Despite growing awareness of cruise ship incidents, including sexual assaults, fires, disappearances, and a host of other problems, an article in the Miami Herald indicates that the cruise ship industry here in Florida is booming. The article reports how major cruise lines are bringing the biggest cruise ships in history to the ports in both Port Everglades, Florida and Miami, Florida. This includes Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista, Holland America’s ms Koningsdam,and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer.
This brings us to the question of whether these mega cruise ships are better than the average-size cruise ships. Is bigger really better? The larger cruise ships will provide a lot more variety as to entertainment, restaurants, and other activities, as well as increased profits to the cruise lines. However, how safe are these huge cruise ships out in the high seas with thousands of passengers and thousands of crew members? What happens in the case of a fire or other disaster where an evacuation must take place? I do not believe anyone has forgotten the images of the Costa Concordia lying on its side in Italy after striking rocks, causing it to capsize. The evacuation process after this happened was a mess. There were many deaths and injuries, with the incident being compared to the Titanic. Although what happened on the Costa Concordia was a rare incident, it does highlight the issue of how safe these new humongous cruise ships really are.
Over the years, with an increasing population on board cruises, we have seen an increasing number of passengers going overboard, as well as an increasing number of sexual assaults and other crimes. This does not include an increase in accidents on board the ships. Do we have sufficient laws and regulations to ensure the safety of all the passengers and crew members that will be traveling on these huge cruise ships? The amount of alcohol consumption taking place on cruises and the mix of nationalities of both the crew and passengers on board the ships are just a few of the many factors that present very challenging safety concerns to the cruise line industry and regulators. In addition, the cruise ship companies enjoy incorporation in a foreign country as well as flying a “flag of convenience,” which means registering their ships in other countries. This allow them to escape certain laws and regulations of the United States, as well as avoid United States tax laws.
Congress has been addressing safety concerns over the past several years, and implementing legislation designed to make cruise ships safer for everyone. However, the laws are fairly recent. There have been loopholes that have had to be addressed, and question that remain to be answered as to whether these new laws are enough, or whether there needs to be more laws and regulations imposed on the cruise ship industry.
The addition of these huge cruise ships is going to pose challenging issues for the industry, as these cruise ships are in essence large cities plying the high seas, with issues of jurisdiction as to applicable laws and criminal prosecutions that are very complex. These issues will continue to challenge the industry, lawmakers, and regulatory agencies, as well as admiralty and maritime lawyers.
Only time will tell whether bigger turns out to be better when it comes to the cruise ship industry. In the meantime, our admiralty and maritime law firm will continue to act as safety advocates for those harmed at sea. This includes helping to make cruising safer for all by creating greater public awareness of problems, staying up to date with new developments regarding cruise ship law and news, and continuing to hold the cruise line industry accountable for any harm or injury inflicted on a passenger or crew member.
Sources: They’re the biggest, costliest cruise ships ever built. And they’re coming here, Miami Herald.