I recently read an interesting article discussing a major threat to cruise ship safety. The article discusses that although fires on board a cruise ship have always been considered the major risk while at sea, flooding has also become become a major risk to the safety of those on board a cruise. In fact, according to the article, flooding has actually caused the most serious incidents on cruises. Cutting-edge technology is critical, as the NAPA experts consulted in the article discuss. NAPA provides solutions for ship design and function through software installation. Its software is in fact used to design all new boats. Its goal is to improve safety in the maritime industry. NAPA’s simulations are used as the basis for safety regulations.

cruise-300x191Because fires had been historically considered the major risk while at sea, for the last 30 years there has been technology at the bridge of the cruise ship that shows the location of a fire that occurs on the ship so it can be immediately attacked. The article discusses that previously there was not any technology that identified the source of flooding if that became an issue on board the cruise, which is why flooding has become such a safety threat.   New technology developed by NAPA is now available which will identify the exact source of the flooding, enabling a much quicker response to the problem. Without this software, there was no way to identify the source of the flooding.

In the past, I have also discussed other available technology for cruise ship companies that is not being utilized, which would alert the cruise ship operator when a person falls overboard the cruise ship, another major risk while cruising. The available technology would enable a much faster search and rescue effort and therefore a better chance of saving the person. Congress was presented with evidence of this technology during Congressional Hearings addressing the numerous overboard incidents occurring on cruise ships. This problem received much closer attention by Congress following the disappearance of George Smith, who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise in 2005 aboard the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

In a very sad story, it has been reported that this past Saturday, an 8-year -old girl traveling with her family onboard the Carnival Glory cruise ship fell to her death from the atrium aboard the ship. The ship was docked at the Port of Miami at the time, as it had just arrived back from a week-long cruise.  According to reports, the young girl was waiting with her family to disembark from the fifth floor when she fell over the railings, which was about “two stories” high. Despite efforts of passengers and emergency medical personnel, the young girl died.

miami-300x225Why she fell was not reported. However, there will be video footage of the incident as there are surveillance cameras onboard the ship in this area. This will hopefully provide us with an answer as to why this happened, and of course the important question of how this tragic accident could have been prevented.

The beautiful designs on these mega cruise ships do pose safety hazards for passengers on cruises, such as the hazard or danger of falling from the landings or railings. Since this was the day of disembarkation, with thousands of passengers in a hurry to disembark, there may have been issues of crowd control, which allowed the girl to escape her parents and somehow fall over. Right now, it is purely speculation. However, an investigation must be done to determine the cause, and if there was anything that could have prevented such an incident, including an analysis of the design of the area, any warnings, and how the crowd was managed during disembarkation.

In a bizarre situation, two cruise ship passengers onboard the luxury cruise ship the Reflection, operated by Celebrity Cruises, claimed that they were robbed of their winnings they accrued over two nights in the casino aboard the ship. Their winnings were actually quite astounding, totaling $1,030,000.00. The passengers stated they took the money to their staterooms after cashing in, and approximately an hour after they left, one of the passengers alleged he was attacked and robbed by two of the ship’s officers aboard the cruise ship, and $430,000.00 in cash was taken from the passenger who had put this money in the cabin safe. The other passenger became aware that his friend had been allegedly robbed and he was able to escape his cabin with the remaining $600,000.00 in profits earned at the casino.

Port authorities were summoned as the ship docked in Piraeus, Greece, and the two ship officers were arrested. The police found $430,000.00 in their possession.

casino-300x200Was this simply a case of two crew members deciding to rob these passengers who seemed to have hit the lottery in the cruise ship casino? Not so fast! The officers allege that they were acting in accordance with instructions and procedures from the company on the grounds that they were retrieving the money because it had been acquired fraudulently. The cruise ship passengers claim the money was won in a legitimate way. However, the officers claim the money was won by these two passengers utilizing illegal techniques, thus fraudulently acquired. According to the officers, the cruise ship company was taking back the money fraudulently acquired, which was their basis for going into the cabin and taking the money from the passenger.

Many times, there are dangers associated with the shore excursions unknown to the passengers, which could include dangers created by the shore excursion company due to poor safety practices, or dangers created by the areas the shore side excursion companies take their passengers to. In a recent case in the Southern District of Florida, a passenger was injured while participating in a zip-line shore excursion in the Dominica. During the zip-line activity, the passenger was seriously injured when she crashed into padding attached to a tree.

zip-line-222x300The passenger filed suit in the Southern District of Florida and alleged the various theories of liability in an attempt to hold the cruise ship company liable, including the argument that the company was negligent in failing to keep the zip-line in a safe condition, and that the dangerous condition that caused the accident established that it was a company that did not comply with safety regulations that applied to the type of activity involved. The argument being that the cruise ship company knew or should have known of this fact, and therefore should not have sold the ticket for this particular excursion, and that the cruise line should have warned the passengers about the unsafe operation of the zip-line activity.

In the decision, the court quoted testimony from the cruise line which discussed the reasons for selecting this particular company. The cruise line stated that the company worked with other cruise ship companies, it had been in business for some time, and that they were unaware of any prior accidents similar to what happened to the passenger in this particular case. The court concluded, based on the evidence, that there was no reason for the cruise ship company to have known of any dangers associated with the zip-line operation, and that the cruise ship company reasonably relied upon the history of this company operating the zip-line activity and the lack of prior accidents. The court rejected the argument that there was a known danger that the cruise ship companies should have warned about. The court also rejected all the other theories of apparent agency, joint venture, negligent hiring and negligent retention.

It has been reported that a 3-year-old girl on board a Carnival Cruise Line cruise ship fell from a stateroom balcony to the deck below, suffering injuries which required her to be airlifted to a hospital in Tampa, Florida. The incident took place this past Friday aboard the Carnival Breeze. The ship was on its way back to Galveston, Texas, after cruising to the Bahamas.

carnival-300x186The nature and extent of the injuries were not known at the time, other than it was reported that there was severe bruising to the facial area, and a Coast Guard officer commented that he did not believe the injuries to be more serious injuries than facial fractures, although that remains to be seen. It is also unclear why the 3-year-old fell from the balcony in her stateroom.

It is concerning that only one day earlier a similar incident was reported aboard the Carnival Valor, another Carnival Cruise Line ship, Carnival Valor, where a 30-year-old passenger fell and injured her head requiring evacuation by the United States Coast Guard. The ship was just ten miles from Galveston, Texas, when she was medevacs from the ship. Details from her fall are unknown at this time.

A 20-year-old woman has been charged with two felonies and three misdemeanors related to a recreational boating accident she was involved in on July 15, when the boat she was operating ran out of control. According to news reports, Dominique Effinger lost control of the 21-foot boat after making a sharp turn at a high speed while intoxicated, resulting in ten passengers being thrown into the water of Lake Gage, Indiana. The passengers were seriously injured, including one arm amputation and one passenger skull fracture. Prosecutors have filed five charges against the driver which includes felony charges of operating a boat while intoxicated resulting in serious bodily injury and operating a boat with an alcohol concentration of at least .08 resulting in serious bodily injury.

indiana-300x222This was sadly not the only deadly boating accident we heard about that weekend. In Tampa, Florida, on July 16, two passengers were reported thrown from their boat when the boat was turning. One of the passengers were killed as a result of the accident.

As a maritime lawyer handling boating accidents in the state of Florida, I am too often reminded of the sad fact that our state is one of the leading states for boating fatalities in the country. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in 2016 alone, there were 67 fatalities reported as a result of boating accidents. Some gain more notoriety because of the occupants of the boat, such as the fatality involving the well-known Florida Marlin pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident along with two other occupants when the boat struck an extended jetty located in Miami Beach, Florida, in the early morning hours. Investigations revealed that the boat was being operated by Fernandez, who was intoxicated and had used cocaine earlier that night.

Recently, various news outlets have reported that Royal Caribbean Cruises was removing some of their ships from the port of Falmouth, Jamaica. However, it is not clear what is going to happen as several cruise ships of Royal Caribbean do travel to this port, and RCCL has invested money in helping to develop the port for bringing more cruise ships there.

jamaica-300x167What is interesting are the reasons for the decision to bring less ships to Falmouth, Jamaica. One is harassment of the passengers by local vendors. One of the other reasons for bringing less ships to the port of Falmouth was the dangers of the tour bus operators. Tour bus operators have been an issue in the past. Last year a tour bus filled with Royal Caribbean passengers crashed, leaving one dead and many injured.  Again, this illustrates dangers at a port of call known to the cruise line, where the cruise line directed passengers to. These types of dangers are present at many port of calls, and we must rely on the cruise ship companies to do a better job of vetting these excursions to prevent further accidents and injuries during these shore excursions.

The question when something happens to a passenger injured during the shore side excursion is whether the cruise ship company will be held accountable if the accident was due to some unsafe or dangerous condition, or due to negligence of the shore side excursion company. Typically, for a company to be held liable for the acts of another company or individual, the company or the individual must be determined to be an agent of the company for purposes of imposing liability on the company. Therefore, it has been argued that the shore excursion companies are agents of the cruise ship company because the cruise ship companies hire the shore side excursion companies to take their passengers on excursions during a cruise. However, the laws become well-settled that because the cruise ship companies do not control the shore excursion companies activities, and a separate shore side company actually is conducting the operations, the excursion company is not considered to be an agent of the cruise line. In fact, the cruise line puts in their brochures and ticket that these shoreside companies are actually independent contractors, which the law has so held.

This past week, there were two reported incidents of missing paddle boarders. The first incident occurred in Pensacola Beach Florida, where the body of a missing paddle boarder was found near the Bob Sikes Bridge early Tuesday morning. The victim, a male 26-year-old from Texas, was reported missing on Sunday, when a tourist found his paddle board and life jacket floating in Little Sabine. It is unknown at this time whether he was wearing a life jacket.

paddleboard-300x225The second incident involved another male in his 20s who went missing Sunday night at Hobie Beach, which is off the Rickenbacker Causeway. His body was found a couple of hours later. Bystanders had saw him fall off his board and went to help him, while others called 911. By the time they reached the area, the victim was already submerged under water. He was reported to not have been wearing a life jacket. According to the employees at the rental company the male had rented the paddle board from, the company in fact has a life jacket requirement. It is unknown why the victim was not in compliance with the requirement at this time. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the death and whether the victim knew how to swim.

These tragedies again highlight the dangers of operating any sort of personal vessel on the water. There has been a growing rise in paddle boarding, which means there has been a growing rise in the accidents and fatalities resulting from paddle boarding.  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the U.S Coast Guard has determined a paddle board to be a vessel in most situations. This means that paddle boards are required have safety equipment similar to other human-powered vessels such as kayaks and canoes. Although in Florida it is not required to wear a life jacket, each paddle board must have a lifejacket for each person and some type of sound-producing device, like a whistle or horn, that can be heard in case of danger.

This past Thursday, a fire broke out in the engine room of the MS Nordnorge, a passenger/ ro-ro cargo ship, while the ship was docked in Norway. City firefighters and crew members helped extinguish the fire. Although the ship did not suffer any serious damage, three of the crew members on board had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

norway-port-300x225I have reported many times on fires at sea and the dangers it creates to both the passengers and crew, as well as the damages it causes to the vessel itself, and the dangers it creates for those who come to the rescue or otherwise are in the vicinity of the fire, depending on how quickly the fire is detected and put out. Obviously, the number one goal is fire prevention, and then fire detection if prevention does not work,

There have been several fires at sea involving major passenger cruise ships, most of which have started in the engine rooms as well. The focus of fire detection must zero in on engine room fires as well as all other areas of the vessel. Many lives have been lost at sea due to fires. A fire at sea poses unique difficulties because you must rely on the crew on board the ship to respond to the fire and extinguish it. Unlike fires on land, you do not have fire rescue coming to the scene within minutes to put out a fire. Therefore, the crew must be properly trained in firefighting. In this situation, the MS Nordnorge was docked when the fire broke out, so city firefighters were able to quickly help to extinguish the fire.

PART ONE

It was in 2005 that I first appeared before Congressional Hearings to address cruise ship safety and security.  I was invited to testify as a Maritime expert to assist the members of Congress in addressing safety concerns onboard cruise ships, and answer questions related to the type of problems most prevalent on cruise ships, and what laws govern the cruise ship industry when something does happen to a United States passenger.  At the Congressional Hearings, several victims on cruise ships also testified, including victims of sexual assaults, and other crimes.

congress-1-300x200At the time, I was representing the family of George Smith, whose son George Smith disappeared during his honeymoon cruise on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  His body was never located, and the FBI actively investigated the case for several years before closing the file without any resolution.  It was believed that his disappearance was a result of foul play, and it was suspected that he was actually murdered onboard the ship.  However, no body was ever found, making it difficult to establish and prove foul play, and no one was ever charged criminally with his disappearance.

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