Video: High drama on the high seas

  1. Transcript of: High drama on the high seas

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Been a lot of these in the news lately, and it's happened again. A luxury cruise on the high seas has gone wrong, and tonight hundreds of American vacationers who were on board aren't holding back and, in fact, are telling the tale. It happened Sunday aboard a Royal Caribbean ship; Brilliance of the Seas sailed right into some horrendous weather in the Mediterranean. Tonight the ship is docked safely in Malta . John Ray of our British partner ITN is there.

    JOHN RAY reporting: High winds , heavy seas and a cruise liner heading into the teeth of a storm. It was to end in something close to mutiny on the Brilliance .

    Unidentified Man #1: Liar, liar!

    RAY: They're shouting down a senior officer who's insisting everything's fine. It might be now, safely in harbor; but imagine giant waves crushing 10 floors up, and you begin to relive what some passengers call hell on the high seas .

    Unidentified Woman #1: Waking up in the middle of the night with everything being tousled around the room was really scary.

    Unidentified Man #2: We thought we were done for.

    RAY: Video shot by a passenger shows an onboard screen warning of hurricane force winds ahead.

    Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, God.

    RAY: In terrifying moments their world shook, tossed from their beds as the decks heaved.

    Unidentified Man #3: The whole place was shaking. The Christmas tree fell over.

    Captain ERIK TENGELSEN: I was concerned.

    RAY: Captain Erik Tengelsen says weather forecasts underplayed the storm's strength. Are you confident that no mistake was made, that everything was done according to procedure.

    Capt. TENGELSEN: No. I mean, this is bad weather . And when we have bad weather , it's -- I'm afraid we are affected by rolls and so forth.

    RAY: The damage is superficial, but two days on there's debris yet to be cleaned up. There is still plenty of evidence of the ferocity of the storm. As for repairing any damage to the cruise company's reputation, well, they've offered a refund, but only after that passengers' revolt. How bad does it have to be for 1,000 passengers to gather in the center of a boat and shout "liar, liar, liar" at one of your senior officers?

    Captain WILLIAM WRIGHT (Royal Caribbean International): Well, I think it has to get pretty bad. And it was bad. It was a traumatic event.

    RAY: This was not the first time the Brilliance of the Seas has set out on an ill-fated voyage. In 2005 , newlywed George Allen Smith went missing, presumed lost overboard. This cruise, some passengers have only praise for the crew; others vow never to sail again. Promised an unforgettable holiday, they got one to remember for all the wrong reasons. John

updated 12/14/2010 6:54:55 PM ET 2010-12-14T23:54:55

The nearly 2,060 Brilliance of the Seas passengers who endured a horrifying early morning in the Mediterranean won't be paying a dime for the experience.

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"The captain announced a full refund for all guests as a result of the 'unfortunate incident' of two days ago," posted Cruise Critic member Lifelong Cruiser, who's onboard, on Monday. Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez confirmed the statement, and an official release from the line acknowledged that passengers and crew had been through a "frightening experience."

The line had initially doled out $200 in onboard credit ($400 for those in suites) — a level of compensation that had angered some and resulted in "at least one guest letter circulating that criticized the 'nominal' amount," noted Lifelong Cruiser.

Related: See photos of the battered Royal Caribbean cruise ship
Vote: Are you worried about the dangers of cruising?

On Sunday morning, Brilliance ran into rough weather en route to Alexandria, Egypt. In the early morning hours, large waves and heavy winds caused the ship to list several times, injuring about 60 passengers, sending beds sliding across cabins, shattering glass elevators and leaving the dining room and other public areas strewn with damaged furniture. According to a Royal Caribbean statement, aesthetic damage to the ship's interior has caused the closure of three public venues — the beauty salon, video arcade and disco — for the remainder of the sailing. The statement also noted that the most serious of the injuries were fractures suffered by two passengers.

Despite the dangerous lists, Royal Caribbean said there has been no impact to the ship's operating systems or engines, and it continues to be fully seaworthy. The ship arrived in its next port of call, Malta, at roughly 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday, where it will remain overnight before heading for Barcelona, Spain, and concluding the voyage on Friday as originally scheduled.

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According to the cruise line, repairs are underway, and subsequent cruises will not be impacted. The next cruise is set to depart on December 17.

Cruise Critic members on the ill-fated voyage have been chronicling the ordeal on the message boards.

"Bed surfing, what an experience," posted Cruise Critic member sochie. Member Lifelong Cruiser was also in his cabin when the ship listed. "The closet door in our balcony cabin ripped from its hinges and flew across the room," he wrote. "The king bed slid across the cabin as if on wheels ... The bed ended up perpendicular to where it started ... My wife narrowly missed being hit by the airborne closet door, which weighs 50+ pounds."

"[The] Gym is in shambles — ellipticals looked like monkey bars; spin bikes everywhere," wrote dirtgirl after surveying the scene on Sunday.

Member jimbo5544, whose son and daughter-in-law are celebrating their honeymoon onboard, posted additional details. "They said all computers had smashed in Internet cafe and Grand piano smashed into wall. Much broken glass all over ship."

Others are wondering how such a harrowing event could have taken place. "The captain admitted in his first address within 30 minutes of the incident that a 'mistake' had been made by slowing down in harbor traffic, causing the stabilizers to disengage," posted Lifelong Cruiser. "[He] described the incident as a 'mistake' more than once."

"The speed for that part of the voyage is a slow-speed leg," said Martinez, when asked about the captain's comments. "When the ship encountered the severe weather, it caused the ship to slow down even more. As you may know, the stabilizers are not engaged at slow speeds."

Vote: Are you worried about the dangers of cruising?