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On May 26, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. Bahamas time (20:30 UTC), the ship encountered adverse weather conditions while returning from Half Moon Cay to Charleston, South Carolina. By 7 p.m. (23:00), the tempest had developed strong gusts (reaching speeds of 80 mph/ 130 kph) and choppy seas, pounding the hull and superstructure relentlessly.
Although only minor injuries were reported among passengers and crew, the ship sustained exterior (outer decks) and interior damage, including flooded passenger staterooms and public hallways, leaking ceilings, damaged furniture, broken glassware/dishes/bottles, and damages in the Lobby (broken chandelier) and Fun Shops (overturned displays and racks, spilt and damaged merchandise). The crew areas on lower decks (0 to 4) sustained the most damage from the inundation (crew cabins and corridors), while the Crew Bar Lounge’s walls and ceilings were devastated.
By 20:00 (midnight), all public areas had been sealed off and evacuated. Prior to midnight (4 am UTC), Carnival Sunshine reportedly had a cruising speed of 11 knots (13 mph / 20 kph), which decreased to 5 knots (6 mph / 9 kph). The captain then altered course from north-west (towards Charleston) to north-east, towards the eye of the hurricane.
The mishap occurred at the conclusion of the 6-day “The Bahamas Cruise” (itinerary May 21-27, roundtrip from Charleston, South Carolina, United States), which visited Nassau (May 23), Resorts World Bimini (May 24), and Half Moon Cay (May 25) in the Bahamas.
The return to Charleston was delayed due to the severe weather, as heavy rain, powerful winds, and high seas prevented the ship from entering the harbour. The 27th of May, the next scheduled departure, was also delayed (by 9 hours).
Carnival Sunshine returned to Charleston on May 27 at 8:00 a.m. local time (12:00 UTC), but remained offshore (at the entrance of the shipping channel) for several hours before conditions permitted a safe return to port. The next voyage’s passengers began embarking at 6:30 pm SC time (22:30 UTC) and the ship departed Charleston around midnight.
As recompense for the delayed departure, each passenger received $100 in OBC/onboard credit per cabin.
The weather system that affected the cruise ship was a non-tropical low-pressure system centred approximately 240 kilometres (150 miles) south of Charleston. However, the National Hurricane Centre classified its wind patterns as cyclonic in nature.
Outside Charleston Harbour at 10 am SC time (14:00 UTC) on May 27th, wind gusts ranged between 30-35 knots (35-40 mph (55-65 kph)).