Debarked early due to odor on board

This item appears on page 32 of the August 2009 issue.

My husband, Roger, and I boarded the MS Marshal Koshevoy in Nessebar, Bulgaria, for a Black Sea/Dnieper River cruise-tour to Kiev, Ukraine, Sept. 15-27, 2008, operated by Orthodox Cruise Company (Ala­byana, 5, 125057, Moscow, Russia). We booked the tour through Russian Empire Cruises.

Upon boarding the ship, we smelled sewer gas. The odor was quite strong in the bathroom of our cabin, an upper-deck stateroom on the third of four decks. The ship was scheduled to depart at 22:00 but did not due to weather.

On the 16th, we went to the reception desk and complained about the odor. We were told that the ship was old, built in 1988, and nothing could be done. When I stated that sewer gas is a health and fire danger, the reply was, “I’m sorry.”

That day, the ship departed for Odessa, Ukraine, at about 19:00 in rough seas. During the night, the porta-potty smell became so intense, I covered the shower drain and sink openings with wet towels.

When we used the bathroom, our eyes and throats would burn. I would cover my mouth and nose with tissue when using the toilet, and when hand-washing underwear in the sink I would stand outside the door and reach in. Others on the ship complained of headaches.

The ship arrived in Odessa at about 19:00 on Sept. 17.

The next day, I covered the shower drain with a plastic bag and weighted it. I used a sink stopper with a wet towel on the sink opening and used packing tape to seal the sink overflow drain. We then could use the bathroom without covering our noses and mouths. The drain tape bulged from the gas. We opened the drain only to wash our hands or to shower.

At breakfast on Sept. 19 we told our tablemates that we were planning to leave. One woman replied, “We will tough it out.” Eight nights of the cruise remained.

We left the ship at 9:30 and took a bus to Kiev and a cab to the airport hotel. We flew home the next day.

When we told Irina Grafman of Russian Empire Cruises about our situation, she was very upset. (We had previously booked an August 2005 St. Petersburg-Moscow trip through Irina when she was a part of Peter the Great Cruises — a wonderful trip [July ’06, pg. 68]. That was aboard the MS Shashkov, which, ironically, also was operated by Orthodox Cruise Company.)

For the two of us, and excluding airfare, the cruise cost $4,505 plus $190 in port charges, $150 in fuel surcharges and $200 for airport-hotel and ship-airport transfers. We booked our own air, Atlanta-Istanbul and Kiev-Atlanta, on Delta for a total of $2,460.

The total of $5,045 included two nights in Istanbul and 12 nights on the ship. We left after four nights, on the second morning we were in Odessa.

The cost of our independent adventure from Odessa to Kiev, with no language skills, was $225 — cab to the bus station, bus from Odessa to Kiev, cab to the airport hotel and a night at the hotel. The bus ride was very interesting; we saw crops of sunflowers and pumpkins, and the local people were very helpful.

Since Roger is retired Delta, we were able to fly home space available at no additional charge.

After arriving home, I Googled “sewer gas effects.” I knew our irritated eyes and throats were caused by the sewer gas, and the information I found explained the headaches of fellow passengers.

MOLLIE DRAKE, Gainesville, GA

ITN mailed a copy of the above letter to Russian Empire Cruises (6910 Ave. U, Ste. 4L, Brooklyn, NY 11234) and also e-mailed Orthodox Cruise Company (

Irina Grafman replied, “Mr. Drake acknowledges that the unforseeable problems encountered were not the fault of Russian Empire Cruises and, in fact, they had been very pleased with our services up until this time… (Please allow us) sufficient time to secure further information from the Ukrainian cruise line and the ship’s captain in response to the problems encountered. Please note the comfort of our clients is our number-one priority. We take all customer comments seriously.”

Following is the reply from Orthodox Cruise Company, received by Russian Empire Cruises after several months.

First of all, we want to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Drake for the inconveniences on their cruise on the M/S Koshevoi. Based on this claim, Orthodox Cruise Company investigated the situation, with the participation of the Ukrainian ship company Dnepriya, owner of the ship; the captain, Mr. Y. Klochokva; the cruise director, Mrs. L. Bubnova, and members of the crew.

Unfortunately, we have to reconfirm that due to force majeure circumstances (a severe storm in the Black Sea), the sanitation system aboard the ship was broken and there was a smell in the passengers’ cabins.

In spite of all their efforts, the crew managed to repair the system only several days after the ship left Bulgaria. Every day the crew members cleaned the toilets and ventilated all the cabins, but these actions were not always effective.

The sanitation inspectors in Bulgaria and Ukraine allowed the ship to sail. There was no hazard to the health of passengers or crew members. On arrival in Odessa, all necessary equipment was changed and the smell disappeared. We did not receive any complaints from the passengers afterward.

As a result of the investigation, the chief mechanic of the ship was fined for actions that may have contributed to the problem and the inability to remedy it quickly.

On behalf of Orthodox Cruise Company, we apologize once again for the inconveniences.