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Royal Caribbean to pick up expenses for Clearwater resident

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Published:   |   Updated: August 27, 2013 at 11:56 PM

Royal Caribbean said it will pay medical expenses not covered by the insurance of a Clearwater resident who broke his hip on a ship on Aug. 19 and took issue with treatment at a Turkish hospital, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in a release Tuesday.

The Florida Democrat said he is acting on behalf of Clearwater residents Dodge Melkonian and his wife, Jill, who were stranded at a Turkish hospital after being taken off a ship where Dodge Melkonian broke his hip.

After Nelson’s staff contacted the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Melkonian was moved from a hospital he and his wife said was in poor condition to an English-speaking hospital where they got the treatment they needed, Nelson’s office said.

“What we’ve communicated to the cruise line is that: We expect you to make them financially whole,” Nelson said in the release.

The issue of cruise line passenger rights has intensified in recent months following a series of 10 well-publicized incidents in 2012 and 2013, including the Carnival Triumph fire in February, which left passengers stranded at sea for days without power, plumbing, and adequate food sources.

After conducting Senate Commerce Committee hearings on various incidents, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent letters to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which represent 78 percent of the global cruise industry, to determine whether their safety procedures were sufficient.

Following Rockefeller’s displeasure with Carnival’s response, the senator introduced legislation last month covering a range of issues.

The bill proposes summarizing restrictive terms in cruise contracts; giving the federal government more authority to protect cruise passengers; helping passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships; making crimes on ships publicly available information; and helping crime victims who have limited access to law enforcement.

Tammy Levent, who owns Elite Travel in Palm Harbor which has booked cruises with the Melkonians for six years and was instrumental in securing help for them in Turkey , said Tuesday she was working with Nelson on improving legislation to aid travelers. “I am working with Sen. Nelson’s office to change laws, not just for cruises but for all travel including the airlines,” she said. “You just can’t leave people behind.”

A cruise line spokeswoman said in an email to the Tribune Tuesday that because of the extent of his injury, Melkonian could not have remained on the ship.

“We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital,” said Cynthia Martinez, director of global corporate communications. “Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. One of our Care Team Specialists is with them today.”

Royal Caribbean, in an undated email to Jill Melkonian Nelson’s office shared, said its focus continued to be the couple’s well being, arranging their travel home, planning for follow-up care, and easing logistical and financial concerns.

“Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren’t more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian,” said Arthur Diskin, Royal Caribbean’s vice president and global chief medical officer.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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