Horror on the High Seas: Cruise Lines Navigate Rough Waters

From sea to sea, cruise ship mishaps have made plenty of headlines.

Dec. 13, 2010— -- It's been rough sailing for the cruise industry in recent weeks as high-profile problems have dominated the headlines.

From the broken-down Carnival Splendor in the Pacific to the battered Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean to the wind-whipped Carnival Inspiration in the Caribbean, the bad stories span from sea to sea, causing frustration for passengers and fear for cruise executives.

"Cruise lines are aware that this could be a little problem for them, and they are looking at maybe finding incentives for people to book cruises," said Chris Elliott, a columnist with National Geographic Traveler.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

The 2,500 passengers aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas are still cruising after their ship was rocked by rough water over the weekend in what the line calls a "serious incident." En route to Egypt, the ship swayed from side to side several times on Sunday morning, as far as 15 degrees in either direction.

The rocking knocked around some passengers. The movement caused mostly minor injuries like bumps and bruises, though two passengers suffered broken bones.

It also did cosmetic damage to the ship, including broken glass and upended furniture. According to passengers who posted their photos and experiences on CruiseCritic.com, Christmas trees were overturned and a Grand piano smashed into a wall.

"It was a little scary on Saturday because the boat was rocking down and rocking back up, but you never knew how deep it was going to go," passenger Jennifer Lovelace, who's onboard with her husband for their honeymoon, told ABC affiliate WTNH-TV by phone. "And then that Saturday night is when the boat almost went on its side."

Royal Caribbean has given passengers credit to spend onboard and a full refund for their cruise fare. The ship will dock in Malta tomorrow morning, the first time passengers have been on land since the incident.

Carnival Inspiration Delayed from Reaching Port

Passengers aboard the Carnival Inspiration are also expected to get back to port tomorrow morning, a day late from their cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. The ship was scheduled to return to Tampa, Fla. today, but strong winds and poor weather at sea have caused problems. Guests who booked their airfare through the cruise line will be rebooked, but everyone else will be left out to sea, so to speak.

These most recent incidents are part of a larger wave of bad news, including the dramatic video a ship in high seas off the Antarctic coast.

The waves of bad news keep for the cruise lines is due to a combination of factors, experts say -- poor winter weather, simple coincidence and the increased availability of cell phone cameras and laptops that spread dramatic pictures quickly.

"People ran to their computers to report this," said John Deiner, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com. "They didn't wait until they got into port, they wanted people to know right away."

But regardless of the cause, the scary headlines aren't helping business.

"This couldn't come at a worse time because it's wave period," said Elliott. "Wave period is the time of year when most cruises are booked. So just as everyone is thinking about booking a cruise, along come these incidents [that] maybe give people a reason not to book a cruise."

Too Early to Tell If Bad News Hurts Business

But it's too early to tell whether the bad press will curb bookings. Elliott says the effect won't be clear until spring of next year.

The cruise business has been buffeted by bad news before. For the past several years, there have been periodic news reports about outbreaks of norovirus on board ships, which have occasionally sickened hundreds of passengers and crew members.

Cruise lines have taken steps to combat the problem, like making alcohol-based hand sanitizer as common onboard as sunscreen. Dispensers are often scattered throughout a ship's decks.

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