(2:30 p.m. EST) -- Are cruise lines getting tough when it comes to muster drills? A passenger on Holland America's Westerdam was made to debark Sunday in Port Everglades for "non-compliance" during the mandatory drill, in which passengers are told what to do in the case of emergency (including how to don a life jacket).
The drill took place on Sunday afternoon just before Westerdam departed on a weeklong jazz-themed charter cruise. Member Blazeconsulting posted the news on the Cruise Critic message boards, and Holland America confirmed the debarkation. The poster stated that multiple passengers were debarked, but HAL countered that only one guest was involved.
"The drill included alarm blasts and announcements throughout the ship, including instructions that failure to participate would result in disembarkation," said the line in a statement sent to Cruise Critic. The statement did not mention if there were other circumstances surrounding the debarkation, and HAL has declined to comment further on what "non-compliance" means.
Some Cruise Critic readers have recently pointed to a new pre-sail warning. "It was announced that anyone who refused to attend would not be allowed to sail," posted member Himself (currently on Nieuw Amsterdam) on the boards. Other Holland America veterans said the line is now taking roll call at the muster stations, a policy that it had discontinued. In an e-mail, Holland America spokeswoman Sally Andrews confirmed that HAL's muster drills now include roll calls as well as "passenger announcements [that] refer to the fact that failure to participate may result in disembarkation, as was the case with this incident."
The policy changes come in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, which has sparked vigorous debate about cruise line safety protocols.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a U.N. agency tasked with improving maritime safety, requires that a passenger ship must hold a muster drill within 24 hours of embarkation. The vast majority of cruise lines, however, fulfill the stipulation before departure. (For more on the drill, see our story on the mystery of the muster.)
But while the IMO states that musters are a must, enforcement may be another story. "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 they do to the passengers who don't show up is a company policy at that point."
In an interview with Frommers , Ben Lyons, former safety and chief officer on Cunard's Queen Mary 2, and current chief officer for Lindblad, said the way individual lines take attendance and follow up on those who aren't there varies.
"Not all lines use an emergency system that relies upon an actual roll call; instead, they have crew search all areas of the ship," Lyons told the publication. "If nobody is found, then everyone must be in the muster stations. In that scenario, a roll call will not be taken. (In a real situation, however, it is likely their method of searching would also be supplemented by an actual roll call.) Some lines that take roll calls and identify those who skipped the drill will hold a special meeting or drill the next morning; other cruise lines simply ignore the fact that you didn't attend."
According to HAL's cruise contract, it appears that the line has always had the right to debark muster missers. Section 6 of the General Provisions, "Authority to Remove Passengers," states that passengers can "be denied transportation either before or during the cruise ... in situations where, [for example] you fail to abide by the rules or orders of the Master or other ship's officers." Attendance at the muster drill comes as an order of the master.
Cruise Critic reached out to a number of lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines, to see how or if their muster policies have changed and how they enforce non-compliance. Only Harrison Liu -- speaking on a behalf of sister lines Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises -- responded.
"Our three core brands haven't changed our muster drill policy and enforcement," Liu told Cruise Critic in an e-mail. "We wouldn't and haven't disembarked any guest as a result of missing the muster drill. Our staff and crew are empowered to engage our guests, convince them of the importance of this safety measure, and ensure compliance."
We've also left messages by phone and e-mail with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruising's largest trade organization, to determine whether the industry's approach to muster drills is changing.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor