CBS NEWS - MONEYWATCH Marriott (MAR) is under fire for leaving more than two dozen people stranded on Hurricane Irma-ravaged St. Thomas even though the ferry it chartered had enough space to accommodate hundreds more. When the ship arrived Friday night on an emergency call at the devastated Caribbean island, it accepted only tourists who had been staying at Marriott properties.
At the time, weather forecasts were warning that St. Thomas could be in the line of fire for a second blow, this one from Hurricane Jose.
Commentators on Twitter were quick to pile on the hotel's chain's actions, with many saying the company should be ashamed of itself. Some vowed never to patronize Marriott properties as a result.
"SHAME on the @Marriott for leaving people stranded in St Thomas and not allowing them on the cruise ship in this time of tragedy!!" wrote Christine Jones.
Added another user: "@Marriott better to ask forgiveness later than permission today. Leaving people behind was wrong."
Affected travelers told the Washington Post that Marriott decided to leave the passengers at the dock because of concerns over potential liabilities.
The corporate parent of Residence Inn and Ritz Carlton hotels said it wanted to help the other affected travelers but was prevented from doing so by security officials at the St. Thomas port because those tourists weren't on its passenger manifest. Moreover, with predictions that Hurricane Jose could soon hit St. Thomas, Marriott said it couldn't afford to wait for permission to board the other people who want to leave.
"As a company, Marriott places a priority on the safety and security of our guests, but we also have a long tradition of looking out for the greater community," Marriott said in a statement. "In this case, we weren't able to help and as grateful as we are that we were able to transport our guests, we are saddened that we were not able to do the same for more people."
The ferry's voyage was fraught from the start.
In an interview with Forbes, Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America for Marriott International, said it wasn't clear that the Coast Guard would let the ship embark, and once it got under way, the company wasn't sure it would be allowed to dock in St. Thomas.
A spokesperson for Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp didn't respond to a request to comment.
Nearly 5,000 American Service members have been deployed to the Virgin Islands to assist with the recovery from Irma. Police on St. Thomas have made some arrests for curfew violations but haven't received reports of "serious crimes" after the storm, according to U.S. Virgin Islands Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. He denied reports on social media about looting and stolen firearms on neighboring St. John.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott said it continues to support the recovery efforts in the Virgin Islands.