Key West & Venice Band Together To Oppose Large Cruise Ships

Maritime Articles

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 Articles

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.

A Cruise Ship Accident … A Matter of Maritime Law

Maritime Articles

A great example of a situation that requires maritime law expertise is the accident that occurred at the beginning of this year with the cruise ship Thomson Majesty, a story that seems to repeat itself.

While the ship was docked in Santa Cruz de La Palma, five crew members died and three others were injured when a lifeboat fell into the sea while performing a safety drill. The lifeboat fell from a height of 20 meters with eight crew members inside and was overturned on the sea surface. Five crew members drowned. Three of the dead were from Indonesia, one was from the Philippines and one was from Ghana, according to a report by the Guardia Civil (Spanish Police) in charge of the accident investigation.

The three crew members that were injured had managed to jump out of the boat before it hit the water. The two that had serious injuries and were hospitalized were from Greece. The third wounded crew member was a Filipino who had only minor injuries, was treated by an ambulance crew, and discharged.

The ship is the Thomson Majesty, of the British company Thomson Cruises, which is based in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The 20-year-old ship is managed on Thomson’s behalf by a company called Louis Cruises, based in Cyprus. The cruise ship sails along the Canary and Madeira Islands which belong to Spain and Portugal respectively. It usually stops on Sundays in Santa Cruz de La Palma. The British company said “There was an incident involving the ship’s crew during a safety drill. Our thoughts are with the families of those involved“. The company also pointed out that it is "working closely with the ship owners and managers, Louis Cruises, to determine exactly what happened".

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Ministry said that it has been informed and is investigating the accident.
This unfortunate event happened during a simulation. What would have happened if the incident had taken place during a real emergency? Surely the deaths would have multiplied.

What are the legal issues that arise when analyzing this event?

It is common in cruise ship accidents to wonder about which laws are to be applied. In this case, three crew members from Indonesia, one from the Philippines, and one from Ghana, drowned and died. Two crew members from Greece were seriously injured. The owner of the ship is a British company, the administrator is a Cypriot company and the event occurred in Spain. This is characteristic of maritime law cases. Most lawyers without maritime expertise do not know how to obtain money compensation for the victims in this type of case. Therefore, it is essential to hire maritime law attorneys who are highly experienced and specialize in cases of this nature. For more information about maritime law issues, contact

Get the Most Out Of Your Legal Representation

Maritime Articles

Having to hire a lawyer to sort out a legal problem or to get the recourse you deserve can be a stressful and confusing experience. Fortunately, looking for the right lawyer can be much easier if you understand what your legal problem requires.

First and foremost, the lawyer you choose must have experience in the type of legal problem you are experiencing. In addition, he or she must be licensed to practice in the location where you can legally file a case (or where you must defend yourself). For example, if you are a seafarer who has a grievance against the cruise ship company you work for, and the company is headquartered in Miami, FL, then you must retain a maritime lawyer who is licensed to practice in the state of Florida.

Once you have decided that you need professional legal help, you should act quickly because legal cases must be filed within a designated time period. Upon hiring a lawyer, he should:

  • Explore with you all your options. 
  • Be honest with you about your chances of winning your case.
  • Provide you an estimate of how long it will take to resolve your case.
  • Give you an estimate for the costs of his services.
  • Explain the financial consequences of losing your case.

For many plaintiffs and defendants, lawyer fees can seem like an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to finding competent yet affordable legal representation. A solution to this problem is the “contingency fee”. This means that you only pay if you win your case. In this type of arrangement, the lawyers collect a percentage of the amount awarded.

Some law firms offer a flat or fixed fee option should your case be relatively simple and straightforward. In general, attorneys charge by the hour, which can vary based on the lawyer’s reputation and skill. Most lawyers will demand a “retainer” which is an advance payment against future charges. Any billable work that exceeds the retainer has to be paid by the client as well. Some countries have a statutory fee, which means that you must pay a set amount as specified by statute or by the regional court.

Sometimes, the lawyer with the right skill set to represent you will not work on contingency or fixed fee and only charges by the hour. Today, many skilled lawyers are willing to make other payment arrangements, such as monthly payments or other types of financing.   

Hiring a lawyer is a very serious affair, but it does not have to be an intimidating or confusing process. No matter which lawyer you choose or what type of attorney you need, the best lawyer to hire is the one who listens, is honest and ethical about the progress of your case, and will give you the attention you deserve.

Fortunately for crew members that are injured or become sick aboard American cruise and cargo ships, the American maritime attorneys that handle these cases work on a percentage.  This means that the crew member does not have to pay his lawyer any money until he receives money compensation for his injuries or sickness from the cruise or cargo company.

How to Choose the Right Kind of Lawyer for Your Legal Needs

Maritime Articles

When a serious legal issue arises, the help of a qualified and experienced lawyer can certainly come in handy. Unfortunately, how to go about choosing the right kind of attorney can be a confusing and time consuming affair. However, the process of obtaining the right kind of legal help can be much easier as long as the seafarer understands what he or she should consider before looking for a lawyer.

In general, the kind of legal problem you have should determine the kind of lawyer you should hire. Sometimes, determining the true nature of your legal issue may require a lawyer to examine the circumstances of your case first. But for many seafarers, the issues can be fairly straightforward.

Consider an attorney’s specialization: Maritime Injury Lawyers are recommended for accidents at sea.

For seafarers, the help of an experienced maritime lawyer is always necessary when it comes to dealing with legal problems. The following legal issues that are best handled by a maritime lawyer are:

Claims for personal injuries and/or sickness

Claims against employers for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, etc.

If you have been involved in a marine casualty or incident

Location: Consider the offending party’s country and state.

Besides the lawyer’s area of expertise, where the lawyer is licensed to practice is another important consideration. Crew members looking to file a claim against their employers must choose maritime attorneys who are licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.

If a personal injury or death claim must be filed, then the seafarer must look for a maritime personal injury attorney that is licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.

Seafarers that are looking to defend a criminal charge must retain a criminal attorney that is licensed in the country where the criminal complaint was filed.

Sometimes, a seafarer’s legal problem may not be so cut and dry. In the unfortunate situation where this is the case, it may be best for the seafarer to consult a maritime attorney for free legal advice. The law office of Elias B. Rudnikas offers free legal advice to all crew members, regardless of when, where or how the problem arose.

Cruise Lines Reveal Crime Figures to the Public

Maritime Articles

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.

What Should A Seafarer Consider Before Hiring A Maritime Lawyer?

Maritime Articles

In the age of globalization, cruise ship companies seem to have almost unlimited leverage when it comes to setting the terms for employment, wages, and working conditions. Fortunately, seafarers are not always at the mercy of their employers, as long as they are aware of their rights and what they can do to seek the redress they deserve.

Many crewmembers are not aware of their full rights and protections, and as a result, can be taken advantage of without them even realizing it before it is too late. To help remedy this situation, Attorney Elias B. Rudnikas provides free legal advice to all crew members.

Before hiring a lawyer, it is best to sort out what kind of legal problem you have first. This will determine which country the lawyer should be licensed in and what legal field of expertise he or she must have experience in. For example, a seafarer who is charged with a crime and needs a dedicated defense would need a criminal lawyer that is licensed to practice in the country where the charges were brought up.

Seafarers can write to Attorney Elias B. Rudnikas should they need clarity on the type of legal issue they have and what kind of lawyer they should hire.

Once the decision to hire a maritime lawyer is made, the claimant must act quickly since there is usually a time limit for filing a case. In addition, the lawyer should explain the following:

  • What options you have for solving your problem?
  • What are your chances of winning or getting a settlement?
  • How long your case will take?
  • If you have to pay should you lose the case, and How much?
  • What kind of payment arrangements he or she will accept?


Cruise Ship Industry in the US Adopts Passenger Bill of Rights

Maritime Articles

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 Articles

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.

What To Expect When Dining On A Cruise Ship

Maritime Articles

cruise ship foodWhen you choose a cruise vacation, meals are usually included in the package. However, there are certain things travelers should be aware of if they want to enjoy their dining experience with as little hassle and bill shock as much as possible.

All cruise lines (except Norwegian Cruise Lines) offer “traditional dining”, which means you are assigned to dine at a specific time at a specific table with other passengers in the main dining room. You can request early or late seating in advance, though there is no guarantee that it will be granted. In this kind of dining format, you and your fellow traveler are required to arrive at the same time, at the same table, and eat with the same passengers for the duration of the cruise. This can be ideal for meeting new people, and for the wait staff to get to know you and your preferences.

But for others who would like to choose the time they eat and who they dine with, “traditional dining” can be a drawback. Fortunately, more cruise ships are offering open seating dining. Basically, you can walk in during a specified block of time (usually within a 4 hour period) and can be seated with just you and your companion or be seated with other passengers depending on availability. The same items offered in traditional dining should also be available for open seating dining.

Another important thing to consider is the cruise ship’s casual dining and specialty dining options. If you are worn out from participating in offshore excursions all day, it’s possible that you will be too tired even for the late dining time in the main dining room. Make sure that the cruise offers casual dining choices, just in case you are hungry later in the night. On the other hand, if you want something that is more upscale and special than what is offered in the main dining venue, it’s a good idea to ask about other available options. Usually, these specialty venues may focus on French cuisine, steaks and seafood, Italian food, and much more. Reservations are usually required, and make sure that you pack the proper attire if you are planning on dining at these establishments.

Again, it is important to stress that any kind of alternative dining—whether casual or specialty—may incur additional fees. Just make sure to clarify with the customer service representative as to what is actually included in your package, so you can budget properly for any extras.

Should you choose buffet dining, there are many important health considerations you should remember. Of course, cruise ships do what they can to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. But with so many passengers sharing the same water supply and the large variance in the personal hygiene of fellow travelers, it may be best for travelers with sensitive stomachs to avoid buffet service as much as possible.

It’s easy to assume that drinking will always come along with dining—but the fine print of your cruise package may say otherwise. This is where many cruise vacationers experience bill shock the most, because they did not know about the drink packages on offer. Many travelers are unprepared for the “anything goes” atmosphere of a cruise ship—there is no “last call” and gambling is legal once the ship is in international waters. In this environment, it’s easy to spend far more money that you initially budgeted for. While the decision to gamble is completely up to the passenger, drinking (whether it’s soda or alcohol) won’t have to cost an arm and a leg if a drink package is purchased beforehand.

In all, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy your cruise vacation and stay within your planned budget. Like with any endeavor, it is always a good idea to read the fine print before you commit. As with any kind of vacation, it’s easy to stray from your budget if you’re not careful. But as long as you are aware of your options, it should not be too hard to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.