Could you be accused of a crime, convicted and kicked off your cruise without any supporting evidence?
Halfway around the world, Elaine Chan discovered the answer to that question is yes. She and her husband were recently summarily ejected from their Holland America cruise in Helsinki. The captain accused Chan’s 65-year-old husband of assaulting a crew member. He then ordered the shocked couple to gather their belongings and get off his ship.
Now Chan wants to clear her husband’s name and get a refund from Holland America.
I promise this story will make you angry. It’s yet another troubling case of a company leveling a wild accusation at a customer and refusing to provide even a shred of evidence to support it. And it’s the consumer who pays the price — financially and emotionally.
Kicked off your cruise? With Holland America, it can happen
With much anticipation, Chan and her husband booked a 24-day cruise on Holland America’s Zuiderdam. But on day five, things went terribly wrong.
“We did not expect our highly anticipated vacation to end as a nightmare in complete humiliation,” Chan explained. “We were kicked off the cruise by the Holland America captain in Helsinki.”
Chan said that at 8 a.m., the captain called the couple into his office. He explained that there had been an incident during disembarkation two days earlier in St. Petersburg.
The captain said that during that incident, several passengers had become verbally abusive to crew members. While leaving the ship, one passenger had escalated the situation by pushing an employee. Another crew member identified Chan’s husband as the person who did the shoving. As a result, they were no longer welcome on his ship.
The shocked couple told the captain that they hadn’t been involved in any incident. The captain was unmoved and told them his decision was final. He ordered them to leave the cruise immediately.
Chan explained what happened next:
Then the captain gave us an envelope with tickets back to San Francisco. He forced us to leave the cruise by 10 a.m. to catch our flight. If we did not leave on time, he said we would miss our flight. So we had no time to plead our case and get more information.
Can you really get kicked off your cruise like this with no evidence or even chance to respond? We’re devastated. My husband didn’t do this. Someone made a mistake and misidentified him. This false accusation has really taken a toll on him. What can we do?
Where is the proof of this cruise ship mayhem?
Since the moment the embarrassed couple arrived home from their aborted cruise, they have been on a mission to prove their innocence.
Initially, Chan felt confident that video cameras on board the Zuiderdam would conclusively prove that they had been booted from the cruise in error. She begged the executives of Holland America to pull those videotapes. Instead, she received a written explanation of the accusations.
Your husband participated in a scene where staff members were verbally abused. This abuse became physical when he and another guest attempted to push their way off the ship in port at St. Petersburg. As a result, a staff member required medical attention. As stated by the Captain in your verbal interview and in our previous correspondence, this is a violation of Section 4 of the Cruise Contract, and so the decision was made to remove both parties from the ship at the next port of call (Helsinki).
Chan and her husband again asked that Holland America review the videotapes. The couple offered to provide photos of themselves on the day of the incident. They hoped that company executives could compare those photos with any videos or photos the cruise line might have of the true perpetrator. Additionally, they agreed to take lie detector tests at their own cost.
Get kicked off your cruise – -you’re not getting a refund from Holland America
Holland America declined to provide any evidence to support its claim, but instead concluded its investigation of the case with this email:
While we regret that this final response could not be more favorable, we do hope you will continue to include Holland America Line in your travel plans.
Thank you again for your inquiry. I appreciate this opportunity to assist and hope you will sail with us again soon.
This final email stirred up a lot of questions for me.
If Holland America believes that Chan’s husband injured a crew member so severely that he needed medical treatment, why would the cruise line hope this assaultive passenger would set sail with Holland America ever again?
Something wasn’t adding up.
Can this couple get a refund from Holland America?
Coincidentally, Chan’s request for help landed on my desk at the same time that a somewhat similar plea arrived. Another wife needed help vindicating her husband against a company’s wacky accusations. Lois Kendall reported that her 76-year-old husband had been accused of stealing two pillows from a Choice Hotels franchised Quality Inn. She was outraged that the hotel had targeted her husband with accusations of theft. But even more outrageous was Choice Hotels refusal to investigate and help its loyal customer.
Kendall’s case ended on a positive note once the court of public opinion weighed in under the article that we published. Choice Hotels quickly corrected its error and provided a refund and an apology.
In Chan’s case, I hoped that I could get a favorable resolution on a more timely basis. She wished for an apology and a refund from Holland America.
I contacted Holland America and asked for clarification. I pointed out that the couple offered to take a lie detector test. And I asked about the videotape and the curious final email hoping to see the couple soon on another Holland America cruise. I can’t vouch for whether this couple participated in any brawl, but it seems if they did they probably wouldn’t take a lie detector test or beg for the video review.
Can a cruise line kick a passenger off the cruise and keep their money too?
Most cruise lines have terms written into their contracts allowing for the removal of passengers under a variety of conditions. And no refund is provided in most circumstances. Holland America already referred Chan to Section 4 of their HAL cruise contract which says:
Carrier may without liability for refund, payment, compensation or credit, except as provided herein, disembark or refuse to embark You, confine You in a stateroom, quarantine You, restrain You, change Your accommodations or disembark You at any time if, in the sole opinion of Carrier, the Captain or any doctor, You or any minor or other person in Your care during the Cruise, Land + Sea Journey, and/or Land Trip(s), are unfit for any reason for the Cruise, Land + Sea Journey, and/or Land Trip(s), or Your presence might be detrimental to Your health, comfort or safety or that of any other person, or in the judgment of the Captain is advisable for any reason.
But the unusual nature of this accusation is that it came days after the event. The captain blindsided Chan and her husband with charges the couple could not defend themselves against.
It seems questionable that a passenger assaulted a crew member and the employees made no accusations at the time of the incident. And since almost everyone has cell phones with the capability to take photos and videos, there should be some documentation of this event. What about a photo of the perpetrator making his getaway down the gangplank?
The bottom line
Holland America refused to respond to any of my requests for a statement about this case. It’s likely that Holland America executives are aware that this may end up in small claims court. As our publisher, Christopher Elliott points out in his article about fixing your consumer problem, often once a lawyer is mentioned, company executives refer all future correspondence to their legal department. And that legal department typically will not respond to a consumer advocate. Chan did allude to a lawyer in one of her later emails to Holland America.
Unfortunately, it appears that neither a refund from Holland America nor an apology will be heading this couple’s way. Chan says this experience has been like a bad movie from which they can’t escape. She hopes by telling her story she might find some solace in the court of public opinion.
Update from Elaine Chan: July 26
Chan has read through many of the comments under this story and would like to clarify a few details.
The couple were together during disembarkation in St. Petersburg. They did see a small group of angry passengers in front of them waiting to leave the ship. These passengers wanted to get off the boat to begin their privately planned shore excursions. A Holland America protocol of first disembarking passengers who purchased their shore excursion from the cruise line prevented these travelers from leaving the ship at that moment. The couple was not part of the disruptive group.
Chan saw an Australian (or possibly British) man and an Asian man being most vocal. Chan says the man in front of her husband did push past crew members when the crowd was allowed to leave. In his meeting with the couple, the captain said “you and your friends injured my crew members.” The couple was not traveling with any friends. They believe the eye-witness made an error in identifiying them as part of the group of rowdy travelers.
And lastly, Chan points out that some commenters missed the sequence of the couple’s correspondence with Holland America. She and her husband did not threaten legal action initially. They were attempting to prove that they were innocent and misidentified — that an error had occurred. Later when Holland America did not allow them to prove their case, they mentioned they might need a lawyer to help them if the cruise line would not.