Cruise line agrees to pay medical bills for passenger stranded in Turkey

Published Aug. 28, 2013

CLEARWATER — Under pressure from media reports and blasted by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Royal Caribbean cruise line has agreed to pay "any medical bills not covered by insurance" for an injured 89-year-old man abandoned by the cruise line in Turkey.

Dodge Melkonian of Clearwater, who bought medical insurance coverage through the cruise's travel insurance partner, On Call International, broke his hip Aug. 19, one day into a 12-day cruise. The cruise line left Melkonian and his wife, Jill, 65, at a rural Turkish hospital that had no intensive care unit.

Pain-ridden, Melkonian waited 24 hours before an insurance-issued ambulance with no doctor or nurse transferred him to an American hospital in Istanbul.

The insurance company also told the couple they would have to front the money for medical treatment.

Two travel agents with Elite Travel Management Group in Palm Harbor promoted the story to the news media and contacted several elected officials to try to help the Melkonians, their clients. They also contacted a Turkish tour guide to help the couple as a translator. He ended up donating his own blood so Melkonian could get hip surgery.

Royal Caribbean executive Dr. Arthur Diskin, who oversees global medical care for the cruise line, emailed Jill Melkonian on Tuesday and promised to pay any medical bills not covered by insurance.

"Our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve," the email stated. "Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren't more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian.

"The focus continues to be on Mr. Melkonian's and your well-being; arranging your travel home; helping you plan for follow-up care; and easing your logistical and financial concerns," the email continued.

Melkonian is feverish but is getting "lots of hugs" from nurses while he recovers from his surgery, Jill Melkonian said Monday.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or