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Brett Rivkind
Brett Rivkind
Attorney • (305) 374-0565

Carnival Cruise Line has its Passenger Cruise Ship Arrested in Texas

4 comments

Attempting to “triumph” in their quest to hold Miami based Carnival Corporation liable for the Costa Concordia disaster, lawyers in Texas have used a special maritime procedure available under the supplemental admiralty and maritime rules of the Federal court, to arrest and seize the passenger cruise ship the Triumph, which was visiting a Texas port. The complaint makes for interesting reading. It sets forth public information that the lawyers obtained from SEC filings by Carnival.

The lawyers have pled that the two (2) Defendants named in the action, Carnival plc, and Utopia Cruises, Inc., were the alter ego of each other. The reason these allegations were made was because the technical owner of the cruise ship, the Triumph, is Utopia Cruises, Inc. However, the real owner in fact is Carnival as Utopia was a corporation formed solely to hold paper ownership of the vessel, and is not really an active corporation at all. I would note that I’ve been handling maritime cases for thirty years, and Carnival has never argued that the technical owner of the ship is the correct Defendant and tried to escape liability on that basis. Carnival has always admitted to being the true owner/operator of the Carnival passenger cruise ships.

This particular lawsuit also alleges specific acts of negligence on the part of Carnival relating to the Costa Concordia. As has previously been discussed, the Costa Concordia was owned and operated by Costa Cruise Lines, which is an Italian corporation. Carnival does own Costa Cruise Lines. Costa is a subsidiary of Carnival. However, there are no allegations in this lawsuit that Costa Cruises and Carnival are the alter ego of each other. Instead, this particular lawsuit alleges specific acts of negligence on the part of Carnival relating to the Costa Concordia. The allegations focus on the development and enforcement of safety programs on all of the fleet of vessels under the Carnival umbrella, meaning any of the vessels owned by corporations that Carnival has purchased.

In the complaint there is a list of the portfolio of cruise ship companies that Carnival has purchased, and they include Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Ibero Cruises, P&O Cruises (Australia) and P&O Cruises (UK).

The specific acts of negligence against Carnival allege that Carnival is responsible for the safety programs, including training programs, involving the Costa Concordia. The lawsuit alleges that Carnival allowed “deplorable safety practices, poor training and lack of efficient evacuation procedures onboard the M/S Costa Concordia” to exist.

Whether the lawyers in this case will “triumph” in this case will depend on how the Federal District judge views the relationship of Carnival to the incident in question, and whether the Defendant moves to dismiss the case also on grounds of forum non conveniens. The primary Defendant in this case is clearly Costa as the owner and operator of the Costa Concordia, as well as the captain of the Costa Concordia. These Defendants are Italian, and the passenger tickets issued to all the passengers on the Costa Concordia identify Costa as the operator, and require lawsuits to be filed in Genoa, Italy. In addition, Carnival’s primary place of business is Miami, Florida.

In addition, the lawsuit makes reference to the applicability of the Death on the High Seas Act, which is a United States Federal statute governing deaths that occur on the high seas. This particular Federal legislation has been held to apply to incidents occurring in the territorial waters of a foreign country. The problem with the applicability of the Death on the High Seas Act is its harsh and archaic limitation on the amount of damages, limiting the survivors to a claim for their pecuniary losses only. Many times this amount is negligible. In other words, the amount of money the cruise ship company is responsible for is minimal compared to the harms and losses it has caused. There are attempts to amend the Death on the High Seas Act because of this harshness and unfairness. So far, the legislature has not amended the Death on the High Seas Act as the cruise ship industry has lobbied hard to prevent that. Even the BP oil spill disaster, which involved the Death on the High Seas Act, did not result in an amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act.

While this particular lawsuit in Texas alleges the Death on the High Seas Act, it also attempts to supplement the Death on the High Seas Act with Italian law. There is case law that states if the Death on the High Seas Act is applicable, it cannot be supplemented. One must either choose to pursue the case for a cause of action based on foreign law, which the Death on the High Seas Act will permit, but if the Death on the High Seas Act is applicable, the limitation on the amount of damages applies. This is a complicated issue of maritime law, one that we have previously faced. There are several reported decisions dealing with this issue out of the Southern District of Florida.

We will continue to keep an eye on this particular lawsuit and what the judge decides to do with the case. In the meantime, Carnival worked out a confidential agreement with the lawyers so that the vessel, which was full of passengers, could sail on its scheduled cruise.

My Miami based law firm is currently assisting passengers and crewmembers who are involved in the Costa Concordia incident, and we continue to be safety advocates for all those injured or killed at sea.

4 Comments

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  1. Bob says:
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    Either a corporation is a person in law, in which case the Italian corporation is its own person, and being owned by Carnival, another person, is the equivalent of slavery, since a person owned by another person is a slave, or only Italian law should operate in this instance. If the latter, then one cannot sue Carnival for the sins of Costa, and Italian law has to determine what an Italian cruise line has to do regarding ship safety. If Italian and U.S. laws are in opposition, I am certain that Italy would argue, quite rightly, that the Italian view prevails, and since the ship is aground in Italian waters, I, NOT in the U.S., view any action taken in the U.S. as reprehensible and against the national interests of anyone living outside the U.S.

    It is this sort of legal action, taken inside the U.S., that is alienating the rest of the world. The U.S. is NOT our ruler, and the laws of the U.S. should only apply IN the U.S. if you ask me as a Canadian, or if you ask an Italian, or a Frenchman, or almost anyone else living outside the U.S.

    Further, give me a democracy such as we have in Canada or Italy, over the joke that is called democratic in the U.S. The U.S. system is continually in election mode and the two party system has entrenched itself. That is NOT democracy. Multiple parties, with the chance of coalitions and minority rule.. that is democratic. It needs a democratic government to have democratic laws, and unfortunately the U.S. no longer even has democratic laws. The laws used in this instance are NOT democratic at all… they seek to impose the U.S. view of how things should be on the rest of the world, through the U.S. view that their laws deserve extraterritoriality. Yet the U.S. legal system would screen long and loud if Canada or Italy tried to impose the same sort of law re a shipwreck off of Long Island, perhaps on the rocks of Block Island. I can hear the screams now, coming out of the U.S. if that were to happen in an Italian court or a court in Halifax when a Carnival cruise ship was in Halifax on one of their autumn cruises.

    So to me the general answer is ‘A Pox on the U.S. legal system, these particular U.S. laws, and all of the U.S. lawyers and their firms in this for the money they can potentially make out of taking this sort of case, even if it really belongs in an Italian court.

  2. Michael says:
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    Forgive me Bob, if I misunderstood, but I read the article to say that the Carnival ship was seized on the grounds of Carnival’s negligence. A U.S. company’s vessel seized in a U.S. port by U.S. lawyers, presumably hired by U.S. clients. Why would Italian law be applied to that negligence case?

  3. Bob says:
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    Michael, reread the original and you will find the paragraph below, which makes it fairly clear that the filing really is aimed at Carnival respecting the Costa Concordia. That is the ship that is aground at about a 80° angle in Italy, is Italian registry, and whose owner is an Italian corporation. Granted that the corporation is owned by Carnival, but it is a long stretch to blame Carnival for anything related to a ship owned by a foreign subsidiary corporation, when that foreign corporation operates under the laws of Italy, exists under the laws of Italy, and has its documentation in Italian with an Italian captain in charge of the ship. There HAS to be a limit on how far U.S. law ranges, and to me this lawsuit smacks of going well beyond what other nations would consider reasonable.

    What were the grounds for this seizure in U.S. waters? An event that occurred in Italy to an Italian cruise ship owned by an Italian corporation. So what was Carnival’s negligence? Its a long stretch, like blaming the ship’s architect for not having thicker steel in that part of the hull, or the ship’s engine builders for the ship being able to sail fast enough that it could rip its hull open on those rocks, or the shipyard in Italy that built the ship for even building it. Look at the original posting and you will see that this action in Texas is, to anyone outside the U.S., an exercise in trying to extend U.S. law to Italy. That simply does not compute to me or many others. It is, however, why legal costs in the U.S. are as high as they are, since if lawyers even think they smell money they will sue on the off chance that they will get paid

    From the original posting…

    “This particular lawsuit also alleges specific acts of negligence on the part of Carnival relating to the Costa Concordia. As has previously been discussed, the Costa Concordia was owned and operated by Costa Cruise Lines, which is an Italian corporation. Carnival does own Costa Cruise Lines. Costa is a subsidiary of Carnival. However, there are no allegations in this lawsuit that Costa Cruises and Carnival are the alter ego of each other. Instead, this particular lawsuit alleges specific acts of negligence on the part of Carnival relating to the Costa Concordia.”

  4. Michael says:
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    To further twist the twine, I found it is a German national who was onboard the Concordia that is bringing this suit against Carnival.

    If Carnival is indeed responsible for Costa Cruises’ safety program & training, then it’s certainly reasonable to hold them accountable for any negligence of theirs that may have played a part in the disaster. I understand what you’re saying about the grounding occurring under Italy’s jurisdiction, but again, if Carnival was negligent regarding the safety policies and procedures it established for Costa Cruises, then that root cause, the negligent act, was done by a U.S. corporation in the U.S. Since the German passenger is going after a U.S. corporation and not an Italian one, it seems to me that U.S. law is an equally appropriate, if not superior tool to use. Otherwise, you’d have Carnival being brought before an Italian court for an act done in Miami, in which case you would have to write about the overreaching Italian justice system.

    I do see what you’re saying about it being a long stretch to reach Carnival, but I’m just not seeing how applying U.S. law to a U.S. corporation is a problem.