Alleged false imprisonment on cruise ship ‘felt like Guantánamo Bay’, woman claims

Solicitor Caroline Fanning says events on 2015 cruise an ‘attack’ on dignity and humanity

Caroline Fanning says she and her daughter were not allowed to change out of their pyjamas when being brought to the ship's medical centre. Photograph: Collins Courts

A solicitor who claims she was falsely imprisoned while on board a cruise ship has said the experience felt “like being in Guantánamo Bay”.

Caroline Fanning (49) is suing travel agent Trailfinders Ireland Limited in the High Court over events she alleges occurred while she and her 13-year-old daughter were on a package holiday on a ship controlled by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.

The cruise line operator, RCL Cruises Limited, was added as a third party by Trailfinders, which has a registered office on Dawson Street. The defendant and third party deny the allegations.

Continuing her evidence before a jury on Wednesday, Ms Fanning, of Foxrock Avenue, Dublin, said the events she experienced on board the Oasis of the Seas in August 2015 were an “attack” on her dignity and humanity.

READ MORE

The trip took a turn for the worse, she claimed, after she made a “sarcastic” comment about suicide while complaining on the phone to a receptionist about her room.

It was the middle of the night of August 8th/9th, and, feeling very seasick, she hoped she could move to a room less affected by the motion.

The receptionist informed her there were no rooms free that night and said someone could only be moved in a medical emergency, Ms Fanning said. Believing the woman was being sarcastic, Ms Fanning said she responded, sarcastically, that “there may be one tomorrow” and “there may be a suicide”.

The ship’s suicide prevention protocol was triggered and security personnel arrived at Ms Fanning’s cabin, she said.

She repeated to the security team “over and over” that her comment was not serious, but they responded with a “mantra” that the “protocol was triggered”, she claimed.

She and her daughter were brought to a room on a lower deck, she said. Cutlery and hangers were removed from the room and a female security guard was stationed outside, she said.

At about breakfast time they were twice brought to and from the ship’s medical centre in view of “hundreds” of other staring passengers, she added.

Ms Fanning said she was “stripped of my dignity” as they were not given an opportunity to change out of their pyjamas.

Although she had been told clearance by a psychiatrist would lead to the protocol being stood down, she and her daughter were not freed after the psychiatrist said he would be recommending the protocol should end.

She said she was informed that the captain had decided they would be disembarked and she was given access to a computer to book alternative accommodation.

She said she never received a refund for the €3,700 cruise holiday or the €640 for the last minute alternative accommodation, despite requests. She is a private person who did not want to be sitting in court, she said.

Under cross-examination from David Conlan-Smyth SC, for the defendants, Ms Fanning detailed previous bouts of sea sickness she had experienced, including while travelling by ferry to Jersey when a young adult. She said she did not feel sick when on another cruise ship in 2014.

Mr Conlan-Smyth asked if it would have made sense, given her history of sea sickness, to have brought sea sickness tablets on the 2014 cruise. She responded that she had acted on the assurances of the travel agent with whom she had booked that cruise.

In response to a query about a nautical reference, Ms Fanning said she wouldn’t say she was an expert in maritime law. Mr Conlan-Smyth asked her why her website said in 2019 that she was a specialist in maritime law.

Ms Fanning said she had to upskill herself to meet this case, but she never had any clients in this area. “I certainly had a lot of knowledge, but I was not, you know – It was just a line on a website,” she added.

Her cross-examination will continue on Thursday.

Ms Fanning is seeking damages for false imprisonment, assault and battery, defamation, and breach of duty and contract. The court heard the claim for assault and battery relates to a security guard placing a hand on her.

The defendants deny her claims.

*This article was amended on February 2nd.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times