The Maritime Labor Convention Seeks to Bolster Abandoned Seafarers’ Rights

Maritime News

In April 2014, the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2006) committee meets in Geneva, Switzerland, at the headquarters of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to discuss changes to the landmark MLC 2006 code. The goal is to clarify the liability of ship owners with regard to maritime workers’ claims related to maritime injury and death, as well as clarify what constitutes the abandonment of seafarers.

An United Nations Maritime Review about the shipping industry According to the 2013 United Nations Maritime Review, 80 percent of global trade by volume is conducted by sea. Shipping is the backbone of the global economy, yet until 2006, no international convention existed to protect maritime workers against threats like seafarer abandonment.

MLC 2006 features a global standard that defines seafarer abandonment as a ship owner who:

  • fails to cover the costs of repatriating a seafarer
  • leaves the seafarer without any maintenance or support
  • severs all ties with the seafarer, including failure to pay contracted wages for two months

The abandonment can cause maritime workers and their families severe hardship. From 2001 to 2010, ship owners abandoned 136 ships, stranding 1,612 seafarers. At the height of the Great Recession in 2009, ship companies abandoned 57 ships, leaving 647 stranded.
When ship owners walk away from their crews, leaving them stranded in foreign ports with no means of getting home or worse, at sea with dwindling fuel supplies and stocks of food and water, it is not only the maritime workers that suffer, but also the families that these maritime workers support.

Shipping companies facing bankruptcy or the threat of creditors seizing their vessels may simply cut all ties with their vessels, including ending all contact with the crews. They effectively leave these abandoned crews up to their own devices. In some instances a port authority may seize a vessel because the vessel is unseaworthy. If the ship owner refuses to pay for repairs, the crew members find themselves stuck in a foreign port, far from home.

In a paper co-authored by Rear Admiral Charles Michel, former Chief of the US Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, and Lieutenant Amber Ward, Staff Attorney at the Operations Law Group of the US Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, the authors summed up the terrible situation in which an abandoned seafarer finds himself in:
At best, abandoned seafarers are often subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and at worst, they may find themselves in life-threatening conditions with no means of sustenance. […] It should be unacceptable in this modern age that crew members continue to be abandoned in foreign ports without food or water, the financial resources to get home, or their earned wages.”

While, 56 ILO Member States have ratified MLC 2006, covering 80 percent of the world’s shipping and some 1 million seafarers, there are countries that have not yet signed up to MLC 2006, including seafaring nations from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Maritime workers aboard ships sailing under the flags of countries that have not ratified MLC 2006 do not enjoy the same protections as those crews that do.

The International Labor Organization has maintained a database of cases of seafarer abandonment since 2009.  However, the wrangling over what constitutes abandonment means that the database does not record all instances of seafarer abandonment, making it ineffective at identifying and tracking disreputable shipping companies.
This is why the meeting of the MLC committee in April is so important. Its aim is to bolster the rights of abandoned maritime workers by seeking to broaden and clarify the definition of seafarer abandonment. The hope is to finally bring an end to the inhumane practice of seafarer abandonment.


Two Recent Deaths Puts Captain Phillips Ship Back in the Headlines

Maritime News

The continuing threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean has prompted a global shipping company, The Maersk Group, to place armed security teams on its ships in order to repel potential assaults by Somali pirates. This includes the Maersk Alabama, a container ship made famous by the Oscar nominated film, Captain Phillips, which chronicled events surrounding the pirate hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the East African coast in 2009.

The Maersk Alabama was back in the headlines in February, when two members of the ship’s security detail were found dead on board while the ship was berthed in Port Victoria, the capital of The Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The two American citizens, Jeffrey Reynolds and Mark Kennedy, worked for Trident CMG, a United States based global security and crisis management firm. Both men were former Navy SEALs.

Following the discovery of the two men’s bodies and in response to the police investigation, a senior director for Maersk, Kevin N. Speers stated that the deaths of the Trident CMG security officers were "not related to vessel operations or their duties as security personnel." Speers said that Maersk contracted with Trident CMG to safeguard crews and vessels travelling through "persistently high risk areas," like the waters off the east coast of Africa.

The 2013 film Captain Phillips, starred Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips, the American captain at the helm of the Maersk Alabama when she was boarded by Somali pirates in April 2009. The incident marked the first time since the 19th Century that a maritime vessel sailing under the United States flag fell victim to an act of piracy. However, the pirates’ attempt at taking the 500 feet Maersk Alabama failed.

Members of the crew fought back resulting in the pirates abandoning the hijacking and escaping in a boat while taking Captain Phillips with them as a hostage. After three days as a hostage, Captain Phillips was eventually rescued by United States Navy SEALs. The ring leader, an 18 year old Somali, was taken into custody and tried in the United States. He was eventually found guilty and is currently serving a 33 year prison sentence.

Somalia is a failed state, a lawless country, and today most of the vessels seized by pirates worldwide are taken by Somali pirates. In 2010 alone, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), of the 53 ship incidents related to piracy, 39 of the vessels were hijacked off the Somali coast. The shipping lanes through the western Indian Ocean are amongst the most trafficked in the world.

While Captain Phillips came out of the 2009 incident a hero, crew members went on to file a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Maersk and against Waterman Steamship Corp., claiming damages for emotional and physical injuries sustained during the attempted hijacking. The claimants argued that Captain Phillips and the shipping companies named in the lawsuit ignored a maritime warning to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia to avoid the pirates’ well reported hunting waters.

Since the incident in 2009, security teams placed on the Maersk Alabama have repelled two more assaults by Somali pirates. The three attempted hijackings show the need to have adequate security aboard all ships to mitigate the risks of ship hijacking and hostage taking incidents in pirate infested waters.

As for the two Trident CMG security personnel found dead on board the Maersk Alabama, evidence points to a drug overdose. Maersk believes that this is an isolated event and its spokesman, Kevin N. Speers, says that Trident CMG is stepping up the frequency of drugs screening for its security personnel.


Scrapping of Famous “Love Boat” Cruise Ship Kills 2 and Injures 8

Maritime News

Work on the famous “Love Boat” Cruise Ship kills 2 and injures 8 The deaths of two maritime workers at a ship scrapping yard in Izmir, Turkey in August made headlines around the world, not because it was yet another deadly incident in the notoriously dangerous ship demolition industry but because of the history of the cruise ship the men were scrapping.

Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into the incident in the flooded engine room of the MS Pacific, a leisure liner made famous for its role as the titular "Love Boat" in the hit ABC TV series that aired from 1977 to 1986.

Small by today’s standards at just 554 feet in length, the vessel, originally called the Pacific Princess was sold to a Spanish company in 2002, and renamed the MS Pacific.

The iconic leisure cruise liner was set for a refit in the Italian port of Genoa in 2008 but it was seized by Italian authorities after its Spanish owners abandoned the vessel. The MS Pacific was then sold for scrap in 2012 and towed to Turkey.

It was during its Mediterranean crossing to Izmir, Turkey, that the MS Pacific suffered severe flooding due to high seas. Before the Izmir Ship Recycling Co. could begin dismantling the cruise ship for scrap, diesel-powered pumping equipment was brought in to pump water out of the vessel’s flooded engine room.

The probe into the accident may look at why ten men happened to be in an enclosed engine room while exhaust-spewing pumping equipment was in operation. All ten men were rushed to a hospital suffering from exhaust inhalation. Eight men recovered, while two men, Doğan Balcı (37) and Davut Özdemir (40), died.

The investigation may also query an allegation made by relatives of one of the deceased men that he did not receive proper medical treatment for alleged Freon gas exposure two days prior and that this incident played a role in the man’s death.

A Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, quotes a relative of Balcı: "Doğan came over to our house on the second day of Eid and said he had been exposed to poison at work along with three others. However, they were given a yogurt drink by their employer instead of being taken to a hospital."

Freon gas is a refrigerant used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems. Inhalation can impair the proper functioning of the heart and lungs. If both men were exposed to Freon, this earlier incident could explain why out of the ten men that suffered exhaust inhalation in the flooded engine room, it was these two men that died.

Turkey scraps about 400 vessels a year, and is responsible for 23 percent of worldwide maritime demolition activity. The ship demolition business is infamous for lax health and safety procedures that cost the lives of scores of workers every year and injures many more.


Luxury Cruise Ship Fails Health Inspection

Maritime News

A game of hide and seek aboard one of the most luxurious cruise ships afloat resulted in a failing grade from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when a surprise inspection was conducted. This summer, in Skagway, Alaska, the cruise ship Silver Shadow, which had previously scored in the highest range of grades, was repeatedly cited for using an “organized effort” to remove 15 trolleys of food from the ship’s galley to individual crew cabins to "avoid inspection." This surprise inspection occurred because concerned crew members sent photographs to the CDC showing meat in sinks and trays of food in the hallways outside the cabins.

The Silver Shadow received a failing grade of 82.  Anything less than an 84 is considered “unsatisfactory“, according to the CDC website.
Before the release of the score, a spokeswoman for Silversea Cruises, Ltd, e-mailed CNN stating that the firm was “deeply disappointed” with the inspection.  Silversea Cruises, owner of the Silver Shadow, sells itself in its advertisements as emphasizing luxury and a “world class culinary experience.”  Most large cruise ships carry from 2,000 to 5,000 passengers, but Silversea Cruises focuses on a more intimate experience carrying only around 300.  This luxury and “world class” experience is not cheap. Passengers are charged an average of $5,000 per week to sail on their ships.

During the inspection, the crew members aboard the Silver Shadow claim their superiors ordered them to sleep with food in their cabins.  Adriano Colonna, a pastry chef, hired on a short term contract, said salami, blue cheese, as well as other food items, were kept unrefrigerated in crew cabins night after night to avoid health inspections. According to the CDC’s final report, bleach was poured over the discarded food to prevent it from being used after the inspection. A promise was made to correct these actions, but no fine was issued and the ship was allowed to continue on its scheduled trip along Alaska’s inside passage to Juneau.

The CDC has no real authority to correct these issues.  The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program employs inspectors from the U.S Public Health Service and all it can truly do is ask the cruise line to correct the problems.  "The CDC requires all ships to submit corrective action statements for deficiencies," the program states on its website. "The CDC does not verify that the deficiencies have been corrected until after conducting the next vessel inspection."

This failed inspection aboard the Silver Shadow is not an anomaly.  This year alone, six cruise ships have met failing grades upon inspection from the CDC.  Despite cruise ships being the subject of many negative headlines in the past few years, recent surveys have shown that overall customer satisfaction remains high with the eight major cruise lines. (J.D. Power and Associates) Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America Line came in first, second and third, respectively, in customer satisfaction, while Carnival ranked last. Silversea Cruises was not included in the survey which measures seven factors that can affect a passenger’s enjoyment and experience: condition of the room, food, service, the efficiency of boarding and departing the ship, entertainment, cost and excursions.

The question remains:
Is the food aboard cruise ships safe?

Royal Caribbean Cruises Mistreats Elderly Passengers

Maritime News

Royal Caribbean finds itself in a very uncomfortable position and is receiving a lot of negative publicity in the headlines news worldwide.  Most people do not think lightening can strike in the same spot twice, but sadly for an elderly couple, it did.  Their sad story has caught the attention of the American Embassy in Turkey and U.S. Senators.

Jill and Dodge Melkonian, 89, were on a cruise ship last April when a fire ignited. To compensate them for their troubles, Royal Caribbean offered them a full refund and a free trip, which they took a few months later.

accident aboard the cruise shipJill and Dodge are not novice travelers. They have visited nearly 200 countries and have been on more than 30 cruises.  While aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Azamara Journey (the trip offered to them as a consolation for the previous cruise that resulted in a fire), Dodge Melkonian fell and broke his hip. “I had just gotten to sleep, and I heard him scream and my husband takes a lot of pain — he doesn’t even use a needle for dental work — so I knew he was in trouble,” recalled Jill Melkonian.

Dodge was treated promptly for his accident aboard the cruise ship.  However, his injury was too serious and he required more specialized medical care.  The Melkonians had bought medical traveler’s insurance through Royal Caribbean and were near a small town, Bartin, on the coast of Turkey.  Dodge and Jill were taken to the local hospital there, but Jill insists they were not as lucky as they thought. 

Jill said “No one spoke English, the conditions were very poor and I wasn’t even able to explain in the hospital that he needed something for his pain.” Jill also stated that, “The hospital was so dirty that I was worried about infections, and because of strict cultural customs, no women were allowed inside.”

As she watched her spouse in increasing pain in a foreign country, Jill felt despondent.  She called her travel agency, Elite Travel.  "Nobody was there physically with them from Royal Caribbean. They basically left them, and that was it,” said Tammy Levent, owner of Elite Travel. 

A local tour guide by the name of Okan Kutlu was called and essentially rescued Dodge Melkonian and his wife Jill. He donated his very own blood and coordinated a transfer for Dodge to a much larger hospital in Istanbul nearly six hours away.

Royal Caribbean was never reached for an interview regarding the Melkonians but did release a statement:
"We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel medical insurance company because they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. … One of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today."

Many disagree that this was enough including Sen. Bill Nelson, Democrat for Florida, "What we’ve communicated to the cruise line is that we expect you to make them financially whole," he said. "It is not right to treat an elderly couple like this."

Jill says this will not keep them from cruising in the future but they will be more knowledgeable about their medical travel insurance coverage and where it comes from. 

CBS reported on this case and News travel editor Peter Greenberg explained, "In this particular case, they bought the medical insurance from the cruise company — Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines — and they do provide basic care, and if you look at what happened here, they performed to the letter of the language in that particular policy. They stabilized the patient; they got him off the ship and took him to the nearest medical facility. That was not enough, and that is the key issue here.  Should you buy the medical insurance from the cruise company? I advise that you do not.  You want to go to a third-party medical insurance company that does not have the same language in its policy as the cruise lines have in theirs."

His advice to travelers like the Malkonians is to purchase a medical travel insurance plan from a third-party and through a travel agent. 

Key West & Venice Band Together To Oppose Large Cruise Ships

Maritime News

In an effort to preserve the beauty and delicate ecosystem of their environment, concerned citizens in Key West, Florida, and Venice, Italy have come together to ban super sized cruise ships from visiting and docking at their ports.

The Comitato No Grandi Navi (the "Committee for no big ships") of Venice and the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism are joined in their opposition to large cruise ships, which they say have disturbed the area’s natural ecosystem and can disrupt the visitor experience.

Both organizations issued a joint statement, saying that "The scale of the vessels far exceeds anything that these historic ports were built to accommodate and their sheer size overwhelms the historic setting, diminishing the visual appeal and sense of place."

"They (Comitato No Grandi Navi) are experiencing the same things we are", noted Jolly Benson, member of the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism. "We reached out to them and they agreed to form an alliance with us. Both cities are seeing their culture and way of life diminished and both are seeing the very real effects these larger ships have on our sensitive ecosystems".

The issue is urgent for concerned residents, since Key West voters will be voting whether the Army Corps of Engineers can study the possibility of dredging the island’s main ship channel to open it up for super sized cruise ships. Dredging is currently illegal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Key West could be granted a permit to dredge, as long as the Army Corps of Engineers publishes a favorable study that claims minimal impact. However, Sanctuary superintendent Sean Morton pointed out that there is no permit category that allows dredging solely for economic purposes.

Eric Bush, chief of the Planning and Policy for the Corps of Engineers Jacksonville office, has stated that his agency will take its cue from the resource agencies like the Marine Sanctuary. If the sanctuary disapproves of the proposed study, the agency will not go ahead with seeking funding for the dredging study.

Supporters of the ballot initiative include Jennifer Hulse, one of the key attorneys who helped create the PAC (political action committee) for the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce. According to Hulse, the study is necessary because Key West has seen its cruise ship traffic shrink by almost 30% since 2003 -from 1 million passengers annually to around 700,000 in recent years-. "The reason for that is the restrictions on the channel", Hulse explained. "This (economically) affects every aspect of our community".

In the next month, Key West residents will have to determine just how much cruise ship business matters to their communities’ economic health. Still, it’s important to remember that conducting a study does not mean that dredging would be an inevitability. In one month, Key West voters can vote for their economic interests, or they can choose to preserve the reason tourists come to their island in the first place.

Carnival Cruise Lines is looking to Resurrect its Reputation after Recent Cruise Disasters

Maritime News

Carnival Cruise Lines is looking to turn around its sagging fortunes after a series of highly publicized disasters have undermined its once sterling reputation with the paying public. With the Costa Concordia and Carnival Triumph incidents still fresh in the public’s memory, the company, which is now helmed by newly minted Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald, will be spending at least $600 million to refurbish and upgrade its cruise ships.   

Donald hopes that by taking these proactive measures, Carnival Cruise Lines can regain consumer trust and confidence, which should result in a return to robust bookings and a rebound in share value.

In assessing last year’s Costa Concordia disaster, Donald clarified that "It was not any infrastructure or systemic problem that produced the Concordia. It was a one-off unbelievable error in judgment, and it was a tragedy."

Carnival had only started to recover from the Costa Concordia fallout when a fire broke out in the engine room of the Carnival Triumph earlier this year. The engine was disabled, leaving the ship without power or running toilets for a few days, which resulted in several lawsuits and one of the worst public relations snafus for the largest cruise company in the world.

However, Donald noted, "Not only did no one die, no one was hurt, no one was sick, so there was no safety health issue involved with the Triumph at all."

Though it could have been much worse, the disasters could have been avoided—which is why Carnival is spending more than half a billion dollars to upgrade its current fleet. "In the highly unlikely event we should ever lose power again we’d be able to have a system to back that up and we’d have a process to keep from losing power in the first place." Donald stated.

To ensure that safety standards are set at the highest level, Carnival Cruise Lines has brought in former Coast Guard commander Mark Jackson as the new vice president of technical operations in April of this year. Jackson remarked, "What happened on the Triumph is horrible for our guests and we never want that to happen again, but unfortunately it’s something that we learned the hard way."

Rerouting the ships’ cables will be first priority, since the location of the cables were one of the main reasons the fire was able to quickly spread and take out both of the Triumph’s engine rooms. This way, Jackson explained, "If one room is lost, we don’t lose the other." Other measures include: increasing the number of water mist nozzles from 30 to 500, hiring a 24/7 patrol crew to watch out for oil and fuel leaks, and installing a 2nd backup generator that is far from the engine room to ensure that basic service and power remains enabled in the event of an engine room breakdown.

Despite the company’s publicized upgrades, the public remains slow to forgive and forget. Even with heavily discounted fares, most potential passengers are reluctant to book with Carnival. Fortunately, time can heal almost all public relations disasters, which is a good thing not just for Carnival, but for travelers who will be enjoying the resulting higher standard of value and safety for their money.

Cruise Lines Reveal Crime Figures to the Public

Maritime News

In response to growing criticism and public demand, three of the world’s most prominent cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival Corporation have published criminal incidents allegedly committed on their North American based cruise ship brands on their websites. They have voluntarily released this information in compliance with the request from of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

The cruise industry has been on public relations thin ice since the Carnival Triumph debacle and the Concordia disaster. Since public funds and resources were used to come to the aid of the Carnival Triumph, Senator Jay Rockefeller has made strong demands for accountability to the public.

One of the major issues requiring full transparency is the fact that there are sizable differences between the number of crimes the cruise companies report to the FBI and the crime statistics that they choose to reveal to the public. Before the agreement reached in the Senate Committee hearings, consumers could only see the statistics that reflected cases that have been closed by the FBI.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a total of 70 cases were closed since the final quarter of 2010. Considering how many cruise ships are active in a given year, it would seem that cruise vacations are one of the safest options around. Norwegian Cruise Lines has reported 20 criminal incidents between October 2010 and June 2013, while Royal Caribbean reported 91 incidents during the same time frame.  Carnival Corporation reported 127 alleged crimes on its North America based brands between July 27, 2010 and June 30, 2013.

The recorded data includes all allegations (whether open or closed) of: homicide, missing persons, suspicious death, rape and sexual assault, kidnapping, assault and battery, vessel tampering, and thefts over $10,000. The majority of the reported incidents involved sexual assault and theft, with five reports from Carnival regarding murder or suspicious death allegations. An important note to remember is that these are allegations, which means that many cases have yet to be proven. Spokesman Roger Frizzell for Carnival Cruise Lines clarified the point in an email, stating that "the majority of these are never substantiated as actual crimes after the initial investigation". Furthermore, he added that the data should “remove all doubt about the relatively low level of crime on cruise ships, especially when compared with comparable land-based crimes".

While the caveats are indeed true, there are other factors that discourage the reporting of crimes. For example, if the crime occurred in international waters and the ship is registered under Liberia, the Bahamas, or some other flag state, the FBI has no jurisdiction over the case and cannot close the investigation. If that is the case, an allegation will simply remain an allegation, and the victim will be unable to seek any recourse through U.S. government agencies. The victim will have to depend on the mercies of the investigative agencies of the ship’s flag state. If the flag state fails to properly investigate, there is no governmental or regulatory body that can compel it to do otherwise. Given this reality, it could be said that the cruise industry fosters an inflated sense of safety for its passengers.

Still, that’s no reason to panic, even when adjusted for other factors, cruise ships are one of the safest vacation options anyone can choose. A good rule of thumb is to be around people you know, or at least people who care about your safety and will notice if you do not appear the next day. As long as you remain aware of your surroundings and take the proper precautions, it’s easy to avoid becoming the next statistic.

Cruise Ship Industry in the US Adopts Passenger Bill of Rights

Maritime News

In Bid to Regain Public Trust, Cruise Ship Industry Adopts Passenger Bill of Rights

Cruise Ship Industry Adopts Passenger Bill of Rights
In light of the recent negative incidents that have occurred on cruise ships, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has taken the unprecedented step of establishing a Passenger Bill of Rights to mollify public opinion, in response to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s demand for accountability. According to CLIA’s public affairs director David Peikin, the bill of rights is already approved by all North American cruise companies and will soon be approved by the rest of its members in the near future. In addition, it will be legally enforceable, which means that cruise lines are submitting to a little more legal accountability to reassure a distrustful public.

The Concordia disaster and the breakdown of the Carnival Triumph are still fresh in the public’s minds. In another blow to the cruise ship industry’s reputation, an 11 year old girl was reportedly groped by a crewmember on the Disney Dream Cruise. Though the crime itself was bad enough, it was found that the cruise delayed filing a report for one day until the cruise ship has sailed out of U.S. waters and jurisdiction, even though the girl’s family immediately reported the incident to cruise ship authorities.

In response to the eroding public trust in the industry, CLIA’s Peikin stated: "We agreed with Sen. Schumer’s recommendation that an explicitly stated ‘passenger bill of rights’ enumerating specific practices regarding passenger comfort and care was a good way to openly communicate the industry’s high standards and provide a clear level of accountability."

The newly minted Passenger Bill of Rights guarantees:

  • The right to leave a docked ship if essential needs (such as medical attention, sanitation, electricity) cannot be provided on the vessel.
  • A full refund if the trip is cancelled due mechanical problems or a partial refund for trips that are truncated.
  • The right to be informed of itinerary changes in a timely manner, especially if the changes are due to mechanical issues or any other types of emergencies.
  • Should the cruise end early because of mechanical problems, the cruise company must transport the passenger either to the scheduled final port or the passenger’s home city.
  • In the event that a passenger must stay overnight at an unscheduled port, the cruise must provide overnight accommodations at no extra charge.
  • Passengers can count on sailing with a crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures.
  • Access to professional emergency medical attention.
  • The assurance of emergency power should the cruise ship’s generator fail.

There are many other provisions, which should hopefully reassure travellers that their safety and well-being will be safeguarded no matter where the cruise ship is sailing. While the bill of rights is a step in the right direction, legal accountability remains incomplete. For example, there is no change in how crime victims can seek redress when the incident occurs in international waters. In addition, there is also nothing to compel the flag states the ships are registered under to prosecute on-board crimes more aggressively when they do occur.

While the industry argues that cruise ship crime is rare, this is somewhat misleading because the industry is not legally compelled to report every incident to the public. If crime is truly that rare, then there is no need for obfuscation and secrecy. If the cruise ship industry truly wants to earn back the full trust of the public, complete transparency is the only answer. 

AMO Welcomes Senator Rockefeller’s Inquiry On Cruise Ship Industry

Maritime News

Despite the highly publicized cruise ship accidents such as the Concordia disaster in Italy and the Carnival Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico, the cruise ship industry continues to be largely profitable and unregulated. However, that may soon be changing now that U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller is demanding an inquiry into the industry’s practices, which include: employment standards, safety procedures, the mechanical condition of the ships, the number of American crewmen on hand, and much more.

Uses of flags of convenience to cut costs

Though many cruise ship companies are headquartered in the United States and are publicly traded, they avoid U.S. taxes and regulations by registering their ships under other countries’ flags, known as the “flag of convenience“. This enables the companies to cut costs by paying as little tax as legally allowed and by hiring the cheapest workers possible, all without technically violating U.S. law. The increasing globalization and lack of accountability are the biggest factors behind the latest cruise ship accidents, which will hopefully end once the cruise ship industry cleans up its act.

According to the American Maritime Officers Association (AMO) President Tom Bethel, none of the ships involved in the accidents were crewed by Americans. Since U.S. certified crewmen are among the most highly trained, they also are expensive to hire, at least compared to international mariners who hail from former Soviet Bloc countries or Southeast Asian nations who are willing to work for a fraction of what Americans are paid.

Cruise liners seek to pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits

"Although the best-known cruise lines are publicly-traded U.S. corporations, these companies register their ships to foreign nations and, rather than employ American officers, the vast majority of captains, deck and engineering officers are from other countries and the crews are from undeveloped nations," explains Bethel. "The reason cruise lines hire foreigners is because most of them are willing to accept lower wages and fewer benefits."

"For years, AMO has attempted to convince American cruise line CEOs to employ its U.S. officers. It’s frustrating to know that although all AMO-member officers undergo training that exceeds all international standards and, unlike their foreign counterparts, all AMO-member officers are documented, licensed and vetted by the U.S. Coast Guard, yet, they are denied employment opportunities in the cruise industry."

The environment that allowed Bethel, who started as a ship’s engineer and became a respected maritime executive, is almost extinct in today’s current cruise ship industry climate. Still, AMO continues to agitate for better employment opportunities and economic fairness for American crewmen under Bethel’s stewardship.

A better work environment for cruise ship crew members

Better employment opportunities, workplace standards, and wages for crew members may seem beyond the typical cruise passenger’s concern, but it shouldn’t be. A well trained, well rested, and properly vetted crew is essential for ensuring passenger safety and a healthy vacation experience, after all, what is the point of saving a few hundred dollars on a cruise vacation if the result is an overworked and undertrained crew that cannot effectively respond to an emergency? How much do cost savings matter when the passengers’ life and well-being are at stake?

Of course, workplace issues and safety standards are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cleaning up the cruise ship industry. For now, the reality is that American cruise companies can legally avoid compliance with U.S. taxes and regulations. How much longer the American public will continue to subsidize the lack of accountability, however, remains to be seen.