IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Marriott Criticized After Ferry Strands Tourists on Irma-Hit St. Thomas

One professional storm chaser said he and a group of roughly 35 tourists were stunned when the ferry left them on the dock on Friday night.
Storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas' Magens Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 8, 2017.Caribbean Buzz Helicopters / AP

Marriott is facing criticism after nearly three dozen tourists stranded on the Irma-ravaged Caribbean island of St. Thomas were told they could not board a rescue ferry that the hotel company had chartered for guests.

Cody Howard, a professional storm chaser, said he and a group of roughly 35 tourists were stunned when the ferry, which appeared to have hundreds of available seats, left them on the dock on Friday night.

"The sense that I got from everyone there was hopelessness," said Howard, 23, who documented the experience on his Facebook page.

Howard, who shot footage of Irma bearing down on the U.S. Virgin Islands, said a man stationed at the dock said only registered Marriott guests could get on the ferry due to liability issues. The other travelers, most of whom were guests at other hotels on the island, were out of luck.

"We could take care of ourselves," said Howard, referring to his business partner. "But it was a different story for the elderly people" and young children.

In a statement, Marriott said it had secured a ferry to take about 600 of its guests from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. Tourists who were not on the manifest were not permitted to board.

"There were a number of additional people gathered at the dock who were not our guests who also expressed a desire to leave St. Thomas," the company said. "We very much wanted to assist these other travelers to Puerto Rico, however, the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization to board additional passengers who were not on the manifest. This was enforced by dock security."

Related: Hurricane Irma Survivors Describe Horror in Caribbean

It was unclear who was supervising dock security on Friday night.

The stranded passengers, though, appeared to pin the blame squarely on Marriott.

In a video uploaded to Facebook, one of the passengers, Naomi Michial Ayala, claimed "it was Marriott's decision. Marriott did not let us on this boat to get to San Juan so we can get on flights back home. Instead, we have to ride out Hurricane Jose on St. Thomas when we just went through Hurricane Irma a couple days ago.

"We don't have food or water or places to go. We are stranded."

In an interview with Forbes that Marriott included in its response to NBC News, the executive who oversaw the rescue operation from the U.S. mainland said the company "did everything we could to help" the 35 people who were not Marriott guests at its properties, "ultimately to no avail."

"The security personnel employed by the dock company would not — and we asked them repeatedly — allow them through the port gates and boarding area, because they were not on the manifest we prepared in advance, as a requirement for the boat to depart for international waters," said Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America for Marriott International.

Howard, who was ultimately rescued by a Norwegian cruise liner on Tuesday morning, said he still felt Marriott handled the harrowing situation poorly.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "We should have been taken out on that boat."