As I have continually written about, the cruise ship industry has come under scrutiny for all of the different reported sexual assaults, fires, mechanical failures, as well as passengers and crew disappearing during a cruise.
Congress again has met, with Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, heading the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The hearing was held on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 where Sen. Rockefeller again urged passage of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, in order to increase the Department of Transportation’s role in overseeing passenger safety. This would include requiring the cruise ship companies to publically disclose crimes that are occurring on the ships, as well as addressing the complexity of the language contained in the passenger tickets issued by the cruise lines, which are considered contracts of carriage with binding terms and conditions which severely limit a passenger’s rights. In addition, there are many instances of medical errors occurring onboard the ship by the ship’s medical personnel, for which the cruise line disclaims any liability based on the law that the ship’s medical personnel are considered independent contractors for which the cruise line is not responsible for their negligence.
Recently, since it was the 5 year anniversary that the disappearance of George Smith, who disappeared onboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship during his honeymoon cruise, attention has again come to the forefront regarding cruise ship incidents. The hearing was attended by several members of the International Cruise Victims Organization a non-profit organization comprised of victims of cruise ship crimes and other cruise ship incidents. The George Smith case is still comes up anytime cruise ship crimes are discussed.
I have been handling cruise ship cases for the past 30 years and have seen a tremendous change in the industry, and a significant increase in the amount of serious incidents such as fires, sexual assaults, disappearances, medical negligence cases, as well as a significant increase in the amount of accidents onboard the ship as they get bigger and bigger. The ships now have all types of recreational activities onboard that were never anticipated to be offered on a moving cruise ship on the high seas.
We all have images of the Costa Concordia laying on its side in Italy after running into rocks close to the coast. Again, increased focus was placed on the cruise line after the Costa Concordia incident as the lack of appropriate safety drills and training came to light. The captain of the Costa Concordia was charged with a crime for his actions, including abandoning the cruise ship before the passengers were safely evacuated. The incident caused numerous deaths and injuries.
I previously testified before the Senate Committee on commerce, science and transportation during prior hearings addressing cruise ship safety. I was selected by Congress to speak as a Maritime expert and address questions regarding safety issues in the cruise ship industry. I was honored to share my many years of experience handling all types of cruise ship incidents, and discussing what I perceive to be problems with the industry.
There has been positive changes in the cruise ship industry which include, increased legislation, and additional safety requirements put into place. This includes some voluntary changes made by the cruise ship industry following the Costa Concordia disaster as well as the increased pressure coming from Congress, especially from Senator Rockefeller. However Sen. Rockefeller, rightfully so, doesn’t feel that enough has been done and more needs to be done to protect passengers on cruise ships. I agree with him and hope that more legislation is coming, and that there is stricter overseeing of the cruise ship industry, which has enjoyed a tremendous independence from regulations over the many years I’ve been handling maritime cases.
Our firm continues to act as safety advocates for those harmed at sea, and to push for positive legislative changes to make cruise ships safer for all.
If you have any questions regarding an incident involving a cruise ship, please contact our office and we will be happy to discuss your questions or issues with you.