Illnesses/Injuries/Bodily Assault

Steven Billing

My name is Steven Billing, and in June of this year I turned 50. This is a story of what happened to me, and my companions, on a cruise to celebrate my birthday.

My sister, Nancy Skuba; best friend, Thomas Rea; and I went on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas that left Miami June 17. After we three had dinner, Thomas returned to the stateroom and Nancy and I went to the casino. She soon returned to her own cabin, but I continued to gamble for a while. Aside from exchanging small talk with two women, I didn’t meet anyone and none of us knew anybody else on board. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, and didn’t win any large sum of money.

Around midnight, I returned to the cabin that Thomas and I shared. Thomas heard me knocking, but sleepily told me to use my key to get in.

Evidently I went somewhere else on the ship instead. I say “evidently” because what follows relies on what my friends remember; I was unconscious, or nearly so, and probably am fortunate to be alive. Around 5 a.m., ship security called Thomas, saying that I was in the medical center, having been found unconscious. Thomas and Nancy rushed there, only to find me incoherent, foaming at the mouth and screaming that I had no feeling in my arms and legs.

Around 6 a.m., a shipboard doctor, Dr. Jenny Garcia, told Thomas and Nancy that I would be sent to a hospital in Freeport, Bahamas, and that all three of us would ‘be asked’ to leave the ship. At that point, Dr. Ruben Parejo joined Dr. Garcia and said the three of us would not be allowed back on ship — although we had paid for a four-day cruise — and told us to pack our bags. He said this before even examining me!

Since Nancy had never seen me in any such condition as this, she requested that a test for drugs be administered. This was done, and my urine tested positive for amphetamines. My friends concluded that this showed I had been drugged somehow. My friends asked how we were to get home, and were told to “rent a medevac plane.” The nurse/receptionist finally said that we would be allowed to continue our trip — on condition that I got a clearance to travel from a doctor in the Bahamas as well as a brain CT scan. The three of us went to the hospital by ambulance and duly got the okay to continue the cruise. We paid more than $1000 in medical fees on the Bahamas, as well as an $834 bill from the cruise medical center.

When we three returned to the ship, we presented to Dr. Parejo the authorization to continue traveling and other documents. His response: “Who are you?” I was feeling much better by this time, and replied, “I am the one who went to Rand Memorial Hospital.” After checking the documents with the Bahamian doctor, Dr. Parejo continued to harp on how messed-up I had been in the morning, and warned me that I would be questioned and could be arrested when the ship returned to Miami. He also emphasized that the ship’s crew would alert police. The implication was clear: I was not a victim, but a suspect.

I replied that I would be only too happy to talk with the police, and noted that my luggage had been cleared by security when we boarded the ship. The doctor’s snarling response: “Make no mistake — I decide who travels, not you.” When he said he wanted to see Captain Pelle Fredericksson immediately, I replied that I wanted to be present at the meeting.

Nancy and Thomas joined us at this point, and were shocked to hear that we three could not continue the cruise and had to leave the ship immediately — even though we had fulfilled the conditions laid down for us, and had obtained all the requested documents. Apparently our following the rules didn’t matter. Fredericksson and Staff Captain Marin Vucetic were summoned, and agreed with Parejo. At one point, the doctor, in front of all of us, and in front of other waiting patients as well, blurted out my medical condition. This is, I believe, a completely illegal and unethical action, as well as a violation of privacy laws. I am pursuing separate legal remedies on this.

Finally, we were given a choice: we three would be allowed to complete the cruise for which we had paid if we all signed waivers accepting all medical responsibility for my condition and absolving Norwegian Cruise Lines of any liability for the rest of the voyage. The alternative? Be stranded on the Bahamas and find our own way home, at our own expense. We signed the waivers.

All three of us had been on cruises before, and are experienced world travelers. None of us could recall anything close to such heartless, indifferent treatment.

In total contrast was the genuine concern of the chief of security, William MacDonald. He reviewed surveillance tapes and found a period — from 9:55 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. — when I was not visible anywhere, in the casino or elsewhere. I went to the bathroom several times during this period, and of course there are no cameras in the bathrooms. It is likely that I was drugged during this period. I repeat, I do not and did not then drink alcoholic drinks, and had only a soft drink.

I was next filmed at 4:50 a.m. in the morning, on a stairwell in the company of two strangers whom I do not remember meeting and whom have not been identified. They left me there unconscious. About $450 cash was missing from my pockets, it turned out, and cash advances of which I have no memory were drawn upon my credit cards.

We three are seeking not only a refund of our cruise fees, but also compensation for our medical costs, duress, and abuse. And, of course, an apology from and reprimand for the heartless and hostile medical and administrative personnel with whom we had to contend.