Twelve cruise ship passengers on an excursion in Mexico’s Yucatán region died after their tour bus flipped on a two-lane highway early Tuesday, officials said. It was one of the deadliest incidents ever related to a cruise ship excursion, several experts said.
The 27 passengers were traveling to the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben, 110 miles south of Tulum, on a shore excursion purchased as part of their cruises aboard Celebrity Equinox and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas, according to a company spokesperson. Both cruise brands are owned and operated by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
“Our hearts go out to all those involved in the bus accident in Costa Maya,” said Royal Caribbean via a release. “We are doing all we can to care for our guests, including assisting with medical care and transportation.”
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Images posted on YouTube show the bus on its side on the two-lane highway that runs near the eastern coast of Mexico in the region known as Costa Maya. Costa Maya Mahahual, the bus company involved, said in a statement that the bus was carrying tourists who had arrived at the coastal town of Mahahual aboard a cruise ship.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. However, Chris Brawley of Haslet, Texas, said his bus of tourists came upon the scene minutes after the crash. The road was dry and he did not see any other vehicles involved, he told The Associated Press.
Seven Americans and two citizens of Sweden are among the injured, according to Quintana Roo state Civil Defense spokesman Vicente Martin, who said authorities haven’t yet established the nationalities of the dead.
In addition to the tourists, a guide and driver were aboard the bus, the company said.
The 2,850-passenger Celebrity Equinox sailed from Miami on Dec. 16 for a seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary with stops slated for Costa Maya, Cozumel and the Cayman Islands. The 2,490-passenger Serenade of the Seas departed Dec. 15 from Fort Lauderdale on a seven-night cruise to Key West, Honduras and Cozumel.
The tour to Chacchoben was sold to ship passengers through the cruise lines. Experts regularly recommend that passengers choose ship-arranged tours over traveling on their own, especially in less-developed countries. .
From a safety perspective, Miami lawyer Michael Winkleman of Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman agrees. “Cruise lines have policies and procedures in place for vetting companies — though whether those vetting policies are rigorous enough is a completely different question. And given the numerous nearly identical bus incidents which have occurred, clearly something is terribly wrong.”
According to another Miami maritime lawyer, James Walker of Walker & O’Neill, more than a dozen cruise bus excursion accidents have occurred in Caribbean ports of call over the past five to 10 years.
In January 2016, one passenger died in a tour bus accident in Jamaica. Another died in a November 2016 crash in Dominica. In 2012, a half-dozen passengers were injured in a bus crash in St. Martin. In 2006, 12 people were killed in Chile in a bus accident following a visit to a national park; in that case, the tour had been arranged privately and the cruise ship was not involved.
In less-developed countries, “unfortunately that laws, rules and regulations are not nearly as strict as ours,” said Joseph J. Kalbac Jr., partner at Miami’s Colson Hicks Eidson. “The equipment in my experience is often old and sub-safe.”
While cruise lines typically view vendors as separate companies, all three of these law firms have sued and settled out of court in similar cases. For the plaintiffs, that usually means filing suit in Miami — a requirement specified in the fine print of cruise tickets, Winkleman said. And, he said, they must file within one year.
This report was supplemented by reporting and material from the Associated Press.