There is a big problem with rescue boats and lifeboats on board cruise ships. Although they are designed and intended to save lives, they too often result in losing lives due to mechanical failures. I previously reported about the tragic incident on the Norwegian Breakaway that occurred on July 20, 2016 in Bermuda. During a rescue boat drill on board the ship, the lifeboat broke from its tethering, falling into the sea. It has sadly been reported that another crew member, Ben Buenaventura of the Philippines, has died as a result of this tragic lifeboat accident. The crew member, after being in the intensive care at Jackson Memorial Hospital here in Miami Florida, passed away from his injuries.
The lifeboat on the Norwegian Breakaway crashed 50 feet from the upper deck into the seas. Under the maritime law, this constitutes unseaworthiness because obviously a rescue boat or lifeboat does not break away and fall 50 feet to the ocean if it is operated properly and in proper condition, unless there is a faulty design.
I have handled many of these types of lifeboat cases resulting in injuries that were not life-threatening, to catastrophic injuries such as paralysis, to cases resulting in death. These cases typically involve a life boat safety drill with crew members on board the life boats. However, these are the same boats that would be used to evacuate passengers in the case of a serious incident on board a cruise ship. Therefore, it is very alarming that there are so many reported accidents involving lifeboats and rescue boats on board cruises. There is clearly something wrong with the design of these boats, and the mechanisms utilized to lower and raise them. Of course, maintenance issues as well as procedure is often times an issue.
Time will tell whether the Norwegian Cruise Line tries to deny the family of this crew member just compensation for this catastrophe, which is clearly the responsibility of the cruise line, by denying the applicability of United States law that is designed to protect seamen like this young man. Cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, do not like the fact that our Congress enacted a federal statute designed to compensate crew members and their families when something like this happens. Instead, these cruise lines try to escape the applicability of United States law when their loyal and hard-working crew members are injured or killed as a result of the negligence of the cruise lines.
How do they do that and get away with it? How they do it is an easier answer than how to get away with it. I personally do not understand how they get away with it but they do. How they do it is by putting in their employment agreements with the crew member, which is a take it or leave it employment agreement that most if not all crew members do not get a chance to read or have the terms explained to them, a provision that states that the crew members are not entitled to claims under United States laws that were enacted for their protection, but instead must pursue remedies under some foreign law which may or may not provide a remedy, and surely will provide an insufficient or inadequate remedy.
In this case, the cruise lines will likely argue that the family of this young man must pursue a remedy in the Philippines, under Philippine law, which would provide a pittance to the family compared to what they should be receiving for the death of this young man, who leaves behind a wife and a five-year-old son. Therefore, with the stroke of the pen, the almighty cruise lines deny the hard-working crew members just compensation when they are injured or killed. To me, it is unconscionable.
Our law firm continues to act as advocates to those crew members and seamen who are injured or harmed at sea. If you are looking for a maritime lawyer to help you or a family member receive justice, call our offices today for a free consultation.