This past Sunday, another fire onboard a passenger ship occurred, this one off the coast of Port Richey, which is just north of Tampa, Florida. The fire broke about a half a mile from shore on a shuttle boat operated by Tropical Breeze Casino, causing all of the 50 passengers and crew members to jump overboard and swim to shore.  There were over a dozen passengers who were reported to have been injured and a 42-year-old woman who was killed.

fire1-300x225The 60-foot shuttle boat was on its way to the Tropical Breeze Casino Boat (a company also known as SunCruz at one time) when the captain noticed smoke. After noticing the smoke, the captain turned the boat back to shore.  On his way back, the boat started having engine problems, which had been reported even before the accident in question.  The captain then ordered all 50 people on board to abandon the ship and swim to shore. There was no time to even hand out life jackets. The water, which was 59-degrees at the time, combined with the Gulf breeze actually created a risk of hypothermia for the passengers, some of whom were found face down in the water and would have died had the rescue efforts not been so prompt.

The cause of the fire has not yet been learned. However, according to recent reports, the company has had safety issues for many years. There have been about 29 investigations involving boats associated with their casino boat operation. This included another fire on one of its shuttle boats in 2004, which was caused by poor maintenance and insufficient training.

br-pic-300x224I previously wrote about the tragedy involving a Mexican tour bus that flipped over while transporting Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ship passengers to the Mayan ruins, and have recently spoken on both Channel 10 and CBS news regarding the safety of shore excursions. The cruise ship passengers involved in this tragic accident were on an excursion they had purchased from Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. Typically, as was also seen in this case, the cruise lines promote the different shore excursions, profited from its sales, and urge its passengers to purchase the excursion directly from them rather than any independent company. It is also typical that passengers believe that that the cruise lines have performed a thorough vetting process for the shore excursions, and that their safety is backed by the cruise company. The passengers reasonably believe the cruise ship company would be responsible for recovery against the cruise ship company under various maritime legal theories, depending on the facts and circumstances.

The initial report about the cause of the accident in Mexico is that the driver was speeding. I believe that was apparent based on the fact that the bus flipped over in clear daylight with good weather conditions, and that there were no other vehicles involved. The real questions are going to be the root causes, as I refer to them. It is vital to get down to the root causes as to why something like this happened, killing and injuring many cruise ship passengers. The questions then become why was the driver speeding, and what was the condition of the bus, the safety history of the company, and the history of that particular driver, among other things. It is my opinion that the root causes will lead back to actions or inactions on the part of the cruise ship company, who should be held liable for these serious injuries and deaths.

Our shore excursion accident lawyers at Rivkind and Margulies are currently working on a similar accident involving a tour bus that turned over in New Zealand during an excursion with cruise ship passengers from the same cruise ship company. The excursion company involved had a poor safety history record including a prior accident which prompted a criminal investigation, in spite of the fact that the cruise ship company had represented in its literature that they were using only the highest quality transportation services for the excursions they provided.

On Tuesday, at least 12 people died and 18 were injured when a tour bus carrying Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers crashed on an excursion to the Mayan ruins in Mexico. It was one of the deadliest cruise ship shore excursion accidents to have taken place. Ironically, I was interviewed by NBC news last Thursday about the dangers present when going on cruise ships and the obstacles to legal recovery when harm befalls a passenger traveling on a cruise.

cancun-300x226One of the cases we discussed is the case I am currently handling against Celebrity Cruises involving a horrible tour bus crash that occurred during a cruise-sponsored shore excursion in New Zealand. Celebrity promoted, marketed and sold tickets for this shore excursion, and even represented to the passengers that the cruise ship company only used the highest quality transportation services during the excursion. Our lawsuit claims that the bus driver was speeding and changing lanes frequently, and that the bus was poorly maintained and in bad condition, resulting in a horrible accident where the bus plummeted 100 ft. down a steep bank, severely injuring its passengers. Fortunately, no one was killed. After the accident, it was discovered that the transportation company employed by Celebrity had a poor safety record- a very similar prior accident resulting in a criminal prosecution due to an incompetent mechanic and faulty brakes.

In my interview, I discussed how shore excursions pose a potential danger to the millions of passengers who sail on cruise ships operating out of Miami, as the shore excursions take place in foreign countries where the passengers have no knowledge as to the safety record of the particular shore excursion company the cruise ship company is promoting and selling tickets for. I also discussed how the cruise ship company attempts to avoid liability for any of the incidents that happened during a shore excursion, typically arguing that the shore excursion companies are independent contractors. The lawsuit I filed on behalf of the injured passengers alleges various claims under several legal theories to defeat this argument and legally hold Celebrity Cruises responsible for such an incident. It is one of the intricate aspects of maritime law that an experienced maritime attorney needs to navigate carefully in order to obtain recovery for the passengers.

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.

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