Articles Tagged with bad weather

It was reported that a 45-foot fishing boat was hit by what is called a rogue wave, causing the boat to start sinking off the coast of Maine. Fortunately Coast Guard rescued the fisherman, and nobody died as a result of this incident.

wave3-300x199Rogue waves are not unknown to the maritime world. There is in fact a saying that the sea is a “harsh mistress” that can develop powerful waves and wind, and is able to cause much harm to vessels and structures. However, vessels should be prepared for this type of rough weather based on modern day equipment, which is able to provide up to date forecasts of the seas, and when conditions that the vessel plans on encountering may be rough.


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.

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.

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.

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.
Continue reading

rough-day-1380234The attached article discusses the recent adventure with the Anthem of the Seas, a large passenger cruise ship owned and operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The cruise ship company decided to head into an area where weather forecasts predicted severe weather. The cruise ship encountered winds as high as those of a category five hurricane. The ship encountered 30 foot waves. The ship’s propulsion system was damaged.

Obviously, although the cruise ship survived intact, and the more than 4500 passengers returned safely other than the ordeal they had been put through by the ship being navigated into such severe weather, there was a significant risk the passengers and crew were subjected to. A CNN report  indicated that Senator Bill Nelson in Florida has demanded an investigation into why the cruise line headed into the storm and hopefully there will be a magnifying glass on the decision and not simply an acceptance of the typical argument by the cruise line that the storm simply worsened unexpectedly.