Cruise ship, tossed in hurricane-force storm, forced to head home

- A cruise ship, previously heading for Florida, is headed back to New Jersey after being slammed by hurricane-force winds in the Atlantic overnight.  Video shared by passengers on social media shows high waves and even minor damage to parts of the ship.

Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas was off the coast of the Carolinas when it ran into winds equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane and waves reported to be over 30 feet. 

"At 949 p.m., we had winds of 106 knots, which is about 121 miles per hour, and that wasn't even the worst of it," Twitter user @NYR230 said, referencing the ship's onboard navigation display.

The crew ordered passengers to stay in their rooms for safety reasons.  Some tweeted video of the ship's violent rocking; others shared footage of rough seas outside.

"Still stuck in our cabins. Good thing I don't get sea sick because this is horrendous," Twitter user @LeannaPetrone wrote.

Monday morning, Royal Caribbean International released the following statement:

On Sunday, February 7, while sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, Anthem of the Seas experienced extreme wind and sea conditions, with wind speeds higher than what was forecasted.  In an abundance of caution, the Captain asked all guests to stay in their stateroom until the weather improved.  At this time there have not been any serious injuries reported.  The ship has sustained some damage to the public areas and guest staterooms, which in no way affect the sea-worthiness of the ship.

But just a few hours later, the company announced in a series of tweets that the ship would  head back to Cape Liberty, New Jersey:

#AnthemoftheSeas will turn around & sail back to Cape Liberty. This decision was made for guests' comfort due to weather forecasts. The forecast would likely have impacted #AnthemoftheSeas original itinerary.  We're also sensitive to what guests have already been through. #AnthemoftheSeas guests will receive a full refund & a future cruise certificate for 50% of the cruise fare paid. We appreciate our guests’ patience and cooperation. We know it was tough day on Sunday apologize for their discomfort. 

The National Weather Service says its Ocean Prediction Center was alerting for a strong storm four days in advance of the cruise ship's trip in the Atlantic.

Weather service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan says the forecast for the Hatteras Canyon to Cape Fear area called for storm-force winds as early as Wednesday morning, with winds for Sunday expected to be 40-55 knots (about 51-63 mph) and seas to 20 feet.

The first official warning for the area the ship was scheduled to sail through came Saturday afternoon. It included a warning for hurricane force winds, in effect through Sunday night.

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday called on the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the circumstances surrounding the cruise line's decision to send the ship into the storm.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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