The International Maritime Organization is a division of the United Nations which to is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and prevention of Marine pollution by ships. Since shipping involves the international carriage of both goods and passengers, it has become necessary to develop international regulations that are followed by all shipping nations. Many treaties have been enacted in an effort to improve safety at sea. The Safety of Life at Sea Convention, referred to as SOLAS is a major and critical safety treaty that applies to almost all nations.
Recently, President Obama signed into law The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. It was signed into law on July 27, 2010. The new safety proposals that are being made to the International Maritime Organization are based on this law. Some of the key proposals address the problem of sexual assaults that are occurring on cruise ships with a much greater frequency than one expects. The proposals include requirements for preserving the crime scene, as well as reporting requirements. There has been much criticism of the cruise line industry for failure to properly preserve evidence of a crime, as well as failure to promptly report criminal activity to the appropriate authorities. Often times, jurisdictional issues pose an additional problem for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity aboard a cruise ship. The safety proposals based on the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act address many of these issues.
The safety proposals also include modifications to the design of ships to address the problem of passengers or crew falling overboard on a cruise ship. People going overboard and disappearances of people on cruises has become another area of concern that received little attention prior to the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. Our law firm represented the parents of George Smith against the cruise line for claims of wrongful death and failure to properly preserve evidence, as well as the failure to properly report the incident to the FBI. The case remains an open investigation on the part of the FBI. The parents have settled their claims with the cruise line.
Kendall Carver, chairman and president of International Cruise Victims, has been relentless in his pursuit of safety legislation for the cruise line industry. Mr. Carver lost his daughter Miriam when she went missing during a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Her disappearance was not promptly reported, preventing a proper investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. I met Kendall Carver when I spoke in Congress during the initial hearings addressing cruise ship security and safety. I have the pleasure of calling Kendall Carver a friend. We have stayed in touch ever since. His organization is very active in pursuing legislation that will improve the safety of all passengers on cruise ships.
On the subject of people disappearing on cruise ships, today it was reported that a youth counselor on the Disney owned cruise ship, the Disney wonder, disappeared. The occurrence demonstrates again that disappearances are occurring on cruise ships with much more frequency than one would expect. A cruise expert, Ross Klein, reports that since 2000, 157 people have gone overboard from cruise ships and ferries.
This incident also illustrates the complexities of the jurisdictional issues . The different authorities contacted were the Mexican navy, the FBI, the Bahamian maritime authority, as well as the United States Coast Guard. The FBI decided it had no jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, disappearances as well as sexual assaults occur on board cruise ships. Since the disappearance of George Smith, there has been a greater awareness of the occurrences of disappearances, as well as criminal activity on board cruise ships. When I spoke at Congress, the members of the committee were surprised at the lack of laws and regulations applicable to the cruise ship industry regarding these safety concerns, including the lack of reporting requirements when someone does go missing during the cruise ship or a criminal act occurs aboard a cruise ship. The new legislation signed into law by President Obama is an attempt to address some of these issues. While the legislation does not go far enough in my opinion, it is a good start toward seeing that the cruise ship industry is held more accountable since millions of United States citizens take cruises each year.
For more information about the International Cruise Victims Organization, visit their website at: http://www.internationalcruisevictims.org
For more information regarding the maritime law Firm of Rivkind, Pedraza and Margulies, P.A. and discussions of various maritime law issues, visit: http://www.rivkindlaw.com