An elderly couple was kicked off a cruise and left stranded in South Korea because they did not have the necessary visas to enter China.
U.S. citizens William Coates, 71, and his wife had embarked excitedly on their 14-day cruise around Korea, China, and Japan, looking forward to a well-deserved relaxing vacation. But the cruise ship operator Holland America kicked the pair off the cruise only days in, according to Elliot Advocacy, the nonprofit organization that offers free advice and advocacy to consumers.
According to this organization's website, the elderly couple boarded the ship in Yokohama, Japan, and sailed towards South Korea and China. On the third day, they were informed they would be forced to disembark and fly home once they reached shore.
"One of the guest relations staff informed us that we would be put off the ship in Busan, Korea," Coates said. "Further, she told us that it was our responsibility to get ourselves home. We couldn’t believe it."
The reason the Coates were told to leave the ship was that they didn’t have the necessary visas to enter China.
Americans on cruise journeys need the right visas for all ports of entry on the voyage. And American travelers need visas to enter China, where authorities “strongly enforce penalties for entry and exit visa violations”, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Coates and his wife had forgotten to apply for visas to enter China – and the penalty was immediate deportation. The couple claim they were never instructed to apply for Chinese visas and pleaded to stay on the cruise ship, but border control did not accept their excuses. Holland America removed them from the ship in Busan (formerly Pusan) and they were left stranded.
'They left us, literally on the dock,' Coates said. "It was up to us to find our way to the airport and then pay $2,400 for additional airfare to get home." Coates also referred to the ordeal as "embarrassing and difficult" and claims they lost $US9000.
Michelle Couch-Friedman said if it was true the consultant had never mentioned a visa, the couple might have had a case for getting at least a partial refund. But according to the itinerary Holland America sent to the Coates in January, they had. They responded, pointing out that the cruise itinerary clearly states a travel visa is required for U.S. citizens to enter China. Also, a clause in the terms and conditions read: “It is the guest’s sole responsibility to obtain and have available when necessary the appropriate valid travel documents. All guests are advised to check with their travel agent or the appropriate government authority to determine the necessary documents."
In the end, Holland America refunded the couple for their unused return airfare as a gesture of goodwill but did not agree to any other refund. The company reminded customers to carefully read over their travel documents before setting off.