MIAMI, Florida–Another tragic incident during a shore excursion on a United States-based cruise ship company has again demonstrated the safety risks involved when booking a shore excursion, even if booked through the cruise ship company, and even if the cruise ship company had represented that the tour was safe and operated by a reputable company. In this recent case, a bus transporting 31 Celebrity Solstice cruise ship passengers, who were a part of the “Farm Wine and Cheese – Sheep Farm and Dog Show” shore excursion, which involved visiting New Zealand farm life and tasting its produce, plunged down a steep bank after colliding with another car on the Akaroa Peninsula. According to reports, the crash left eight people injured, some very severely, who were all taken to the hospital. Of the eight injured, six of them were Celebrity cruise ship passengers from the United States. The most severe injuries were two of the United States passengers who remain in the hospital, two days after the crash. The Celebrity Cruises has since resumed its 13-day trip around New Zealand, arriving in Dunedin yesterday.

akaroa-300x199We have been seeing many reported incidents involving shoreside excursions in foreign countries, where safety laws may be very different from United States safety laws, and the port excursion operators may not be as accountable as tour operators in the U.S. are, therefore not making safety the primary focus of these operators. It seems the operators want to get money from these U.S.-based cruise ship companies by making deals with them, resulting in the cruises selling these excursions, and then sharing in the ticket sales. It becomes a profitable item for both the shore excursion company and the cruise ship company.

But the question is how safe are these shoreside excursions? Most passengers believe that shore excursions are in some way operated by the cruise ship company. At the very least, most passengers rely on the cruise ship company’s expertise in the industry to have adequately investigated and vetted the company and the excursion. In fact, cruise ship giant Royal Caribbean cruise line, owner of Celebrity Cruises, has the following on their shore excursion brochure, which can be found on their website, as one of the reasons to book a shore excursion through them, giving the impression that they have only selected the safest and most reliable excursion companies:  “Discover the heart of the destinations with our knowledgeable and experienced guides. Your excursions are planned by insured partners who adhere to the highest safety standards in the industry.” However, selecting the safety and most reliable excursion companies is clearly not always the case, as we are reading more and more incidents that happened due to some type of danger that the cruise ship company knew about or should have known about if they had done a proper investigation.

MIAMI, Florida–Another passenger has been reported to have fallen overboard from a cruise ship. Unlike the latest tragedy aboard the Carnival Elation, this story ended successfully. According to news reports, a cruise ship passenger aboard Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess fell into Pacific Ocean when the ship was between Brisbane and New Caledonia at around 4 p.m. this past Friday. The ship was on an 11-day cruise from Brisbane, Australia. Once the “man overboard” announcement was made, the ship turned around in hopes of finding the woman. Life rings and a lifeboat were deployed into the water, and about 45 minutes later, the woman was located by the lifeboat and brought back aboard the ship. There are no details as to why she fell overboard and whether the ship had a man overboard system in place. It seems like either someone spotted the woman falling overboard or the ship did have some sort of system in place because of the quick turnaround time between when the woman was reported overboard and her successful rescue.

ocean-195x300With the increasing number of passengers or crew members being reported going overboard from a cruise ship, even two man overboard incidents in one week, the news of such events occurring is not as shocking as it used to be, but obviously still is alarming as ever. On Ross Klein’s website Cruise Junkie, a site that keeps track of cases involving people going overboard on cruise ships, this high number of overboard passengers and crew members is illustrated. This most recent case on the Sun Princess, along with Ross Klein’s statistics, again points to the need for the cruise lines to step up to the plate and comply with the legislation requiring man overboard systems to be installed on the cruise ships. Clearly whatever system cruises currently have in place is not enough.

On a side legal note, most of the cases we hear about where a passenger goes overboard and is never found, results in little or no recovery against cruise ship company because of a law called the Death on the High Seas Act. Most cases happen when the cruise ship is outside the territorial waters of the United States, which triggers the application of the Death on the High Seas Act. This statute unfairly eliminates any recovery for the surviving family members for their mental anguish, grief, and emotional distress, which is referred to as non-pecuniary damages. The Death on the High Seas Act limits recovery to pecuniary damages, which many times will not be substantial, allowing the cruise ship company to escape responsibility. This is a law that is archaic and needs to be changed. Holding the cruise lines accountable if there is negligence, including failure to follow laws requiring implementation of man overboard systems, provides the additional incentive to make cruise ships safer for all. Instead, making companies more responsible under our system of law has been eliminated in the cruise ship industry by applying the Death on the High Seas Act

MIAMI, Florida–This past Monday, a 24-year-old male reportedly fell overboard from the 11th deck of the Carnival Elation cruise ship. The cruise ship returned to its port in Jacksonville yesterday without the missing passenger. It used to be shocking for people to hear that a passenger was reported to have fallen overboard on a cruise ship. Then came the case of George Smith, a man who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. George Smith was a young handsome man who had just married his young beautiful wife, Jennifer Hagel, in a storybook wedding in Connecticut. They then headed off to their honeymoon on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and George Smith never returned. During the cruise he was reported missing, and after searching for him, blood was discovered on the canopy below his balcony, where it is believed he struck after falling off his  cabin’s balcony before landing in the water.

bahamascruise-300x225The case received national attention, which prompted congressional hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security. The case generated so much interest and focus that it even became the subject of books and movies. His body was never found. Most experts believe he was the victim of foul play, possibly murder. However, an FBI investigation never resulted in the prosecution of anyone for any crime. The parents spent years searching for answers, and unfortunately, many questions remain today, 10 years later.

In this recent case where a young cruise ship passenger fell  from the 11th deck of a Carnival cruise ship, the facts reported again illustrate that the cruise ship industry is not employing man overboard systems, nor monitoring their surveillance cameras, so that if a passenger does fall overboard, immediate action can be taken. According to reports, the 24-year-old passenger was last seen by his wife at around 2:45 AM, and she then reported him missing at 8:30 AM when the ship reached Nassau, Bahamas. The procedures followed by Carnival then took place, where the surveillance cameras were reviewed back in time, and it was discovered the passenger actually went overboard at 2:45 AM. The Coast Guard was notified at around 11 a.m., which is when the search began. Therefore, any search and rescue efforts took place over eight hours after the passenger went overboard!

MIAMI, Florida–This past Monday, almost 3000 passengers boarded Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas for what was expected to be a fun filled vacation, a four-night cruise plying the high seas and traveling to different ports, engaging in all types of shipboard activities and shore side activities at the exotic ports. To their surprise, the first night of their cruise was spent at the port in Cape Canaveral Florida, where they boarded the cruise ship for their vacation! Surely not what the almost 3000 passengers expected when booking this cruise to the Bahamas.

lifevest-300x200What was the reason for the cruise ship being stuck overnight in Cape Canaveral? If you read the statement from the cruise ship company, it sounds like something minor, simply the fact that the United States Coast Guard had determined that there were life jackets on board that had exhausted their life span, and needed to be replaced. Not a big deal? I do believe life vest are critical pieces of safety equipment that we want to be sure will serve the intended purpose if needed. It obviously was a big enough deal for the Coast Guard to halt the leaving of the cruise ship on its intended itinerary until the problem was fixed. Only when the life jackets arrived the next day could the ship then set sail.

One could maybe excuse certain items from not being inspected on a regular basis, and only replaced when necessary. For example, light bulbs or a sofa could probably be replaced once the bulb burns out or the couch’s material wears out, rather than on a regular basis. However, here we are talking about life vests!  One must wonder how often proper inspections are done of all of the critical safety equipment on board the cruise ships that it gets to a point where the Coast Guard refuses to let the cruise ship sail because obviously there are ineffective life vests on board the ship.

MIAMI, Florida– We previously reported about the tragic accident that took the life of star baseball pitcher José Fernandez of the Florida Marlins in September. Also killed in the boating accident were the two men on the boat with Fernandez, Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero. Macias was a banker, and Rivero, a sales representative at Carnival Cruise Lines. While Rivero was a friend of José Fernandez, Macias had just met Fernandez for the first time a few hours before the fatal boat accident. In our last report in October we had mentioned that the families of Macias and Rivero had hired attorneys. Over the past week, both families filed suit against Fernandez’s estate.

rock-jetty-1408334-300x225At the time of the crash, Jose Fernandez’s career was blossoming. In fact, it is reported that he was scheduled to sign a $30 million contract which would have taken place sometime shortly after the date he was killed in the boating accident that happened in Miami Beach Florida, when a high-powered boat he owned crashed into a jetty that was extended out of the government cut.

The initial reports on the accident discussed how this particular area had been involved in prior accidents because the rocky jetty protruding out of Government Cut is not easy to observe at night as there were no lights on it, and is often hidden by the water and waves. The reports discussed the failure to have provided appropriate lighting based on the dangers in the prior reported incidents. The channel for the boats to operate in actually avoids the jetty, but if someone were taking a shortcut approach, the jetty is easy to strike if you are not aware of it because it is so difficult to see. Soon after the incident, it was reported that the star baseball pitcher had actually been drinking and had cocaine in his system. This was a shock to the sports world and of course very damaging to the reputation of this star baseball pitcher.

MIAMI, Florida– Last Wednesday, a crew member who was working on board the Emerald Princess cruise ship was killed as a result of a gas explosion when the crew was re-inflating the ship’s lifeboats with a can of nitrogen. The Emerald Princess is a passenger cruise ship part of Carnival Australia and operated by Princess Cruises, that carries more than 3000 passengers and 1200 crew members on board its ship. What caused the explosion is unknown at this time. The accident caused the ship’s departure time to have been delayed about 18 hours, as WorkSafe officials investigated this tragedy on board the ship.

lifeboat-224x300Crew members are exposed to very dangerous and unsafe conditions, and unfortunately, almost every single year we hear about multiple accidents involving crew members. The gas explosion occurred while the ship was docked in Port Chalmers during a twelve-night cruise from Australia to different places in New Zealand. Our heartfelt condolences and prayers are extended to the family members of this Filipino crew member who needlessly lost his life while performing his scope of duties on the vessel.

When an explosion occurs on board a ship resulting in injury or death to a crew member, there is absolute liability on the part of the cruise ship company for the incident, because an explosion that occurs during the normal operating procedures legally makes the ship unseaworthy under the maritime law. This creates liability on the part of the cruise ship company to the injured person, or to the surviving members of the crew member who was killed. Many such lawsuits arose out of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion where many crew members were killed when an explosion occurred. This explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17 others, and led to the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. The explosion is the subject of the motion picture Deepwater Horizon that was released this past September.

MIAMI, Florida–On Sunday night a man in his 30s was found dead in Biscayne Bay, located in Miami. The man had been operating a Jet Ski. The man was found next to a very damaged Jet Ski after something had happened causing the tragic accident. Therefore, it is unknown at this time what had caused the death. It is not clear whether another WaveRunner was involved, or whether another person was involved. There will have to be determination of why this particular Jet Ski accident happened, resulting in another death of an operator of these types of personal watercrafts.

jetski-night-300x182I have reported many times that personal watercrafts, including Jet Skis, are dangerous instrumentalities, and anyone operating a Jet Ski should be experienced with the operation of the Jet Ski, and basic safety rules. In fact, Florida boating safety laws require a watercraft livery to provide specific safety instructions, ensuring the person knows how to operate a Jet Ski prior to navigating one on the waters. In this case we are not sure whether the man involved in the death had rented the equipment and what kind of experience he had in operating Jet Skis.

Jet Skis can be a lot of fun and very exciting to go fast on, riding on waves and wakes from other boats. However, there are clearly many dangers to these personal watercraft, which can be operated at very high rates of speed. It is easy to lose control of a Jet Ski when driving and difficult to stop a Jet Ski going at a high rate of speed.

I have reported in the past on the many dangers present on cruise ships such as the risk of being the victim of a sexual assault or some other type of crime. I have also reported on the potential dangers of shore excursions, which take passengers to unknown areas in different foreign countries, that present risks unknown to passengers, as well as the dangers involved in activities onboard cruises that have exploded with the addition of fancy water parks, zip lines, rock climbing walls, surfing pools, and many other activities historically developed for land based parks and recreational areas, which have created many challenges, including having the proper set up on the high seas, proper personnel with the proper training, and just plain old general safety control over these activities. Now, in recent developments, breathing can be a danger on cruise ships?

breath-192x300A recent study by a German environmental association, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), concluded that a passenger can be subjected to more toxins on a cruise ship than on land. The German association published their findings on a French documentary TV series after a journalist secretly went onboard a cruise ship and took samples of the air. After testing the air quality, they found that the concentration of harmful particles was 20 times worse than it would be in a crowded city.  According to NABU, the air quality was a result of bad fuel and filters on board the ships.

I have seen almost everything that could happen on a cruise ship but never thought the air passengers are breathing on these cruise ships could be more harmful than the air we breathe on land. I am sure we all remember how smoking used to be allowed on airplanes and no thought or concerns were given to the air passengers breathed on airplanes. After decades, it was finally discovered that not only did tobacco cause cancer, but second hand smoke was a danger to the non-smokers breathing the air as well.  Now the air on cruise ships potentially poses similar dangers as inhaling these harmful particles can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and lung diseases according to the study.

MIAMI, Florida–Sometimes we do not think about what happens if there is a serious accident or injury when a cruise ship is at sea, and the injured person requires immediate specialized medical treatment, such in the case here for a Royal Caribbean crew member. The 20-year-old crew member suffered a serious spine injury performing her regular job duties on board the Legend of the Seas ship.

helicopter-199x300Various news reports discuss how difficult the evacuation proceedings were, which indicates the seriousness of the injuries, and suggests potential paralysis as a concern. Evacuations at sea are very difficult and normally will not be performed except in the most serious situations where the injured person is suffering a potential life-threatening condition, or a condition that must be treated immediately by the appropriate specialists.

Cruise ship companies typically have on board a doctor that have some training in emergency room medicine. Historically, doctors on cruise ships have been from all over the world with questionable credentials. Many were not licensed in the United States, and many did not have a specialty with any relevancy to the type of injuries or illnesses that would typically be faced by a ship’s doctor on a cruise ship. In fact, I remember a incident where a crew member suffered heatstroke at a port, which can be treated successfully, but the ship’s doctor, who was from a foreign country and who had failed a test to become licensed in the United States on three separate occasions, completely misdiagnosed the condition. As a result, the appropriate treatment was not provided and the crew member died.

It was reported that a 45-foot fishing boat was hit by what is called a rogue wave, causing the boat to start sinking off the coast of Maine. Fortunately Coast Guard rescued the fisherman, and nobody died as a result of this incident.

wave3-300x199Rogue waves are not unknown to the maritime world. There is in fact a saying that the sea is a “harsh mistress” that can develop powerful waves and wind, and is able to cause much harm to vessels and structures. However, vessels should be prepared for this type of rough weather based on modern day equipment, which is able to provide up to date forecasts of the seas, and when conditions that the vessel plans on encountering may be rough.

Cruise ships will often times plot their voyage itineraries based on tracked weather forecasts, and make adjustments during the voyage based on up-to-date weather reports that are constantly being provided to the vessel. The wind and sea are critical to monitor in order to provide for a reasonably safe and comfortable voyage. However, captains must be trained to guard against unexpected adjustments in the weather, as well as unexpected sea conditions, which often happens due to various reasons.

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