Earlier this week, several cruise lines sent ships to rescue people stranded on Caribbean islands after Hurricane Irma ravaged the area. Hotel mega-chain Marriott attempted to undertake a similar rescue mission to St. Thomas, but that effort has come under fire, after some stranded tourists claim they were denied boarding simply because they weren’t guests of the hotel.
ABC News reports that about 30 people were denied boarding on a U.S. Coast Guard boat chartered by Marriott for the purpose of picking up guests stranded on St. Thomas.
The guests were unable to leave the island before Irma’s arrival because the island’s airport had closed.
With the island suffering significant damage during the storm, the hotel decided to take matters into its own hands and pick up the guests themselves.
Except, not everyone was welcome. About three dozen tourists were left behind again, when security denied them boarding because their name was not on Marriott’s guest manifest.
One stranded tourist shared a video on Facebook, showing the boat — which they claim had hundreds of empty seats — pull away from St. Thomas.
“We just felt hopeless,” one stranded tourist tells The Washington Post. “We didn’t need a whole lot. 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.”
To make matters worse, those left waiting on St. Thomas’ dock were facing another brewing storm: Hurricane Jose was thought at the time to be approaching the island, exasperating the already desperate situation. Hurricane Jose eventually changed course, sparing the island.
Marriott defended its actions, claiming that tit did not have authorization to take passengers who weren’t staying at the hotel.
The company said that while it wanted to help the other tourists stranded on the island, that wasn’t an option.
“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 who were not on the manifest. This was enforced by dock security,” the company told ABC in a statement.
The boat also couldn’t wait at the dock to receive authorization, the company says, noting that with Hurricane Jose making its way toward the island, Marriott was told to leave the port by nightfall.
“We knew that it was in our best interests and in the best interests of our guests to get that ship out of there that night,” Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America region for Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International, told the Post.