Royal Caribbean tells couple left in Turkey they will cover medical bills, but is it enough?

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - A local couple who was stranded in Turkey by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line after the husband broke his hip is finally hearing some good news. But their travel agent says there's a catch.

The couple received a letter from the head of Royal Caribbean's medical department that promises  "to pay any medical bills not covered by insurance" and it even acknowledges the cruise line could have done a better job.

In the letter, the head doctor says, "I regret that we weren't more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties."

That news offers some relief to the travel agent who has been committed in helping Dodge and Jill Melkonian.

"It's also pretty much apologizing for how they have been treated and how they were not aware of the help that they needed," said Tammy Levent with Elite Travel.

Levent, along with Judy Sontag, have been the couple's travel agent for years. Both women have been working tirelessly for the couple.

Levent said the letter is a major step after more than a week of little communication with the cruise line.

89-year-old Dodge broke his hip last week and the cruise line left the couple in Bartin,Turkey, in what they described a sub-par hospital where no one spoke English.

Levent and Sontag contacted an English-speaking tour guide they have used in the past, Okan Kutla. 

Kulta managed to help the couple get to a hospital in Istanbul and even donated blood for Dodge's surgery.

"I have tried to get something from the cruise line for nine days and finally, this is huge, it's a big difference, it puts in writing they will take responsibility," said Levent.

But Levent said it may not be enough; the letter comes with conditions.

The cruise line wants the couple to submit medical claims to their own insurance company. They are offering to help with the paperwork.

The letter also urges the couple to use Medicare once they return back to the U.S.

In an e-mail, Jill told ABC ACTION NEWS they thought the coverage they bought through the cruise should cover their expenses.

"We are still getting confusing messages from RCCL," Jill wrote.

"I feel that it would be such a good gesture for them to just use their own insurance to pay the bill with no caveats, so we could all move forward. I would not even think this way if the first number of days of this ordeal had not occurred the way it did."

They can't help but not trust the cruise line's words, but Tammy said this letter will help hold Royal Caribbean accountable.

They also have a political heavyweight on their side, after ACTION NEWS brought the couple's plight to the attention of US Senator Bill Nelson.

"Thanks to you guys we got this out there to help this couple," said Levent.

The cruise line said it is working on getting the Melkonians home.

ACTION NEWS reached out to Royal Caribbean countless times throughout this ordeal. They finally responded Tuesday.

Read their full statement below.


Here is our statement.  We will not be providing any additional information other than what is below:

We have been working closely with Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian since Mr. Melkonian fell while onboard our ship. Unfortunately, because of the extent of his injury, Mr. Melkonian could not remain on the ship. 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. One of our Care Team Specialists is with them today. Our focus continues to be on Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian's well-being and we continue to work closely with them to provide the assistance they need.  The health and safety of all our guests is always our top priority. We will continue to do what we can to assist Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Cynthia Martinez
Director, Global Corporate Communications


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