Articles Posted in Crew Member & Seamen Claims

MIAMI, Florida– Last Wednesday, a crew member who was working on board the Emerald Princess cruise ship was killed as a result of a gas explosion when the crew was re-inflating the ship’s lifeboats with a can of nitrogen. The Emerald Princess is a passenger cruise ship part of Carnival Australia and operated by Princess Cruises, that carries more than 3000 passengers and 1200 crew members on board its ship. What caused the explosion is unknown at this time. The accident caused the ship’s departure time to have been delayed about 18 hours, as WorkSafe officials investigated this tragedy on board the ship.

lifeboat-224x300Crew members are exposed to very dangerous and unsafe conditions, and unfortunately, almost every single year we hear about multiple accidents involving crew members. The gas explosion occurred while the ship was docked in Port Chalmers during a twelve-night cruise from Australia to different places in New Zealand. Our heartfelt condolences and prayers are extended to the family members of this Filipino crew member who needlessly lost his life while performing his scope of duties on the vessel.

When an explosion occurs on board a ship resulting in injury or death to a crew member, there is absolute liability on the part of the cruise ship company for the incident, because an explosion that occurs during the normal operating procedures legally makes the ship unseaworthy under the maritime law. This creates liability on the part of the cruise ship company to the injured person, or to the surviving members of the crew member who was killed. Many such lawsuits arose out of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion where many crew members were killed when an explosion occurred. This explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17 others, and led to the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. The explosion is the subject of the motion picture Deepwater Horizon that was released this past September.

MIAMI, Florida–Sometimes we do not think about what happens if there is a serious accident or injury when a cruise ship is at sea, and the injured person requires immediate specialized medical treatment, such in the case here for a Royal Caribbean crew member. The 20-year-old crew member suffered a serious spine injury performing her regular job duties on board the Legend of the Seas ship.

helicopter-199x300Various news reports discuss how difficult the evacuation proceedings were, which indicates the seriousness of the injuries, and suggests potential paralysis as a concern. Evacuations at sea are very difficult and normally will not be performed except in the most serious situations where the injured person is suffering a potential life-threatening condition, or a condition that must be treated immediately by the appropriate specialists.

Cruise ship companies typically have on board a doctor that have some training in emergency room medicine. Historically, doctors on cruise ships have been from all over the world with questionable credentials. Many were not licensed in the United States, and many did not have a specialty with any relevancy to the type of injuries or illnesses that would typically be faced by a ship’s doctor on a cruise ship. In fact, I remember a incident where a crew member suffered heatstroke at a port, which can be treated successfully, but the ship’s doctor, who was from a foreign country and who had failed a test to become licensed in the United States on three separate occasions, completely misdiagnosed the condition. As a result, the appropriate treatment was not provided and the crew member died.

MIAMI, Florida–Over the years, I have seen numerous accidents, many tragic, involving the lifeboats on cruise ships. In this particular incident involving Grandeur of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, fortunately nobody was on board the rescue boat. According to reports, one of the lifeboats broke loose and capsized when the cruise was docked in the port of Charleston, South Carolina. It is fortunate nobody was injured or killed.

lifeboat-300x226There have been several cases involving catastrophic injuries and death where a lifeboat that was being hoisted or lowered with a davit system plummeted to the water. Serious concerns as to the type of system, and the poor procedures regarding testing and inspections, as well as maintenance, have surfaced. Several of the cases involved the breaking of what is called the fall wire, which breaks upon the rescue boat reaching its top position and over exerting pressure on the wire over time. There is a device called a limit switch which is supposed to automatically stop the rescue boat or lifeboat from reaching its top position and over exerting pressure on the wire. It is this limit switch that has been reported to fail on multiple occasions, calling for immediate actions to address the problem, including replacing the davit and limit switch system.

In addition, the procedures of allowing crew members to ride in the life boat from the stowed position of the boat at its top level, almost 8 decks high, has been questioned, as this is very dangerous. However, despite warning of these dangers, cruise ship companies continue to employ this procedure, and rescue boats continue to plummet into the sea upon the fall wire breaking, resulting in needless catastrophic injuries and deaths.

MIAMI, Florida– A captain of the Spirit of Baltimore cruise ship was found to have fallen asleep while operating the passenger midnight party cruise this past summer. On August 28, the 119-foot passenger boat was carrying about 400 passengers when it crashed into two moored recreational boats and the floating pier at Henderson’s Wharf Resort Marina in Fells Point, Maryland.   The accident resulted in two passengers being hospitalized for injuries and about $100,000 in damages to the wharf.

baltimore-300x188A recent investigation by the Coast Guard investigators determined that the captain had been working other jobs that week and had not gotten much sleep. According to the Coast Guard investigators, the captain should not have been operating the boat at the time the accident happened.  This is the reason there are maritime regulations governing the number of hours a crew member, like a captain or a watchman, can be on duty without a certain amount of time in between for rest.  Additionally, there are international conventions that apply worldwide regarding the number of hours you can work without a break, and how much break there must be in between the next assignment.

It is not uncommon to find out that the cause of an accident, including a very serious and catastrophic crash, are due to the fatigue of the crew from working too many hours over a certain span of time.  Not only is the crew member in jeopardy of injuring himself from the fatigue, but someone like a captain or a watchman, who is relied upon for the safe operation of a vessel, can cause very serious damages and even loss of life if he or she do not get adequate rest.


MIAMI, Florida
–The sinking of the United States cargo ship El Faro, resulting in the loss of 33 mariners when the ship ran directly into the Category 3 Hurricane Joaquin, has been under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The cargo ship sank during a cargo run between Jacksonville, Florida and Puerto Rico. The voyage data recorder, similar to the black box aboard an airplane, was recovered. The ship’s data recorder, which recorded audio of the ship’s last 26 hours from microphones placed on the bridge, revealed conversations between the captain and the shoreside personnel, as well as conversations and comments from crew.

cargo-ship-300x225There still is no final conclusion reached by the NTSB as to the cause of this sinking, but the recent 510-page transcript reveal more about why this boating tragedy happened. Hurricane Joaquin clearly strengthened unexpectedly, and did end up taking a different track than anticipated. The captain apparently relied on conflicting forecasts to maintain his track during the voyage, not taking an alternative route. However, the investigation has revealed that weather conditions clearly deteriorated, and updated weather forecasts should have alerted the company and the captain that a change in the intended route of the vessel was required.

The audio recordings reflect that the captain considered changing course, but for some unexplained reason did not make the adjustments that were discussed. The recordings reflect the crew members questioning the captain’s decision not to change course, and as the conditions deteriorated and it became more evident that the captain was taking the vessel into dangerous waters and conditions, the recordings reflect the crew members’ voices becoming firmer and stronger.

lifeboatThere 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.

gavelIn a recent decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 15502 (5th Cir. 2016), reflecting the pro-arbitration philosophy of the courts, seamen have been given yet another big setback in the pursuit of their right to a jury trial granted to them by the United States statute, the Jones act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104.

The case of Alberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises involved a crew member working for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, a Miami-based cruise ship company, who was a United States citizen and resident. There are not many United States citizens working aboard these foreign-flagged cruise ship companies. The crew member brought a case against the cruise line company pursuant to the Jones Act, which allows an employee to sue his or her employer for negligence. The Jones Act is a special grant of a party by Congress, enacted in 1920 to help protect workers on ships due to the unique nature of their employment.

Recognizing that seamen are clearly on unequal bargaining power with their employers, this congressional act is remedial legislation designed to provide seamen with a remedy when they get injured due to negligence on the part of their employer. The Jones Act, being remedial legislation, provides that the employer is responsible for an injury if negligence played any part, no matter how small, in producing the injury. In order to further protect seamen against overreaching by unscrupulous employers, in addition to granting seamen the right to a jury trial for their claim, the act prohibits an employer from contracting away its liability for negligence under the .

lifeboatI have previously written about lifeboat accidents, safety boat accidents, and other types of rescue boat accidents, occurring with frequency on cruise ships. The most recent catastrophe has occurred on Royal Caribbean’s brand-new mega cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas. Unfortunately, I have handled many of these type of cases ranging from minor injuries to fatalities, as well as cases where the accident resulted in paralysis. Other lifeboat and rescue boat accidents have resulted in serious physical and psychological injuries.

I have determined that these accidents are occurring because of the faulty designs of the major safety equipment, inadequate maintenance, and a lack of proper procedures for conducting the safety drills. We had previously written about Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. It measures about the length of four football fields, and is longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower, carrying 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew members.

Although this is a brand-new cruise ship, apparently the lifeboat failed during an attempted lifeboat safety drill, breaking loose from its apparatus, falling 33 feet (10 meters) into the sea, resulting in the death of one 42- year-old Filipino cruise ship crew member and four others catastrophically injured.

sunken shipThe events and the causes leading to the catastrophic sinking of the El Faro during Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015, continue to be the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as it begins its review of the voyage data recorder(VDR). El Faro was a United States cargo ship that sank last fall killing all 33 members on board. It has been considered the worst U.S. cargo shipping disaster in over 30 years.  The VDR, as it is referred to on ships, is a vessel’s black box investigators use for accident investigation after the fact. The VDR from El Faro was finally recovered from the ocean floor after 10 months of attempting to retrieve it.

According to reports, about 26 hours of information was able to be recovered from El Faro’s voyage data recorder. The VDR is going to provide very critical information, including the following: a discussion about the ship losing propulsion, a discussion between the crew and the master, Captain Michael Davidson, pertaining to the flooding, a discussion between the master and shoreside personal pertaining to the critical situation at hand, and the captain ordering the crew to abandon the ship.

The actual voice recordings are not made available to the public during the investigation stage. The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that a complete review of the VDR will take quite some time because it is very difficult to hear everything with all the noise taken place during the times leading up to the actual sinking, and continuing through until power was lost.

lifeboatLifeboats are obviously designed to save lives, not to take lives. However, I have sadly represented numerous crew members who have been catastrophically injured or killed during a lifeboat or rescue boat safety drill, when the boat has broken from the wires lifting or lowering the boat, or there has been a failure of the mechanism used to lift and lower the boats.

The recent catastrophic incident happened on the Norwegian Breakaway, a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship. It is ironic that the name of this ship is Breakaway because the life boat broke away from its tethering and plummeted to the water. According to reports, on July 20, four male crew members were onboard a lifeboat during a routine safety drill when the boat fell into the water. The accident, which occurred  while the ship was docked in Bermuda, left all four crew members injured. One of the crew members, Diogenes Carpio, was found floating in the water with several broken bones. He passed away at the hospital shortly after. Exact details as to why this tragedy occurred are still unclear.

I have seen a problem with the mechanism on the lifeboats, including what is called the limit switch, which is supposed to stop the raising of the boat at a certain point in order to avoid stress on the wire cables. I have also seen these type of incidents occur due to lack of appropriate maintenance, including lack of proper inspections of the lifeboats and their apparatus. I know one cruise line has recognized the need for a fleet-wide change of the type of apparatus utilized to raise and lower the lifeboats or rescue boats. It is unfortunate that it takes a death or serious injury in order to get the cruise line to pay sufficient attention to such an important life-saving device.

01 02 03 04 05 06