Injured cruise passenger getting help

By Tom Stieghorst
The plight of a cruise passenger who broke his hip and found himself hospitalized in a small town in Turkey seems to be improving.

Dodge Melkonian, 89, fell in the early-morning hours on Aug. 19 onboard Azamara Journey and was later transported to a hospital in Bartin, Turkey, a small town along the Black Sea coast.

That hospital wasn't equipped to do the surgery Melkonian needed, said his travel agent, Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel Management Group of Clearwater, Fla.

Levent said she had trouble getting the travel insurer for Azamara Club Cruises to pay for transport to a larger facility in Istanbul.

"My client had to pay for everything first and then get reimbursed," Levent said.

Eventually, after calls to Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla) and the media, Levent said Azamara's parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was able to provide a guarantee that allowed the insurance company to act without first getting paid by Melkonian.

Part of the problem was that Melkonian had no role in choosing his own insurance. His policy was provided by the cruise line, not a third party.

He was on a cruise intended to compensate for one last March aboard Azamara Quest, which was cut short by a fire. As such, the cruise had no price, and so third-party insurers could not underwrite a policy.

A RCCL care team member arrived to help Melkonian on Aug. 23. Levent said she was told that RCCL only has five such employees worldwide, and the closest one to Istanbul was in Croatia at the time of the fall, helping another passenger.

Levent said RCCL has pledged $25,000 toward transportation costs to repatriate Melkonian from Turkey.

In a statement, RCCL spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said Azamara has been working closely with Melkonian and his wife since he fell.

"We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. Even though Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian had to leave the ship, we still provided assistance to them while in Turkey," she said.

"We will continue to do what we can to assist Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery," she added.

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