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Elderly couple booted from cruise ship after refusing to attend safety drill

An elderly couple was booted from a luxury ship Saturday after the wife refused to participate in the mandatory safety drill that begins every cruise.

Cruise Critic member Seabourntraveller, who's chronicling a sailing on the 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, offered an account of the incident, which occurred while the ship was docked in Lisbon, Portugal. "[The passengers] in [cabin] 627 did not respond to numerous requests, phone calls and announcements to proceed to the Restaurant for the muster drill, and, much to their chagrin, they are spending the next 12 days somewhere other than Seabourn Sojourn," ST wrote.

Seabourntraveller said the captain announced on the ship's PA that those who refused to participate in the muster drill -- during which passengers gather at assigned lifeboat stations and learn what to do in an emergency -- would be debarked. "He was not bluffing, and they were re-packed, removed and escorted off the gangway."

This is the second reported incident since January's Costa Concordia disaster in which a passenger has been booted off a ship for not participating in the drill. Seabourn sister line Holland America went the same route in February, debarking a passenger for muster drill "non-compliance."

Mike Driscoll, publisher of the weekly industry newsletter Cruise Week, reported that the husband, 90, attended the drill, but his wife, 84, said she didn't feel well. "She refused, saying she had done it before," wrote Driscoll, citing Steve Shulem, the California agent who booked the couples' cruise.

Driscoll reports that the two were on the second leg of a three-leg (back-to-back-to-back) cruise, but it is unclear if "done it before" refers to the first leg or some other cruise experience.

We've reached out to Seabourn via e-mail for comment.

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The muster drill is just one of several cruise ship safety protocols that have been scrutinized in the wake of January's Costa Concordia tragedy. Some 700 passengers who had boarded in Civitavecchia on January 13 had not yet participated in the drill when Concordia struck a rock; they were scheduled to attend the drill the next morning.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a U.N. agency tasked with improving maritime safety, requires via its Safety of Life at Sea conventions (SOLAS) that passenger ships hold a muster drill within 24 hours of embarkation. In February, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced that its 26 members -- which include every major line -- would hold muster drills before a ship leaves port. At the time of January's accident, most lines were already holding drills before departing, but there were exceptions. Because Concordia operated on a "triple-homeport" schedule -- passengers could board in Barcelona, Civitavecchia or Savona -- musters were sometimes scheduled for the next day. This was still acceptable per the 24-hour window dictated by SOLAS, the ship safety regulations adopted following the sinking of the Titanic.

What lines do with muster skippers is up to them. "The only enforceable piece is that the ship completes the passenger muster as required," said Lt. Cmdr. Dan Brehm of the U.S. Coast Guard's Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise. "What [officers] do to the passengers who don't show up is a company policy at that point."

As for Saturday's forced debarkation, Cruise Critic readers have mostly taken Seabourn's side. "I agree wholeheartedly that the captain made the right call in disembarking cabin 627's passengers, who apparently could not be bothered to follow his rules," wrote markham, echoing a common sentiment. Seabourntraveller was baffled that, in light of what happened on Concordia, any cruiser would flout the muster requirement.

Still, some had sympathy for the debarked duo. "The last image I have of them is this very elderly couple standing on the cruise pier in Lisbon all by themselves with their luggage," wrote an unnamed passenger in an e-mail to Cruise Critic. "I hope these poor dear people made it home."

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