An early morning collision between a vessel and ferry that killed one person and seriously injured another closed PortMiami for 11 hours Sunday, including disrupting three cruise ships' arrivals and departures involving 31,000 passengers.
The Norwegian Escape, Carnival Celebration and MSC Seascape were scheduled for Sunday turnarounds, with guests disembarking and new guests set to board a few hours later. Instead of arriving at 7 a.m., the ships came into the port around 4:30 p.m. And the ships with a new passengers departed close to midnight instead of around 5 p.m.
A vessel approximately 30 feet long crashed into the Fisher Island Ferry, just east of Pilot House Station at Dodge Island, before 3:40 a.m. Sunday.
During an investigation and removal of the vessel, the cruise ships were kept in a holding pattern with passengers biding their time, including some frantically trying to rearrange their flights.
Norwegian Escape and MSC Seascape were wrapping up seven-day cruises and Carnival Celebration for eight days, all in the Caribbean.
The ships finally lined up single file for entry into the north channel. Then the thousands had to go through the disembarkation process. And the crew members had to finish preparing staterooms and public areas for new guests.
Susan Green, of West Palm Beach, was among thousands on the Norwegian Escape.
"They're feeding everybody," she said. "We're chilling, wondering what is going on. People are trying to rebook air flights."
Greg Chin, a spokesman for Miami International Airport, told the Sun Sentinel the airport notified domestic airlines about the situation at the port, and they are waiving rebooking fees for cruise passengers affected by the situation at the port.
Smith said "we can see Miami from here" and the captain said it will take about two hours to arrive in the port when they get an all-clear.
"It just went on hour after hour so we as passengers had no idea if we were getting off in an hour, 30 minutes, 5 hours, in a day," Smith said. "We had no idea."
Smith told Scripps News West Palm Beach that ship began moving around 2:30 p.m.
Hours later she arrived in the port, went through disembarkation, retrieved her car and drove home.
"I am definitely happy to be home, in my own bed, but I could say it could’ve been a lot worse for us, but I’m glad to be home," she told Scripps News West Palm Beach. "At the end of the day it was an extra 11 hours of not knowing."
At the other end of the cruise experience, incoming passengers were told not to go to the terminal.
"We have sent an email to all of the guests waiting to get on the ship," John Heald, Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador, posted on Facebook. "And ask respectfully for nobody to come to the terminal building so if you’re reading this and you didn’t receive it please don’t come until we ask you to do so otherwise.
"We have credit of $20 to everybody’s sail and sign account so that they can have lunch somewhere in Miami."
Nevertheless, the terminal was packed with arriving guests and their luggage.
One of those was Sarah Cullen, who had already experienced a six-hour flight delay into South Florida but was looking forward to having a leisurely lunch on the ship."I was starting to wonder if this is a sign I should turn around and go home," she told Nespral.
Ultimately, she boarded.
The cruise lines, to speed up the time between trips, asked guests to vacate their staterooms for the housekeeping staff to turn over the rooms for the next cruise. But some were seen watching from balconies as the ships arrived in the port.
The Coast Guard posted on Twitter around 2:30 p.m. "crews have successfully recovered the sunken vessel & removed the obstruction in the North channel," which services cruise ships. About 1 1/2 hours earlier the south channel reopened to other ships, including cargo.
#Update 6: Crews have successfully recovered the sunken vessel & removed the obstruction in the North channel. @USCG Captain of the Port has authorized a reopening of @PortMiami to all vessel traffic. @MyFWC @MiamiDadeCounty @MiamiDadeFire @MiamiDadePD @CityofMiamiFire @MiamiPD— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) June 25, 2023
The Coast Guard posted on Twitter that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting an investigation and salvage efforts.
The vessel hit the ferry, which takes residents back and forth to Fisher Island, a Miami Fire-Rescue spokesperson told WTVJ.
"When we arrived on the scene, we found one patient that the Coast Guard had recovered from the water," Lt. Pete Sanchez said. "He was transported to the Ryder Trauma Center in stable condition. En route to the hospital, the patient did mention to us that he was going — he began asking for his friend. So, at that point, we were notified that there was actually a second occupant in the boat."
The Miami Dive Team was dispatched to perform a search and rescue operation. The search included a helicopter, boats and divers.
"We found the other victim underwater after about a five-minutes search," Sanchez told WTVJ. "Unfortunately, that victim was deceased on the scene, and now, FWC will be handling the investigation."
This story was originally published by Allen Cone at Scripps News West Palm Beach.