MIAMI, Florida–Another tragic incident during a shore excursion on a United States-based cruise ship company has again demonstrated the safety risks involved when booking a shore excursion, even if booked through the cruise ship company, and even if the cruise ship company had represented that the tour was safe and operated by a reputable company. In this recent case, a bus transporting 31 Celebrity Solstice cruise ship passengers, who were a part of the “Farm Wine and Cheese – Sheep Farm and Dog Show” shore excursion, which involved visiting New Zealand farm life and tasting its produce, plunged down a steep bank after colliding with another car on the Akaroa Peninsula. According to reports, the crash left eight people injured, some very severely, who were all taken to the hospital. Of the eight injured, six of them were Celebrity cruise ship passengers from the United States. The most severe injuries were two of the United States passengers who remain in the hospital, two days after the crash. The Celebrity Cruises has since resumed its 13-day trip around New Zealand, arriving in Dunedin yesterday.
We have been seeing many reported incidents involving shoreside excursions in foreign countries, where safety laws may be very different from United States safety laws, and the port excursion operators may not be as accountable as tour operators in the U.S. are, therefore not making safety the primary focus of these operators. It seems the operators want to get money from these U.S.-based cruise ship companies by making deals with them, resulting in the cruises selling these excursions, and then sharing in the ticket sales. It becomes a profitable item for both the shore excursion company and the cruise ship company.
But the question is how safe are these shoreside excursions? Most passengers believe that shore excursions are in some way operated by the cruise ship company. At the very least, most passengers rely on the cruise ship company’s expertise in the industry to have adequately investigated and vetted the company and the excursion. In fact, cruise ship giant Royal Caribbean cruise line, owner of Celebrity Cruises, has the following on their shore excursion brochure, which can be found on their website, as one of the reasons to book a shore excursion through them, giving the impression that they have only selected the safest and most reliable excursion companies: “Discover the heart of the destinations with our knowledgeable and experienced guides. Your excursions are planned by insured partners who adhere to the highest safety standards in the industry.” However, selecting the safety and most reliable excursion companies is clearly not always the case, as we are reading more and more incidents that happened due to some type of danger that the cruise ship company knew about or should have known about if they had done a proper investigation.
In fact, in the past few months, there have been three other shore excursion accidents all involving Celebrity Solstice cruise ship passengers who were injured or killed on the roads in New Zealand. It really is alarming that the accident on Wednesday is not the first reported incident involving a serious accident during a Celebrity Solstice shore excursion in New Zealand!
When a passenger is injured on one of these shoreside excursions, the cruise ship company will typically defend the case by saying the excursion company is an independent contractor, attempting to disclaim any liability for the negligence of the shore excursion companies. Most of the time, the port excursion company itself will not be subject to the jurisdiction in the United States Court, possibly leaving a passenger without a legal remedy for serious injuries and even death. Therefore, an action against the cruise ship company must be the main consideration in any such situation.
An action may be maintained based on a theory that the cruise ship company knew or should have known of the dangers, or that the cruise ship company negligently selected an excursion company that had demonstrated in the past that the company was not safe to entrust their passengers to. There are also potential theories of a joint venture between the cruise ship company and the shore side excursion company, and the possibility that the contract between the shore excursion company and the cruise lines can be used by a passenger to establish liability against the cruise ship company on the basis that the passenger is intended as a third-party beneficiary to the agreement. Maritime law will govern these claims, and there is substantial case law addressing these issues that a maritime lawyer will need to analyze along with the facts of the specific case.
This recent case is the fourth accident we have heard about this year on the roads of New Zealand. Therefore, an argument can be made that Celebrity Cruises knew about the safety risks involving this particular excursion, but did not disclose it to their passengers. Instead, Celebrity Cruises promoted this excursion, giving passengers false assurances of safety and security for excursions on the roads in New Zealand.
Again, you are thinking of booking a shore excursion in a foreign country, it is important to think of the possibility of an unfortunate or tragic event, what safety precautions are being put in place to prevent such, and what recourse one may have if something does happen. Most importantly, do not rely on the cruise ship company to have selected a safe shoreside excursion. You must research it yourself, and be comfortable about the safety of the excursion you signed up for.