Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Rape & Sexual Assault

Our case, L.A., a minor, by and through his mother, natural Guardian and next friend, T.A., vs. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., is getting national attention regarding the U.S. District Court  for the Southern District of Florida’s order denying Royal Caribbean’s Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit. The case involves a 13-year-old boy who was on board the Independence of the Seas, a  Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship, with his mother and brother.

Our client, along with a group of friends, was peacefully sitting and talking in a public library under the watchful eye of surveillance cameras. His mother and older brother believed the 13-year-old to be safe, as he was instructed to only converse with his group of friends and to remain in the public space. The family had read about the cruise ship company’s great safety and security record and felt safe under the hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the ship. Like most passengers, she never thought that her child would be at risk for a sexual assault aboard the cruise ship.

Miami-based cruise ship attorney Brett Rivkind, who has been handling maritime cases for over 35 years, has three lawsuits pending involving multi-million dollar claims on behalf of cruise ship passengers, illuminating areas of potential danger for passengers.

br-pic-300x224The first case involves the sexual assault of a minor committed by adult passengers at approximately 2 a.m. in a public area of a cruise ship. The lawsuit alleges that the passengers were over-served alcohol to the point they were heavily intoxicated. The cruise ship employees permitted this and did not monitor their consumption nor their whereabouts after they left the bar.  The case, L.A. vs. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.,  alleges that sexual assaults are known to occur onboard cruise ships, often involving minors, yet passengers are not warned about these dangers. Passengers who are over-served alcohol become a danger to themselves as well as to others.

MIAMI, Florida– We have repeatedly reported about the problem of sexual assaults and rapes occurring on cruise ships, focusing mainly on the big cruise ship companies Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises.  According to recent reports, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly raped aboard a river cruise that ran along the upper part of the Irrawaddy River, just north of Thailand, last year. One of the bartenders aboard the ship is alleged to have committed the sexual assault.

myanmar-300x225It is reported that the sexual assault occurred on the last day of the cruise, in a bathroom aboard the ship.  The lawsuit filed alleges that the cruise company did not take adequate precautions to protect the 17-year-old, despite knowledge of the problem of sexual assaults occurring on board cruises. It is also alleged that during the cruise, the bartender had been stalking the 17-year-old girl.

sexual assaultI’ve been handling maritime cases since 1983, with a primary focus involving cruise ship litigation. I would say during the initial decade of my practice, we came across very few cases involving sexual assaults. As the cruise ship industry grew, ship’s got bigger, increased passenger and crew member capacity occurred, and so did an increased amount of incidents aboard cruise ships, including sexual assaults. The incidents included sexual assaults by a crew member on a passenger, sexual assaults by a passenger on another passenger, and sexual assaults by a crew member against another crew member.

As more cases started getting filed in court, the discovery process revealed that there were in fact an alarming number of sexual assaults that were occurring onboard cruise ships. The cruise ship industry was exposed to the United States Congress about their procedures and investigation methods as well as, and the procedures or laws regarding reporting to the authorities any reports of criminal activity, including sexual assaults.

Disney Cruise line is the cruise line currently making headlines. A very disturbing story has been reported involving a sexual molestation of an 11 year old girl aboard the Disney Cruise ship, the Disney Dream, while in a Florida port. The disturbing news is that the incident was caught on a surveillance video and reported to the cruise ship company. Despite this, the ship sailed without reporting the incident to United States authorities. The cruise line waited to report the incident until the cruise ship arrived in Nassau, Bahamas, where the cruise ship is registered. A local 6 investigation out of Orlando, Florida reports that the incident was not reported until the following day, long after the ship had left the Florida port, suggesting that the cruise line intentionally allowed the 33 year old crewmember (suspect) to avoid any investigation and potential prosecution by United States authorities.

To further illustrate the disturbing actions of the cruise line, the story by the local 6 investigation team states that Disney first stated they did report the incident while the ship was still in port on August 5th. However, after they were confronted by local 6 and the Port Canaveral police, which established that they did not in fact report the incident while the ship was still in Florida, the cruise line then recounted on its story. The cruise line than admitted the incident was not reported. The story than changed, and Disney originally claimed their employees were not aware of the incident until the following day. Disney’s next explanation was that what was reported to them was that the 11 year old had something happen to her to make her feel “uncomfortable”, and therefore they were unaware that an actual crime had been committed.

I have previously discussed that my firm represented the parents of George Smith, who disappeared during his honeymoon cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas in June of 2005.

I, along with the parents, went on a relentless mission to try to gather evidence to help solve the mystery. We faced many roadblocks, the main one being the cruise line’s reluctance to share information with the Smith family about what happened to their son. The F.B.I. was not allowed to share information as it was always described as an ongoing investigation. The Smith family became very disappointed and disillusioned, and extremely frustrated.

Cruise ships are finally showing improvements in their safety measures since the Costa Concordia disaster, as can be seen in an article published earlier today in USA today titled “Elderly cruiser kicked off Seabourn ship for skipping drill.”

An 84-year- old woman, along with her 90-year-old husband, was kicked off the Seabourn Sojourn this week. The woman refused to attend the mandatory safety drill that begins at the start of each cruise. According to the article, this was the second leg of a three-part trip for the couple, who had already attended a safety drill on the earlier part of the trip. The husband attended the drill but the wife claimed she was not feeling well.

It was recently reported in Rome that cruise ships are being asked to resume their ”sail-by salutes.” It stopped after the Costa Concordia disaster, which occurred while the captain was carrying out a “salute” in January of this year. According to an article published in the Telegraph titled “Calls for cruise ship ‘sail by salutes’ to resume after Costa Concordia tragedy,” salutes should be allowed ”safely and securely as it was fundamental to the tourist trade which Italy relies upon, especially in the summer, when it has more than 40 million visitors a year.” According to the article, tourism chiefs and hotel bosses are making this request to the cruise industry. They let some time pass since the tragic disaster and are now requesting this practice be resumed.

After the Costa disaster, cruise ships have been criticized for a practice that appears to be more common than was known when we first learned of the Costa Concordia disaster. The cruise ship company, Costa, continues to deny the captain had the permission to do the “salute” or that it was common practice. Notwithstanding the tragedy that occurred with the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, the President of the Federation of Hotel owners of Ischia ,Ermando Mennella, said that “the inchino (salute) should be allowed to continue but obviously with safety and security guaranteed for all. It is fundamental for tourism especially to an island like Ischia and if it does not continue then it will have severe economic repercussions and cost jobs in the long run. For many years now cruise ships and mega yachts have been sailing past Ischia, which has helped promote our island in times of economic crisis and last summer alone more than 7,500 cruise ship passengers came ashore.”

I recently blogged about the boom in cruising and Fox news reported on an interesting issue on Monday titled “Cruise failure leaves Mobile with looming debt.” This article highlights the effect one cruise company can have on a city! Carnival Cruise lines stopped going to this seven year old terminal in Mobile, Alabama last year. They relocated their ship to New Orleans. As a result, the city of Mobile was left with a debt problem. According to the article they are faced with a big economic problem, “How to pay for a more than $20 million passenger terminal that’s now used for dances and weddings rather than tourist embarkations.” For the years that the cruises were coming to this port, the parking charges and other fees by the cruisers helped pay about 2 million per year for this terminal. At the end of the current fiscal year these funds will no longer exist. This is going to leave Mobile with some financial issues. They either need to get a new cruise ship to come to this port or find out another way to use his 65,000 building. The manager Sheila Gurganus is trying to promote the city and this terminal. To pay the utility bills she is currently renting out this building. Starting October 1 the bill will go to the city. According to the spokeswoman for the city, “Barbara Drummond, said officials aren’t sure how to pay the mortgage on the 7-year-old terminal when the bill starts going to the city on Oct. 1.” They are trying to get a cruise company to come back to Mobile. According to the article if this fails, an additional 1 cent sales tax may be necessary. The problem Mobile faces according to Carolyn Brown, a cruise industry watcher, is “inadequate marketing…The domestic cruise industry is getting more competitive as companies relocate ships overseas, and Mobile has not done enough to promote itself as a potential home port or destination”.

One thing for sure cruise ship companies are welcomed by most places because of the big bucks they bring to the economy. This is why the industry is so powerful in Congress. It is hard to get laws passed to hold the industry more accountable because of the fear the industry will place their operations overseas and deny the local United States ports the huge economic benefits the cruise lines bring to the ports they utilize. In fact, when I spoke in the United States Congress about the need for safety reforms in the cruise ship industry, addressing crimes and disappearances on cruise ships, a Florida congressman attacked me by saying the cruise line industry brought a lot of money to the state of Florida. I guess he was suggesting they have friends in Congress, leave them alone. However the poor crewmembers that are overworked and underpaid on the cruise ships need a friend in Congress, not an enemy. Passengers who are injured on a cruise ship, and the family members who have lost a loved one a cruise ship, need a friend in Congress. Instead, the cruise ship companies continue to enjoy very favorable laws, and continue to whittle down the rights of passengers and crewmembers with a stroke of a pen by contracting out of liability for all than can get away with.

Some recently interesting developments in the maritime law field.

It was reported that there was a large settlement reached in the case involving a Philadelphia duck boat that was involved in a collision in the Delaware River. The collision caused the boat to sink in the year 2010, killing two Hungarian students who drowned when the amphibious watercraft sank after being struck by a 250-foot barge that was being pushed by a tugboat. The case was pending in a federal court where the owners of the vessels were seeking to take advantage of an outdated and harsh maritime law called Limitation of Liability. The owners of the vessels were seeking to limit their exposure to the value of the vessels after the collision, which was reported to be approximately $1.8 million. However, the settlement is reported to have been $17 million.

The Limitation of Liability law was enacted more than 150 years ago, and remains part of the maritime law of the United States. This federal statute simply has no place in today’s maritime world. The Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) was brought into focus after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion incident that killed nine maritime workers. This ancient and archaic law allows the vessels to limit their liability to the post-voyage value of their vessel. Transocean was relying on LOLA to limits its liability for the Deepwater disaster to $27 million.

In the case involving the duck boat, the amphibious vessel was plowed over by a 250-foot barge being pushed by a tugboat in Philadelphia, and the owners were trying to limit their liability to $1.7 million.

The application of the Limitation of Liability Act results in harsh consequences, and hopefully our Congress will recognize this at some point in time.
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