A crew member has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line if he is injured on the cruise ship because of dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship. The most common dangerous conditions aboard cruise ships are:
An inadequate crew. Cruise ships are often undermanned. When this occurs, crew members have to work too many hours and do the job of two or three crew members. If a crew member is injured under these circumstances, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Failure to enforce common sense guidelines for the lifting, carrying and pushing of heavy items. Because of the constant work pressure on the cruise ships, the cruise ship companies do not enforce common sense rules for the lifting, carrying, and pushing of heavy items. If a crew member is injured because he was forced to lift, carry, or push heavy items, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Inadequate Cleaning and Maintenance. Frequently, the stairs and floors of the ships are wet, greasy, dirty and slippery. If a crew member is injured because the floor or the stairs are unsafe, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Inadequate Training and Insufficient Hours of Rest. Frequently, crew members do not receive adequate training for the tasks they have to perform, or they are not given enough time to rest between work days. If a crew member is injured because he is not properly trained or because he is exhausted after working too many hours, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Insufficient or Defective Equipment. Frequently, the cruise lines fail to maintain the equipment and tools necessary to do the job. They also fail to buy new equipment when the current equipment is broken or defective. If a crew member is injured because he did not have the proper tools to do his job or the equipment he was using was broken or defective, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Our advice to any crew member that is injured aboard a cruise ship is to consult with a maritime lawyer immediately because his injuries were probably caused by dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship.
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.
After highly publicized maritime disasters like the Costa Concordia sinking off the coast of Italy and the Carnival Triumph losing power while sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, vacationers all over the world became understandably leery of cruise ships. Though cruise ship vacations are often safe and fun for everyone involved, it can be a shocking experience for passengers when things don’t turn out as expected.
The Concordia disaster was particularly hard to overcome, since the last thing passengers expect is to die or get injured during their dream vacation. Fortunately, Italy is doing its part to properly investigate the incident – which helped assuage public anger and assure victims and their families that justice would be meted out.
Just as the Concordia incident started to fade from the public’s memory, misfortune struck the Carnival Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico. A fire in the engine room disabled the ship’s power; with no viable backup generator, the ship was left drifting without power and plumbing for days before being towed to Alabama on Valentine’s Day earlier this year. The experience has traumatized many vacationers, triggering a spate of lawsuits that are still wending their way in the U.S. Court system.
The images of makeshift tents and human waste flooding the rooms left an indelible image of just how bad things can get on a cruise ship with inadequate backup and fire safety systems. In response to these disasters, Carnival Corp will spend $300 million to upgrade and retrofit all their ships to prevent such incidents from happening again. In addition, the company announced that it will reimburse the U.S. Government for a portion of the rescue costs for the Triumph incident – which should help blunt some of the negative publicity.
Despite the highly public nature of these cruise ship incidents, the long term impact on the cruise industry’s profitability and viability is likely to be negligible. The biggest factor behind this is the fact that cruise ship disasters are quite rare – which is why it’s so shocking when something bad does happen. Overall, even the vast majority of the public understand that the Concordia and Triumph incidents are exceptions rather than the rule.
According to S&P Capital IQ stock analyst William Mack, the outlook for Carnival Corp is still profitable, though not as much as he previously predicted. He considers the stock a “strong buy” and that the latest incident will have a “one year impact” at worst.
Still, Carnival Corp is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to winning back public opinion. The cruise company announced that Kate Middleton, British princess and Duchess of Cambridge, will help launch the brand new “Royal Princess” ship before it sails off for luxury Mediterranean excursions. The princess is one of the most photographed women in the world and is well loved by the public, which should be a public relations coup for the company as long as no new incidents make its way into the 24 hour TV news cycle.
But most importantly, Carnival’s response to the Concordia and Triumph disasters is proof that the cruise industry needs to act fast to remedy public concerns. By showing its willingness to acknowledge responsibility and spend what it takes to upgrade the safety of their cruise fleet, Carnival should be able to regain the public’s trust in no time at all.
Cruise ship passengers have more limited compensation rights and consumer protections than air travelers – as the Carnival Triumph passengers found to their dismay.
Cruise ship regulations and cruise industry loopholes
The cruising industry is regulated by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which focuses on safety rather than consumer issues. The FMC is not as strict as the US Department of Transportation, which oversees the airline industry and enforces consumer-friendly regulations. In addition, many cruise lines sail under foreign flags such as the Bahamas, Panama, Liberia, or Honduras, which enables major cruise operators like Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean to avoid paying US federal taxes and exempts them from following regulations and standards established by the US government.
These loopholes mean that cruise ships passengers can experience on-board fires, power outages, and other maritime hazards, yet they have limited legal recourse for their pain and suffering.
“Each of these issues requires urgent attention from both the industry and regulators,” said Ross Klein, a researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. “Because most [cruise ship] accidents are avoidable – related either to human error or to allowing ships out of port with unresolved mechanical issues – there is a need for much greater oversight of the industry and stricter enforcement of safety standards.”
Significant cruise ship accidents
According to Klein’s research, there have been at least 100 recorded cruise ship incidents worldwide in which cruise ships have gone adrift or sustained power outages since 2000. In addition, there have been 79 onboard fires and 73 collisions recorded for cruise ships since 1990.
In defense of the industry, The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) insists that its members “are subject to a very comprehensive body of laws, regulations and policies established at the national and international levels.”
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) also oversees the cruise industry and establishes global standards that all vessels are required to adhere to. However, its regulations specify cruise safety standards rather than passenger rights and comfort.
Notable past cruise ship incidents include: a fire on the Azamara Quest near the coast of Malaysia; the Costa Concordia accident last year; and a power outage on the Allegra, which stranded 1,000 passengers without power or water for one week. In response, CLIA adopted 10 new regulations to ensure cruise ship passenger safety, such as the number of available life jackets and revamped emergency procedures.
CLIA released an official statement regarding the new policies, stating: “Cruising is one of the safest forms of leisure transportation, thanks to our industry-wide commitment to safety, strict regulations and vigorous enforcement mechanisms. Yet the rarity of cruise ship accidents does not mitigate the pain and loss we feel if they do occur.”
Cruise passengers may have limited consumer rights and protections
However, the new regulations have done nothing to spell out and formalize consumer rights and protections for cruise passengers. Critics also charge that the new policies do nothing to mitigate lax global oversight, even when the ships dock at US ports and submit to US Coast Guard inspections.
“There is not one universal overlord” that oversees the vessels, explained Robert Jarvis, professor of maritime law at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “So there is a race to the bottom for cruise lines looking for which country is the most lax and the most inexpensive. And there are countries that say to ship owners, ‘If you come here and pay an annual fee, we will leave you alone.’ “
Would-be cruise passengers need to carefully read the contract on their ticket, so they can understand what they are entitled to if anything were to happen. Standard practice usually involves full or partial refunds, or credits toward a future cruise. In response to what the 3,143 Carnival Triumph passengers endured, Carnival Cruise Lines offered $500 on top of a full refund for their ticket.
According to Carnival Cruise Lines, an engine room fire causes the power outage. The US National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cruise ship incident, though any impact on cruise regulations remains to be seen.
Cruise lawsuit immunity
Cruise ships are largely immune to lawsuits, since the standard of proof required of the plaintiffs are very difficult to fulfill. For a cruise ship lawsuit to have any traction, it must be proven that the cruise company knew that the vessel was not seaworthy, which is very hard to establish.
Though cruise vacations are often one of the safest travel options around, travelers need to be aware of what their rights are in case the unthinkable happens. Unfortunately, the cruise industry continues to operate in a type of legal purgatory, which means that passengers won’t be able to expect substantial changes in consumer protection anytime soon.
If you have suffered from a cruise ship accident, please contact our law office for a free evaluation. Attorney Elias Rudnikas is a maritime lawyer that provides law services free of charge until he wins each case.