Marriott sent a boat to rescue guests trapped on St. Thomas, but had to leave many other tourists stranded

Hurricane Irma and its 185-mph winds brought damage to much of the Caribbean late last week.

St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands was one of many islands to suffer significant damage from the historic storm.

“St. Thomas and St. John are pretty devastated,” Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the Virgin Islands’ delegate to Congress, told USA TODAY. The island’s only hospital was crippled, and its airport was forced to close.

On Friday, it seemed that the already-battered island might have to brace for impact from another storm, Hurricane Jose, which would eventually turn to avoid the area.

According to the Washington Post, Marriott International chartered a large boat to rescue people who had been left behind on the island. But, it turns out, only people who had been staying at one of Marriott’s properties would be allowed to board the boat, which was heading to Puerto Rico.

The rule was reportedly enforced on the dock in St. Thomas, meaning that many tourists were left behind on Friday. Eyewitnesses said they could see that many seats were available onboard.

Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America for Marriott International, told Forbes that about 35 people were left on the dock because their names did not appear on the passenger manifest, which had detailed information on each guest as required by local authorities.

Professional storm chaser Cody Howard told the Washington Post: “It was really hard to see people with kids and elderly people who don’t have anywhere to stay get turned away by this boat … For some people, that was the only [glimmer] of hope. After the boat left, they just felt hopeless and helpless.”

There are three Marriott hotels on St. Thomas: The Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove, and The Ritz-Carlton.

Marriott provided this statement to Business Insider:

On Friday, Marriott was able to secure a ferry to transport about 600 of our guests from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. These were guests who had to stay behind after the airport closed in advance of Hurricane Irma. The ferry departed St. Thomas Friday, September 8, with the Marriott guests onboard.

There were a number of additional people gathered at the dock who were not our guests who also expressed a desire to leave St. Thomas. We very much wanted to assist these other travelers to Puerto Rico, however, the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization to board additional passengers who were not on the manifest. This was enforced by dock security.

With Hurricane Jose on a path to St. Thomas, the ferry had a tight window to pick up passengers and safely depart. As a company, Marriott places a priority on the safety and security of our guests, but we also have a long tradition of looking out for the greater community. In this case, we weren’t able to help and as grateful as we are that we were able to transport our guests, we are saddened that we were not able to do the same for more people. We continue to work with local authorities in St. Thomas to help support the relief efforts there.

Three US Navy vessels were sent to provide aid to the US Virgin Islands, and at least 1,900 people had been evacuated, according to a statement released by the Pentagon on Monday. Royal Caribbean also announced Sunday that it would be sending cruise ships to rescue people on St. Thomas and St. Martin.