The events and the causes leading to the catastrophic sinking of the El Faro during Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015, continue to be the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as it begins its review of the voyage data recorder(VDR). El Faro was a United States cargo ship that sank last fall killing all 33 members on board. It has been considered the worst U.S. cargo shipping disaster in over 30 years.  The VDR, as it is referred to on ships, is a vessel’s black box investigators use for accident investigation after the fact. The VDR from El Faro was finally recovered from the ocean floor after 10 months of attempting to retrieve it.

According to reports, about 26 hours of information was able to be recovered from El Faro’s voyage data recorder. The VDR is going to provide very critical information, including the following: a discussion about the ship losing propulsion, a discussion between the crew and the master, Captain Michael Davidson, pertaining to the flooding, a discussion between the master and shoreside personal pertaining to the critical situation at hand, and the captain ordering the crew to abandon the ship.

The actual voice recordings are not made available to the public during the investigation stage. The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that a complete review of the VDR will take quite some time because it is very difficult to hear everything with all the noise taken place during the times leading up to the actual sinking, and continuing through until power was lost.

lifeguardIn yet another incident involving a passenger emergency in a swimming pool on board a cruise ship, it has been reported that a 72-year-old lady had to be rescued by bystanders (not a trained lifeguard or other cruise line staff) when she appeared in distress while in a swimming pool on board  Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas.  The Anthem of the Seas may sound familiar when discussing the need for lifeguards, as this is the second major swimming pool emergency this year involving this ship alone! Just last month, an eight year old boy died after nearly drowning in a pool also on board the Anthem of the Seas.

My firm has repeatedly urged that there be requirements for lifeguards onboard cruise ships, where there are many swimming attractions present.  With the thousands of passengers running around all the time, including children, there are many opportunities for a brief moment of distraction, and for a disaster to occur.  A trained lifeguard is an expert at detecting a problem before it occurs, and of course an expert in responding to an incident if it is not prevented, as a timely response to any type of incident involving an individual in distress in a swimming pool needs immediate professional attention.

Cruise ship companies, including Royal Caribbean, have resisted placing lifeguards on their cruise ships, probably because of the expense.  Of course having lifeguards are more expensive and require cabin space, meaning less cabins to sell to passengers.  Again, profits seem to rule the day in the cruise ship industry.  For many years it has been urged to place stricter regulations on the cruise ship industry, and there has been some progress, but not enough.

fishingboatIn an amazing story, it has been reported that a passenger from Shangai, who fell overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise from Japan to China, has lived to tell the tale. Last Wednesday, August 10th, the 32-year-old woman fell overboard when she leaned too far over a guard railing, falling four decks into the water. This is equivalent to about seven stories. Normally, the fall alone is enough to kill someone. Here is the first miracle; she survived the fall without any injury.

Once overboard, the chances of survival are also very slim, unless the cruise line detects the passenger going overboard promptly. In this case the cruise line did not detect that a passenger had gone overboard, so there were no immediate rescue efforts. Here is the second miracle; she survived 38 hours drifting at sea.

How did this 32-year-old female passenger survive? She reports that she stayed above the ocean water, and swam away from any large vessels she saw, because she was smart enough to know that she could be overcome by the wakes, or sucked into the propellers.  Amazingly, she survived for 38 hours before she was rescued by a fishing boat Friday morning.

sharkIn June of 2015, Elke Specker paid for a dive trip off the coast of California, where the dive boat drove her to, and while she was diving in the water to observe the sharks, she claims she was bitten by a mako shark. She sued the dive instructor, and the dive company, alleging that the instructor was drunk and negligently caused the shark to come directly to the diver, which then bit her. The dive boat company denied that the instructor was drunk, and even denied that the shark bit the participant.

The interesting issue was that the defendant in the lawsuit claimed in the federal court lawsuit that there was no admiralty and maritime jurisdiction over the case. A federal district court has jurisdiction over a case involving admiralty law and maritime law. If the federal judge agreed it was not a case falling within the maritime jurisdiction of the federal court, the case would have had to been refiled in a state court.

The test for whether a case satisfies the requirements for admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is a two-part test. The first is an obvious one, which is locality. If it involves navigable waters, locality will be easily satisfied. Here, the boat and the divers were in the water off the coast of California. Clearly, locality was satisfied.

lifeboatLifeboats are obviously designed to save lives, not to take lives. However, I have sadly represented numerous crew members who have been catastrophically injured or killed during a lifeboat or rescue boat safety drill, when the boat has broken from the wires lifting or lowering the boat, or there has been a failure of the mechanism used to lift and lower the boats.

The recent catastrophic incident happened on the Norwegian Breakaway, a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship. It is ironic that the name of this ship is Breakaway because the life boat broke away from its tethering and plummeted to the water. According to reports, on July 20, four male crew members were onboard a lifeboat during a routine safety drill when the boat fell into the water. The accident, which occurred  while the ship was docked in Bermuda, left all four crew members injured. One of the crew members, Diogenes Carpio, was found floating in the water with several broken bones. He passed away at the hospital shortly after. Exact details as to why this tragedy occurred are still unclear.

I have seen a problem with the mechanism on the lifeboats, including what is called the limit switch, which is supposed to stop the raising of the boat at a certain point in order to avoid stress on the wire cables. I have also seen these type of incidents occur due to lack of appropriate maintenance, including lack of proper inspections of the lifeboats and their apparatus. I know one cruise line has recognized the need for a fleet-wide change of the type of apparatus utilized to raise and lower the lifeboats or rescue boats. It is unfortunate that it takes a death or serious injury in order to get the cruise line to pay sufficient attention to such an important life-saving device.


Often times, the United States Coast Guard learns from the crew of a vessel of violations of laws by ship owners. This can result in retaliation by the ship owner/employer against the employee for “whistleblowing.” Whistleblowing is defined as the “disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrong doing.”

In my many years of being a maritime attorney, I have seen violations of waste disposal laws, violations of safety laws, violations of discrimination laws, just to name a few. Many times, a seaman working on board a vessel is afraid to report these violations to the authorities in fear of losing his or her job, or otherwise receiving a demotion or some other type of retaliation.

The whistleblower protector provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act, 46 U.S.C. §2114,  provide a remedy for a seaman who has been the victim of retaliation for whistleblowing.

A horrible jet ski accident was reported to have occurred about a mile and a half south of Bill Baggs State Park, near Key Biscayne. Two young women were riding the jet ski together on Monday afternoon. The reports indicate that the watercraft ran aground and propelled the women off the jet ski, critically injuring one of the women. The other woman was reported to have suffered some facial injuries. The seriously injured woman was flown to the trauma center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The reports indicated that she suffered head and neck injuries, and was not moving her extremities.

jet ski 2The fortunate occurrence regarding this event was that a party boat was passing by, and the experienced captain in charge of the boat, Captain Alexis Perez, came to the rescue of the women. The seriously injured woman was laying in the water, unable to move, and likely would have drowned if it was not for the prompt intervention by this captain. He was able to move the woman onto the back of the jet ski, waiting with her until Miami-Dade Fire Rescue divers arrived.

Jet ski accidents in Florida are not uncommon. They travel at very high speeds. Many times the operator has rented the jet ski and is not fully acquainted with its operation. In other words, inexperience, as well as traveling at high rates of speed, are often the causes of jet ski accidents. Sometimes the company that rents these jet skis can be legally liable for failure to warn of dangers, and failure to take appropriate measures to assure that the operator is sufficiently acquainted with the operation of the jet ski so that it can be safely operated. Sometimes the accident is a direct result of some defect in the jet ski itself that can lead to a products liability action against the manufacturer of the jet ski.

fireA fire at sea poses unique safety risks, risks passengers often do not consider before embarking on a cruise. When a fire breaks out on land, we have personnel who are highly trained in firefighting, responding with sophisticated equipment. When a fire breaks out aboard a cruise ship, we must rely on the crew members, in whatever training the cruise ship company has provided, responding with limited equipment.

Another obvious safety hazard present from a cruise ship fire is the inability to run somewhere for safety. Often times on land a quick escape is easy as there is a place to run to safety. On a cruise ship, there are limited areas where passengers can escape to, short of being evacuated off the ship. A shipboard evacuation of thousands of passengers is an enormous undertaking, which presents many safety hazards in and of itself. Most of us heard about the disaster with the Costa Concordia evacuation efforts.

Another safety issue is the fact that the crew members are often from different nationalities. During a fire, the language barriers that are present aboard cruise ships often make it difficult for the crew members  to communicate with each other, as well as the passengers, in order to safely perform a rescue effort.

cruise poolWe have previously reported about drownings on cruise ships. We believe this is a major problem that needs to be addressed. We have handled too many cruise ship drowning cases that we believe could have been prevented.

The most recent tragedy we have learned of is the near drowning of an 8-year-old boy yesterday evening while on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. According to various news outlets, the boy was found unconscious in one of the ship’s swimming pools, after at least 18 minutes without oxygen. Because additional medical attention was required, the ship altered its course and returned to its New Jersey port. Currently, the child is at Staten Island University Hospital on life support.

Maritime attorney Brett Rivkind previously spoke before the United States Congress on cruise ship safety and security. He urged Congress to closely analyze the cruise ship industry, their self-regulation, the laws that apply to them, and the laws that do not apply to them. Without strong safety legislation, passengers have to rely on the cruise ship industry itself to address many of the safety risks that are present on board these ships. Historically, we believe that this is a terrible method to assure safety for passengers, as the cruise ship companies are worried about their image and their profits. Therefore, safety often gets ignored in favor of profits.

portThree years and a billion dollars later, the world’s largest cruise ship began its inaugural season from Barcelona, Spain, which will be the ship’s homeport during its Mediterranean voyages this summer. In November, Harmony of the Seas is scheduled to reposition to its permanent homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Harmony of the Seas is a larger and more improved version of its sister-ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. At 1,188 feet long and 227,000 tons, Harmony of the Seas is actually longer than the height of Eiffel Tower.18 decks, 20 different restaurants, a 10-story water slide Royal Caribbean is calling the “tallest at sea,” and 20 other water attractions, including a water park, are just some of the new features this ship has to offer.

The ship can accommodate up to 6,780 guests in over 2,700 staterooms, which is not including approximately 2,100 workers.  This is more than the population of many cities in America such as Aspen, Colorado and Carmel, California. It makes sense Royal Caribbean is calling its newest cruise ship a “city,” which is divided into seven unique “neighborhoods.”