Royal Caribbean continues to search for a “Chief Meteorologist” for the cruise line weeks after parting ways with their last chief meteorologist, James Van Fleet. While the job search continues, Royal Caribbean’s “Independence of the Seas” ran into a powerful thunderstorm while departing from a Florida port last week, tossing furniture like toys at passengers running for safety.
Royal Caribbean parted ways with James Van Fleet on May 1, one month before the start of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Van Fleet joined the cruise company in January 2017 after they ran into high-profile weather-related incidents with their ships in 2016.
In February 2016, Royal Caribbean’s “Anthem of the Seas” hit a significant storm off the U.S. east coast, where guests said they feared for their lives during the 12 hours they were stuck in the storm. That storm damaged public spaces throughout the ship and forced people to take shelter in their rooms as the ship listed up to 45 degrees; four people were injured. At the time, Bill Baumgartner, Senior Vice President of Global Marine Operations with Royal Caribbean, told reporters, “If we knew that we were going to have those kinds of winds, the winds that we actually experienced with the ship, we would have have sailed into that. No. Absolutely we wouldn’t have.”
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) February 8, 2016
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) February 8, 2016
In September 2016, another storm created a scary journey for passengers on Royal Caribbean’s “Rhapsody of the Seas” in the Mediterranean Sea. Encountering rough surf and strong winds, the ship sustained minor damage after a prolonged period of heavy listing. The “Viking Crown Lounge” on deck 11 saw its windows blown-out by waves, while swimming pools on deck 9 were emptied into corridors. The ship was enroute to Corfu from Santorini off the coast of Greece.
“We have ships sailing all over the world, and they face different weather conditions every day,” announced Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean’s President and CEO, upon the hiring of Van Fleet in 2017. “You have to keep an eye on the weather systems at all times. And with more than 20 years of experience, Jim is an expert we’re excited to have on our team.”
In a statement shared by Royal Caribbean at the time of Van Fleet’s hiring, the cruise line said, “Every day, Van Fleet is tracking the position of Royal Caribbean’s ships along with the weather, while staying in touch with their captains, the company’s executives and the rest of the marine operations team. It’s a 24/7 job—but he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
However, having a Chief Meteorologist on staff didn’t mean Royal Caribbean avoided all bad weather. In August 2017, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines had stranded passengers in the Gulf of Mexico due to the impacts from Hurricane Harvey. In May of last year, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas sailed into a storm warned area east of the Jersey Shore on the U.S. East Coast, rocking the massive ship and sending waves over its lifeboats on the fifth deck. As recently as February, Royal Caribbean ships encountered tropical cyclones off the coast of Australia.
With James Van Fleet on-board, Royal Caribbean said at the time of his hiring, “With Jim’s extensive experience as a meteorologist, having him on call will be a major asset for Royal Caribbean’s captains, and most importantly for you and your cruise vacation.” However, Royal Caribbean offered no comment on his departure. We reached out to James Van Fleet via Twitter for comment and did not get a reply.
In Mid-May, Royal Caribbean Group posted a job on its website for “Chief Meteorologist” -a job posting that remains active to this day. In the posting, Royal Caribbean writes, “The position is responsible for drawing upon global resources and ongoing innovations in science, planning and presentation tools to support the business to proactively manage the impact of weather on operations, revenues and profits. This includes interaction with individual ships as well as with corporate senior executives, guests, and engagement with the media and general public. This position will primarily focus on the safety and comfort of guests and crew through active weather forecast support and operational recommendations. Will also serve as the primary liaison with weather service providers, government agencies, and academic institutions. ”
With the position still empty, one of Royal Caribbean’s ships encountered rough weather moments after deporting Port Canaveral in Florida. The “Independence of the Seas” was starting its journey to the cruise-line-owned island CocoCay in the Bahamas when it encountered a squall. Royal Caribbean released a brief statement to reporters saying, “there were no serious injuries to our guests or crew,” however, videos shared on social media portray a violent episode where people were falling down and being hit by debris or by each other during the storm.
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) June 25, 2023
TikTok user “lucassparrow1110” wrote online that there were no announcements about the storm on-board before or after it happened. “No announcement from the captain before or after, also no mention of what happened. Just pretend like it didn’t happen I guess,” he wrote.
While Royal Caribbean has had run-ins with the weather, it isn’t the only cruise line to do so. Less than a month ago, the Carnival Sunshine sailed into an east coast storm, creating extensive damage on board while injuring several passengers and crew. A Viking Cruise line encountered a rogue wave in December, which damaged the ship, injured 4 passengers, and killed one passenger. And last June, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship crashed into an iceberg, damaging the ship and forcing the balance of the cruise to cancel.