Several tourists on the island of Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, alleged that they were left stranded, before Hurricane Jose, when a rescue ferry evacuating guests of the Marriott hotel on the island turned away non-guests.
An angry tourist, Naomi Michial Ayala, took to Facebook to say that Marriott Hotels refused to let more than 30 people onto the boat that was leaving the island to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico, even though the boat had open seats and the boat had said yes to taking non-guests.
Ayala also posted a video of the ferry docked near the hotel with the pier lights turned off and said: “It was Marriott’s decision—Marriott did not let us on this boat to get to San Juan to 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 of days ago. We do not have food or water or places to go. We are stranded here.”
According to FOX19, Ohioan Staci Terry, her husband and six others had contacted the Coast Guard in Puerto Rico. Terry said a lieutenant told her a boat would be coming to the Marriott near the hotel they were staying in. "[The lieutenant] told us it was kind of a first-come first-serve. Never mentioned that it was for Marriott guests only," Terry said.
She added: "Once we got to the docks and learned that it was for, Marriott guests only, they told us that we could get in a different line and wait — so we got the impression that we would, if there was room, they would let us on.”
Another tourist, Cody Howard shared the same experience on Facebook and said: “ Marriott has just left us and 35 people on the dock in St.Thomas, they had 200 seats still on board but since we didn't have a Marriott reservation, we weren't allowed on the boat .”
Both Howard and Ayala in their posts alleged that the when the people in-charge on the boat had called the CEO of Marriott, the reply was that “he did not want to take the liability.”
Ayala eventually found safe passage on a private evacuation boat to Puerto Rico, reported the Mirror.
In a statement to FOX19, Marriott said the team on-the-ground did not have the authorization to board additional passengers.
"On Friday, Marriott was able to secure a ferry to transport about 600 of our guests from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. These were guests who had to stay behind after the airport closed in advance of Hurricane Irma. The ferry departed St. Thomas Friday, September 8, with the Marriott guests on 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. 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.
With Hurricane Jose on a path to St. Thomas, the ferry had a tight window to pick up passengers and safely depart.
As a company, Marriott places a priority on the safety and security of our guests, but we also have a long tradition of looking out for the greater community. In this case, we weren’t able to help and as grateful as we are that we were able to transport our guests, we are saddened that we were not able to do the same for more people. We continue to work with local authorities in St. Thomas to help support the relief efforts there."
Marriott Hotel did not respond to International Business Times' request for a direct comment on the incident at the time of publishing this article.