Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Modern cruise ships are enormous vessels, but they’re vulnerable to protesters in the water as they arrive and depart ports.

The latest example comes from Haiti, where Royal Caribbean International canceled port calls at its Labadee destination when protesters in small boats swarmed its ship.

The boats were flimsy, small launches with low freeboards. Royal’s Freedom of the Seas dwarfed them. But the small boats “won” when Royal kept passengers from going ashore and eventually put out to sea.

“Although this protest was peaceful in nature, it was clear that if the protest continued there would be a significant impact on our guests’ ability to enjoy Labadee,” a statement from Royal said.

What the protest was about is a bit murky. Royal noted that national elections were scheduled for Jan.24.  One protester carried a sign saying “USA Away!” according to a passenger account.

It isn’t the first time protesters have blocked cruise ships from docking. In fact, the protesters don’t even need boats.

In 2011, protesters paddling surfboards prevented the 36-passenger Safari Explorer from docking in Molokai, Hawaii. They were seeking greater input in decisions involving tourism to the island.

And in 2013, about 50 swimmers in wetsuits dove into the Guidecca Canal in Venice on a day that 12 cruise calls were scheduled to protest the increasing size of cruise ships. The swim delayed departures for some of the ships.

So far such protests have been few and far between. And cruise lines hold the trump card: They can simply substitute another port or a day at sea until protests die down.

But in the meantime, passengers expecting to dock at a particular destination are left hanging.  It isn’t ideal for anyone.

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