Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Rape & Sexual Assault

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.

There was an interesting provision in the river cruise company passenger contract, which required that mediation take place prior to any lawsuit being filed. In this case, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit reported that the cruise company did not respond to demands for the mediation, so suit was filed. Whether the mediation requirement can be enforced or not is another issue. Most likely mediation will be unenforceable.

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.

I was a speaker before the United States Congress during congressional hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security. I was surprised that members of the Congress were surprised to learn that there were no mandatory reporting requirements that applied to cruise ship companies regarding criminal activity that was reported aboard their cruise ships. Several examples were provided to the United States Congress of cases where it appeared that a cruise ship company had deliberately engaged in attempts to sweep under the carpet reported incidents of criminal activity, including sexual assaults that were occurring onboard the ships.

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.

Again, surveillance video and a confidential Disney Line security incident report obtained by local 6 suggests that this story is also false, according to the local 6 story.

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.

In the meantime, the cruise ship company secretly entered into a settlement agreement with George Smith’s wife, Jennifer Hagel Smith. The settlement initially was reached without the participation of myself or the Smith family, and was another significant roadblock hit by the Smith family because it denied them the best opportunity to gather important information, which was the discovery process that was going to take place during a wrongful death lawsuit. The Smith family didn’t give up and decided to challenge the settlement agreement the cruise line company had negotiated with the wife. After a long legal battle in the probate court in Connecticut, the cruise line settled with the Smith family and with Jennifer Hagel Smith for a settlement over $1 million, as well as an agreement to provide some additional information that they previously had not agreed to release to the Smith family.

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.

This was not the first incident reflecting stricter cruise ship policies. At the end of January, Holland America kicked a passenger off its ship for the same reason. The stricter policies follow the Costa Concordia disaster. On that ship, there were almost 700 passengers who had not attended a safety drill practice. Thirty two deaths occurred as result of the capsizing of the cruise ship.

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.”

The defense of the salute maneuver comes after Italian maritime regulations have restricted the cruise ships to no closer than five nautical miles to shore.

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.

Our Miami based admiralty law firm is focused on helping those who need it, victims harmed at sea, passengers and crewmembers.

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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On April 23, I wrote about how in March boaters in distress were ignored by the Star Princess.

One of the boaters, an 18-year-old named Adrian Vasquez, survived after 28 days at sea but his two friends died, one only hour after the cruise ship passed. Today it is being reported that the one survivor has filed a lawsuit against Princess Cruise lines for failing to assist, and just driving by.

In the lawsuit it is stated that several passengers aboard the cruise ship spotted the fishermen and notified a crewmember. Despite this information, the cruise sailed on. Vasquez supposedly waved a red T-shirt in hopes of getting attention from the cruise ship. He was clearly in distress. The engine of his fishing boat had failed.

I have written about the former child supervisor, Paul Trotter, who admitted to police that he sexually abused children onboard the cruise ships he worked for and was arrested in February for these actions.Trotter worked for Cunard Cruise lines and today the 34-year-old man starts his four year sentence for the crime he committed.

Also according to USA TODAY, “The Daily Echo of Southampton, England reports that Paul Trotter of Pontefract, England also will be placed on the U.K.’s sex offenders’ register for life and banned from working with children.” He admitted to sexual assaulting 13 year old boys between the years of 2007 and 2011. He also admitted to “taking, making and possession of indecent images of the children, who were between the ages of 7 and 13.” It is still confusing how he was able to commit these disgusting crimes without detection. According to the president and managing director of Cunard Cruise lines Peter Shanks, they will be changing their recruitment process for youth centers onboard their ships. Maybe something they should have realized much earlier!

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