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We all watch stories on our local television involving inspections at many restaurants we dine at which receive failing grades when faced with health inspections. Sometimes I cringe watching these shows on television knowing that I frequently ate at many of these restaurants. Of course, when receiving favorable reports, the restaurants publicize the results of the inspections.

In this particular case, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines passenger cruise ship, the Monarch of the Seas, failed a health inspection performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On November 18, 2011, they received a sanitation inspection. The ship received a score of 85, with 86 required to receive a passing grade.

The infractions found by the inspection are alarming, as they include numerous findings of fruit flies, dirty plates that were next to clean ones, as well as improper safety signage.

The report also showed that food was not being kept at proper temperatures, and the cruise ship company was failing to maintain proper records for what’s referred to as “food logging”. “Food logging” is the process of tracking the times that the food is refrigerated.

In addition, the Monarch of the Seas was cited for not having the new standards for safety that have been promulgated, which include the proper testing of alkalinity in the swimming pools, and failure to have the proper pool signs.

The passenger cruise ship the Monarch of the Seas is the oldest active ship in the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line fleet. It has been operating for the past twenty (20) years. The Monarch of the Seas had failed another inspection back in 1996. The ship currently operates out of Port Canaveral in Florida operating 3 and 4 night cruises.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line responded to this incident by saying that it was “extremely disappointed”, and was working with the authorities to “correct and remedy the deficiencies found aboard Monarch that caused the low score,” as well as the fact they “already submitted [its] corrective action report.”

As safety advocates for both passengers and crewmembers harmed at sea, having handled cases involving all types of accidents and incidents on cruise ships for approximately 30 years, I’ve seen all types of potential dangers and hazards aboard the cruise ships. They have included health hazards, possible contraction of the norovirus, sexual assaults, slip and fall accidents, poor medical care and treatment, disappearances, criminal activities, dangerous shipboard activities, storms encountered by the ship, navigational errors, and other safety hazards that have led to serious personal injuries and wrongful deaths. If you have been harmed or injured at sea, including aboard a cruise ship, you should immediately consult an experienced maritime attorney who is familiar with the maritime laws that govern such accidents. There are many different types of laws that apply to accidents and deaths that happen on the seas, including special time limitations for filing a lawsuit and many other complexities.

There have been attempts to make the cruise ship industry less transparent regarding problems that happen onboard cruise ships. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010, provides requirements for the cruise ship companies to report certain types of criminal activities, including sexual assaults that occur onboard cruise ships. In addition, the law requires information to be posted on a website in order for passengers to be able to learn about such incidents, making these incidents more public than they ever have been in the past.

A very high profile case we handled, involving the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise, was the explosion that led to less transparency in the cruise ship industry regarding disappearances and crimes onboard cruise ships. Prior to the disappearance of George Smith, the cruise ship companies were not faced with any mandatory reporting laws, and were basically policing themselves regarding how and when to report disappearances and other types of crimes aboard their ships. It was like the fox guarding the henhouse. During Congressional Hearings addressing criminal activities aboard the cruise ships, including disappearances, and the lack of mandatory reporting requirements, I testified about my experience over the years with cruise ship maritime personal injury wrongful death cases, including disappearances and criminal acts such as sexual assaults. During the hearings, one of the congressmen pointed out that he was very concerned that the cruise ship industry was operating similar to the well known slogan utilized to promote Las Vegas, which we have all come to know as “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. One of the congressmen said he was very concerned that what happens on cruise ships stays onboard cruise ships.

Many experts, and former shipboard employees, have come forward and discussed the history in the cruise ship industry in handling reported criminal activity onboard a cruise ship, including sexual assaults. It has been claimed for years that the cruise ship company would intentionally try to sweep such matters under the carpet, not report them, and try to settle any claims with passengers quickly and require confidentiality provisions. For many years there was very little talk or knowledge about the number of sexual assaults or other crimes taking place on cruise ships. Eventually, statistics were released, alarming many people that there was a much greater rate of criminal activity, including sexual assaults, occurring onboard cruise ships than was ever imagined. After George Smith went missing, the public spotlight on the cruise ship industry led to Congressional Hearings. After many hearings, and strong efforts on the part of the victims organization named International Cruise Victims Association, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act was passed.

The ICV organization, with its leader Kendall Carver, continues to fight for increased safety legislation governing the cruise ship industry, including increase scrutiny about reporting and disclosure of criminal activity aboard cruise ships.

The cruise ship industry routinely defends itself by pointing the number of passengers that travel onboard cruise ships, and argues that the crime rates aboard cruise ships are very low and that it is extremely safe to go onboard a cruise ship. While I do not discourage anyone from taking a cruise due to any safety or health concerns, I frequently state, when asked, that passengers need to just be aware that there are these concerns present when deciding to travel onboard a cruise ship, and that one should proceed with awareness. A cruise ship is a great vacation and a great opportunity to have a lot of fun. However, becoming aware that there are safety and health risks, to whatever degree, helps one in guarding against these risks. This includes keeping a close watch on young children during a cruise.

Our firm continues to act as safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers harmed at sea.

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