Stuart Bay, a private island for cruises. The ship made none of those stops. On Monday, Feb. 11, the Epic stopped dead in the water. Hillman was at lunch when the ship stopped moving. They didn’t notice at first, but then her friend stopped and said the ship didn’t seem to be moving. Everyone else agreed that Hillman’s friend was right.

The crew announced that the ship was having a mechanical issue that didn’t threaten life on the ship.

“That’s all we were ever told,” Hillman said.

Rumors started to circulate around the ship as people found other details about the issues via social media or online news. That part was frustrating, Hillman said. She would have liked the ship’s staff to be more forthcoming with details.

The next announcement said that the ship wouldn’t be making its stops at Tortola or St. Thomas, but instead diverting to San Juan for an overnight stay to address the issues.

Although the stop in Puerto Rico wasn’t planned, Hillman said there were some good things that came out of the new arrangement. A man had had a stroke on the ship while at sea, and stopping in San Juan meant that he could go to a bigger hospital than the ones that would have been available on the other islands.

Another passenger was from Puerto Rico, Hillman recalled, and hadn’t been back to the island in 10 years. She got to spend the night with family. Hillman herself got to return to a jewelry store near the port that she’d been to years before and purchase a pendant that matched a set of earrings she bought on her previous trip.

When the Epic departed Puerto Rico on Feb. 13, the passengers thought they’d still get to enjoy the stop at Stuart Bay, but that was not to be. The Epic was still moving too slowly to stop at Stuart Bay and still make it back to Port Canaveral on Saturday, Feb. 16.

As it stood, they’d still be getting back later than planned. That announcement sent the passengers into a frenzy as they all tried to contact the people who would be picking them up and to change flights or other travel arrangements.

In an attempt to help, Hillman said, Norwegian provided an hour of free Wi-Fi, but with 4,000 people all logging on at once, it crashed. Norwegian also allowed passengers to stay on the ship Saturday night, Hillman said. The company also provided $300 to passengers to help with costs associated with changing flight plans and $250 for passengers to get a hotel if they had to spend Saturday night at Port Canaveral but didn’t want to stay on the ship. Passengers were also credited the cost of the cruise, less the port taxes and fees. The credit can go toward another Norwegian cruise sometime in the next two years.

“If you read the fine print,” Hillman said, “they didn’t have to do anything.”

Although the trip was filled with issues from beginning to end, Hillman said, the air conditioning never stopped working, and meals and entertainment continued without a hitch throughout the trip. Hillman said she and her friend might cash in their credits on a four-day cruise in the Bahamas, but she probably won’t be able to do another seven-day trip. When you’re a pastor, she said, getting two Sundays off in a row is challenging.

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