Marriott rescue boat takes only hotel guests, leaves others stranded

The Marriott hotel chain has suffered a public relations disaster after tourists on the island of Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands, were allegedly left stranded during Hurricanes Irma and Jose, as a rescue ferry only evacuated guests of the Marriott hotel on the island turned away non-guests despite having empty seats.

Angry tourists, among them Naomi Michial Ayala of Dallas, 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 operator had agreed to take non-guests.

The ship had been chartered by the Marriott hotel chain for guests who had to stay behind because the airport had closed. There are disagreements about who exactly decided the only people who would be allowed on to the rescue ship were the registered guests of the chain's hotels and lavish resorts on St Thomas.

According to The Washington Post, the hundreds of people waiting on the dock in St Thomas on Friday night had just survived a hit from Hurricane Irma that had crippled the airport and devastated pretty much every building not made of concrete.

Supplies of food and water were dwindling. Electricity was spotty. And Hurricane Jose had not turned north yet. The people on the island feared that the second storm could boom in, bringing more misery to St Thomas.

A large ship with enough room to transport all the tourists was approaching the dock. Just in time, help had come – or so thought the tourists.

But shortly after the ship arrived, about three dozen people - tourists not staying at Marriott hotels who had also ridden out the hurricane - watched as the vessel pulled away with hundreds of empty seats.

''We just felt hopelessness,'' Cody Howard, a professional storm chaser who had been contracted to shoot weather footage on the island, told The Post.

''We're grown men,'' he said of himself and his partner. We could take care of ourselves but it was really hard to see people with kids and elderly people who don't have anywhere to stay get turned away by this boat for some people, that was the only [glimmer] of hope. After the boat left, they just felt hopeless and helpless.''

Officials on the ship said they had contacted people higher up in the company about the evacuation, Howard and other stranded passengers said. The company officials said they ''didn't want the liability,'' according to Howard.

Ayala, who posted a video of the incident on Facebook, said, ''They had 600 and something seats'' (she later revised the figure upward). ''They filled it with 300 Marriott guests and there are 35 people over here waiting and we can't get on this large boat that will hold at least 2[00] to 300 more people.

''And 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.''

Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America region for Bethesda, Md-based Marriott International, told The Washington Post that the St Thomas port manager instructed the crew that anyone not listed on the manifest could not get on the ship.

In a lengthy apologia to The Post and other publications, Marriott squarely blamed the port management for barring them from taking non-guest passengers.