Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Safety

PART ONE

cruiseI started working on maritime cases in 1982. Since then, the number of cruise ships have multiplied significantly, and the sizes of the cruise ships have grown to sizes that would never have been anticipated many years ago. These mega cruise ships can now hold thousands of passengers in addition to the thousands of crew member they employ. Of course, with the increasing size of cruise ships and number of passengers, there has been an increasing number of crimes occurring on board cruise ships, which have included rapes, sexual assaults, theft, murder and other criminal offenses.

PART TWO

cruiseAs I had started to discuss in PART ONE, I was requested to appear as a maritime expert to answer questions regarding cruise ship safety and security. Also in attendance at these hearings were representatives from the United States Coast Guard and the FBI. When I spoke at Congress, I had the pleasure of meeting Kendall Carver, who also spoke to Congress addressing cruise ship safety and security. Mr. Carver had lost his daughter on board a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska in 2004.  Her disappearance also remains unsolved, although Mr. Carver strongly believes she was the victim of criminal activity and a cover-up by the cruise ship company.

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.

wavesWith modern day technology, the cruise ship companies believe they can outmaneuver mother nature, and believe that the fear created by encountering rough seas and rough weather, as well as the unpleasantness and dangers that can result, is not enough to cancel a cruise. I have written many times about cruise ship companies deciding that their mega cruise ships are capable of withstanding storms, and their reluctance to cancel cruises, resulting in passengers being endangered when cruise ships are driven into severe weather, including tropical storms and even hurricanes.

I also have also written about the Anthem of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, too many times this year. This includes its decision to navigate into a storm this past February. For some reason Anthem of the Seas had not learned from its mistakes, and again, the ship decided to not to cancel its itinerary despite Tropical Storm Hermine warnings.

fireA fire at sea poses unique safety risks, risks passengers often do not consider before embarking on a cruise. When a fire breaks out on land, we have personnel who are highly trained in firefighting, responding with sophisticated equipment. When a fire breaks out aboard a cruise ship, we must rely on the crew members, in whatever training the cruise ship company has provided, responding with limited equipment.

Another obvious safety hazard present from a cruise ship fire is the inability to run somewhere for safety. Often times on land a quick escape is easy as there is a place to run to safety. On a cruise ship, there are limited areas where passengers can escape to, short of being evacuated off the ship. A shipboard evacuation of thousands of passengers is an enormous undertaking, which presents many safety hazards in and of itself. Most of us heard about the disaster with the Costa Concordia evacuation efforts.

cruise poolWe have previously reported about drownings on cruise ships. We believe this is a major problem that needs to be addressed. We have handled too many cruise ship drowning cases that we believe could have been prevented.

The most recent tragedy we have learned of is the near drowning of an 8-year-old boy yesterday evening while on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. According to various news outlets, the boy was found unconscious in one of the ship’s swimming pools, after at least 18 minutes without oxygen. Because additional medical attention was required, the ship altered its course and returned to its New Jersey port. Currently, the child is at Staten Island University Hospital on life support.

portThree years and a billion dollars later, the world’s largest cruise ship began its inaugural season from Barcelona, Spain, which will be the ship’s homeport during its Mediterranean voyages this summer. In November, Harmony of the Seas is scheduled to reposition to its permanent homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Harmony of the Seas is a larger and more improved version of its sister-ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. At 1,188 feet long and 227,000 tons, Harmony of the Seas is actually longer than the height of Eiffel Tower.18 decks, 20 different restaurants, a 10-story water slide Royal Caribbean is calling the “tallest at sea,” and 20 other water attractions, including a water park, are just some of the new features this ship has to offer.

dark-waters-1255327Samantha Broberg, a thirty-three-year-old passenger, fell from the deck of a Carnival Liberty cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico around 2 a.m. Friday morning, May 13. However, it has been reported that she was not reported missing until Friday around noon. Had there been technology on the ship that could be “used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fall overboard,” as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, effective over four years ago in January 2012, this tragic incident may have had a happy ending. Instead the passenger went undetected for over ten hours before a search even began. The search did not end well with the Coast Guard suspending the search around 8:15 p.m. on Sunday. Additionally, video footage in fact captured Samantha Broberg falling over board. This raises another question, which must be addressed by authorities, why is there no requirement for the cruise line to constantly monitor the surveillance video cameras? The cruise lines admit that is not done, instead searching through footage after the long delay from the time the passenger went overboard, losing precious time and making the search and rescue effort almost a sure failure.

My firm has handled many cases involving passengers going overboard on a cruise ship, including the well-publicized case of George Smith, who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line cruise ship. His disappearance was suspected to be as a result of foul play, but an FBI investigation never resulted in any prosecution for any crime, and the case was closed by the FBI. I had the privilege of representing the Smith family, who was frustrated in their attempts to gain information from the cruise line about the incident. The family was relentless in pursuing the FBI, the cruise line, and Congress to solve the mystery, and to implement changes in the cruise ship industry.

stormI previously wrote about Royal Caribbean cruise line’s decision to navigate the Anthem of the Seas into a storm, exposing the ship, passengers and crews to winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and seas in excess of 30 feet high. The incident resulted in damages to the ship, and reported physical injuries to some passengers and crew. Of course, the emotional damages due to this traumatic event is hard to measure, but apparent.

Another storm appears to be forecasted where the Anthem of the Seas was planning to go. However this time Royal Caribbean has announced it is cancelling the itinerary, to avoid the storm.

As previously reported, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship the Anthem of the Seas suffered damages, and caused personal injuries to passengers, when the cruise ship was navigated into the path of a severe storm. The ship was reported to list (tilted) almost completely on its side. Experts state that this storm was forecasted, and question the cruise ship company’s decision to head into the area. The cruise line defends its actions saying the storm was worse than it was forecasted, and had it known that the winds would get so strong they would never have directed the cruise ship into the area.

storm cloudsI have previously written about the decision of cruise ship companies to not cancel cruises despite forecasted storms. It is very costly to the cruise line to cancel a cruise or change its itinerary, and my experience in handling maritime cases over the past 30 years has been that the cruise line does what it can to avoid this. The companies believe their mega  ships can withstand any type of weather, and take its chances that it will simply be an uncomfortable ride for its passengers.

Several times this decision making process on the part of the cruise lines has backfired, and resulted in serious damages to the cruise ship, passengers and crew.

Maritime Law states that a cruise ship company owes a duty of reasonable care to all of its passengers, which includes a duty to exercise reasonable care in making decisions on the itinerary of the ship, and to provide a reasonably safe and comfortable cruise for the passengers. Clearly heading into a forecasted storm of this magnitude is a breach of that duty.

Once there is a breach of the duty of care owed to the passengers, the passenger then must prove more than merely psychological damages or emotional distress. The passenger ticket indicates that there must be a physical impact or injuries before a passenger can bring a case for emotional distress or emotional damages. The law also requires more than simply claiming there was fear as a result of the storm and therefore emotional damages were suffered.

There is a test called the Zone of Danger Test, which states that if a passenger was within the zone of danger of the physical impact, and suffered emotional damages but no physical injuries, the passenger can recover for emotional damages. This would likely apply in cases such as what occurred with the Anthem of the Seas.

A lawsuit is being filed, claiming compensatory damages and punitive damages. This could be a good case to bring a claim for punitive damages, if  allowed under the General Maritime Law, for being reckless and exposing the passengers and crew to the risks of injury and possibly death by heading into a storm of this magnitude. However, this is a difficult case because often times the Coast Guard and the authorities in charge of investigating such incidents are favorable to the cruise line. My firm once handled a case involving a cruise ship that headed into a well-forecasted storm, and all independent experts agreed it was crazy to go into the storm and risk the lives and safety of the passengers and crew. However, the governmental authority that issued the flag to the vessel, and even our United States Coast Guard, bought the cruise line’s argument that the incident was nothing but an unavoidable encounter with unexpected weather, which is the typical defense.
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