Royal Caribbean International has denied responsibility for leaving 145 passengers stranded in Puerto Rico as a ship left early to avoid Hurricane Irene.

The passengers who had flown to the island missed their cruise when Serenade of the Seas left the port of San Juan three hours earlier than scheduled.

The cruise line said port officials began to limit harbour traffic at 12:30 pm on Sunday, forcing the ship to leave three hours early. That evening the storm hit the island, affecting power to 800,000 homes.

Fifteen of those left behind had bought airline tickets through the company and were given hotel accommodation for two nights and flown to Aruba on Tuesday to join the seven-night cruise. The remaining 130 had to cope for themselves without assistance from the company.

A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman told US media: “Independent guests were advised of hotel availability in the area, but the expense was on them given that it was a weather-related event.

“There was no way to notify our guests of this change in departure time. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused our guests, but this decision was made by the Port of San Juan to ensure the safe transit of all guests and crew through the port.”

One passenger, Nicole Washington of Baltimore, told a Miami TV station that when she and her family arrived at the dock on Sunday around 5:30pm, the gates were locked and the ship had left.

“In the time before my cruise, they were contacting me and e-mailing me about things,” she said. “I can’t believe this big, billion dollar company couldn’t have contacted me to tell me the ship was leaving early. They had my phone number.”

More than a dozen ships have been forced to alter Caribbean itineraries this week due to Hurricane Irene which is now heading north towards the east coast of the US.

A further 300 cruise guests were left behind at the port as they had not yet boarded the 2,758-passenger Carnival Victory, which was ordered to leave at 6pm instead of 10pm. Carnival Cruise Lines reportedly “tried to contact all guests who didn’t make the ship and was successful in reaching most of them”.