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.

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What 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.

PART TWO

The most recent legislation Congress has introduced is called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would also amend the Death on the High Seas Act, an outdated law that denies family members the right to recover intangible damages for the loss of their loved ones due to negligent and wrongful death when the death occurs on a cruise ship in international waters.  Intangible damages are the type of damages that compensate family members for the grief, mental anguish, loss of comfort and companionship of their loved ones who are killed due to the wrongful conduct of another.

congress-300x200The Death on the High Seas Act was amended by Congress in 2000 to allow families of international plane passengers to recover damages for the loss of care, comfort and companionship.  However, the act was not amended with respect to deaths that happen on cruise ships.  There is no conceivable reason that can be advanced for this distinction, other than the cruise ship industry has been very successful in their lobbying efforts to prevent the amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act.

We previously reported about another instance of a major cruise line absolutely disregarding the law, and attempting to cover up their intentional violation of international laws involving contaminating the waterways. This past Wednesday, a United States District Judge sentenced Princess Cruise Lines, owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, to pay $40 million dollars in penalties, which is the largest penalty ever imposed for crimes involving deliberate pollution by a vessel of the waterways.  Princess Cruise Lines, as other major cruise lines have in the past, was found to have illegally dumped overboard oil contaminated waste, and then attempted to cover up the violations by falsifying official records.

gavel-300x200As I have stated before, intentionally disregarding the law, and lying to authorities in order to cover up the violations, is not a first to the cruise ship industry. In the past, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line pled guilty to felony charges of also illegally polluting the waterways and falsifying official records to cover up the violations of the laws. In this most recent example of another major cruise line disregarding the law and lying to authorities, U.S. District Judge also ordered that $1 million be paid to the British engineer aboard the Princess Cruise ship who first exposed the illegal dumping of waste into the waterways.  He initially reported the illegality to the British maritime and Coast Guard Agency, who then provided the evidence to the United States Coast Guard.

Princess cruise lines reached an agreement last December to pled guilty to the seven felony charges stemming from illegally dumping oil contaminated waste at sea and then intentionally covering up the violations.  Thus, Princess is another cruise line with felony convictions, making it a felon.  As I have said before, if an individual testifies in a court of law, a prior felony conviction involving dishonestly may be used to attack the witnesses’ credibility.  I see no reason why these felony convictions of the major cruise ship companies should not be admissible in a court of law to attack the credibility of the cruise ship companies when they come into court and make representations as to how safe their cruise ship is, and testify about their safety records.  How can we trust that the representations made by the cruise ship companies, who are convicted felons, are indeed truthful?

Today Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that they will begin employing lifeguards at their family pools this summer. I have been advocating for years that cruise ship companies should step up to the plate and pay the money to put lifeguards at the swimming attractions onboard cruise ships.  These days, mega cruise ships have major swimming attractions, and drowning is a serious risk aboard these cruise ships.  I have seen way too many drownings that could have been prevented.

lifeguard-263x300Previously, Disney cruise lines was the only cruise ship company that had decided to place lifeguards at the swimming attractions on board their ships after the near-drowning of a four-year-old on one of their cruises. However, despite the fact that drownings continued on board cruises, the other major cruise ship companies including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess and Holland America Lines, continued to not have lifeguards on their ships.

We recently reported that Royal Caribbean stepped up to the plate and finally put lifeguards onboard their ships after additional drownings occurred.  Unfortunately,multiple cruise ship drownings had to occur to get the cruise lines attention regarding such an important aspect of safety when operating water amusements onboard their ships. As I have reported many times, the shipboard activities onboard these mega cruise ships pose serious safety risks, as many of these attractions are built for land.  Having these attractions on a floating hotel with thousands of passengers, including an environment where alcohol consumption is rampant and children are present, poses a serious safety risk.  This means that all reasonably available safe guards must be implemented by the cruise ship companies to protect the passengers, and they should not put profits ahead of safety.

I first met Kendall Carver in 2005 in Washington D.C., when we were both testifying at Congressional Hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security. He was a very passionate man, having recently lost his daughter Merrian when she went missing during a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. At the time, I was representing the family of George Smith. George Smith had also gone missing on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship during his honeymoon cruise. Mr. Carver and I instantly formed a bond, which remains to this day.

This past Friday, my daughter and I attended the annual National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C., where Mr. Carver, deservedly so, received the Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award from the United States Department of Justice. It was a very moving ceremony, where well-deserving recipients of the awards were honored for their achievements in devoting their lives to helping victims of crimes. Mr. Carver was recognized for his relentless pursuit of justice for the victims of cruise ship crimes, and  the support he has provided to the families and friends of the victims. He has had a very meaningful impact on the safety of the cruise ship industry. He started the International Cruise Victims Association, Inc., and he was instrumental in helping to enact the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.

ken-300x225The International Cruise Victims Association (ICV) was formed shortly after his daughter went missing, following the Congressional Hearings we both testified at. I had the honor of helping Mr. Carver form the International Cruise Victims Association. I have watched ICV grow leaps and bounds since its inception, increasing its membership, and gaining international recognition. It has helped many victims of cruise ship incidents, including crimes of sexual assaults.

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