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.
For millions of travelers, cruise ships are a great way to leave the real world behind. It’s usually a safe and fun atmosphere, where you can enjoy activities like gambling and alcohol consumption without the hassle of red tape or threat of arrest. Unfortunately, the lack of jurisdiction at sea can be a big problem if you are ever a victim of crime onboard a cruise ship. Ship incidents such as an onboard fire, piracy, crashing into rocks or a glacier, and crime on cruise ships are quite rare. Between 2004 to 2007, cruise lines have reported 28 people who disappeared while at sea, while only 3 of the reported missing have been found. There were also about 200 reports of sexual misconduct or assault, and 4 recorded instances of grand theft during that time period.
However, the problem with cruise ship crime isn’t frequency (which is thankfully rare, considering the millions of cruise ship passengers each year)—it’s the difficulty of prosecuting offenders and enforcing maritime law. Very few reported cases have been properly investigated, and even fewer investigated cases have ever been solved.
Many factors complicate the enforcement of maritime law. The reality is that cruise ships don’t have to report crime data to any official governing institution, and the responsibility of maritime law enforcement often falls under the flag state the cruise ship is sailing under. Every country is different when it comes to prioritizing maritime law enforcement, which further adds to the confusion when a crime does occur.
Determining Jurisdiction Under Maritime Law
In 2006, a female passenger vacationing onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was raped and assaulted in her stateroom. Upon returning immediately to Los Angeles, she gave her statement to the FBI, only to find out that there was nothing the U.S. justice system could do.
Existing global maritime law mandates that cruise ships must do everything possible to ensure safe passage. However, determining jurisdiction can be complicated—which depends on whether the ship was in international waters or within the national coastline when the crime occurred, and what state flag the cruise ship is sailing under.
Unfortunately for the woman, the ship was in international waters when the alleged assault occurred, and is registered in Liberia. Before the incident triggered a congressional hearing on cruise ship crime in 2006, the cruise line recorded 66 cases of alleged rape between 2003 and 2005, without a single case resulting in a successful prosecution.
Different countries have their own version of maritime law, which means that cruise ship crimes must be decided on a case to case basis by necessity. First and foremost, the country where the ship is registered determines what laws apply. For the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that is registered in Liberia, only Liberian maritime laws apply, which are supposed to be enforced by Liberian authorities.
Additional jurisdiction also applies depending on where the ship is docking. If the ship is docked in Long Beach, CA, then all U.S. and California laws apply to the ship, its passengers, and its crew—regardless of the country the ship is registered under.
A country’s laws are usually applicable to any ships within 12 miles from its coastline, though there are some exceptions. For instance, no ship can allow gambling activities until it is 12 miles out of the American coastline, no matter what flag country the ship is sailing under.
The contiguous zone, which is the area between 12 to 24 miles from any national coastline, falls under limited national jurisdiction. Countries can patrol their borders within that zone and even supersede the authority of the flag state the ship is sailing under, as long as the ship is still within 24 miles of the national coastline.
Once the ship is 24 miles away from any national coastline, it’s considered to be sailing in international waters. In this case, the ship is subject only to the laws of its flag state. For example, a Panama registered ship that is 25 miles off the coast of Florida is only subject to Panamanian law, not U.S. or Florida law.
Unbeknownst to the vast majority of cruise passengers, cruise lines can also dictate where they can be sued according to the fine print on the ticket. If the ticket specifies that the cruise line can only be sued in Miami, then any other state court will almost always refuse to hear the case. It is for these reasons that lawsuits against cruise lines are rare. Not only is it difficult to file them, but the ones that do get filed rarely go anywhere.
The Advantages of Legal Leniency
Most of the time, you don’t have to worry about crime on cruise ships. For people looking to get away and enjoy activities that are normally illegal or banned in their home countries, the high seas are a great opportunity to safely have fun without the worry of arrest or over-regulation. This is why passengers on U.S. registered cruise ships can enjoy gambling and round the clock drinking (as long as the liver and the cruise bartender will allow it) without violating any American anti-gambling and public intoxication laws.
The hazy jurisdiction under maritime law is usually a good thing, as long as no crime is committed. It’s important to remember that despite the lack of clarity in maritime jurisdiction, cruise vacations are usually safe and crime-free. That said, it’s always a good idea for travelers to be informed and prepared for all the risks—and to never forget to read the fine print.
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.
It is generally understood that the captain is the ultimate authority of any vessel, and is expected by the general public to put the well-being of his or her passengers first by being the last to leave a sinking ship. What made the Costa Concordia disaster so infamous was the fact that the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, chose to abandon ship and leave his passengers to their own devices.
Maritime Law and inadequate cruise ship crew behavior
But despite tradition and common practice, international maritime law has no fixed penalty for the cowardly and selfish act of abandoning ship. However, since the vessel was flying the Italian flag and sailing in Italian waters with an Italian captain, the jurisdiction lies under Italian maritime law—which means Captain Schettino can be prosecuted by the Italian government and sent to prison. Abandoning ship is still considered a maritime crime in Greece, Spain, and Italy, in contrast to other nations that have removed it from their books.
Where are maritime crimes prosecuted?
When incidents occur in international waters, obtaining complete investigations and prosecuting offenders can be difficult, since the efficacy of enforcement depends on the flag state of the ship. Many U.S. Corporation owned cruise ships sail under Panama or the Bahamas, so any incident that involves these ships would be investigated not by the U.S., but by Panama or the Bahamas. In addition, the vessel may be subject to the laws of any country where it docks.
Unfortunately, this left little recourse to American passengers who have gone missing or were victims of crimes at sea. As a result, many victims were forced to hire specialty maritime lawyers in Miami, Florida and file civil suits against cruise lines, which left little impact on international maritime law and enforcement. Finally in 2010, the International Cruise Victims Association lobbied Congress, resulting in the ratification of a new law compelling U.S. based cruise lines to report maritime crimes to the FBI.
Another concern highlighted by the Concordia disaster is the way modern cruise ships are built. Today, all active vessels are built according to the regulations specified by the Solas (Safety of Life at Sea) conventions, which are created and enforced by sovereign member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). All ships sailing through ports belonging to member states are subject to regular surveys and inspections, which should ensure widespread international safety compliance.
Vessel size may compromise cruise ship safety
As they say, hindsight is always 20/20. There are concerns that the large size of the Concordia may have compromised cruise ship safety by making evacuation more prolonged and difficult. However, there were many factors that contributed to the Concordia disaster, such as: Captain Schettino’s questionable decision to sail without first conducting a safety drill; his alleged non-compliance of the established route; his neglect in issuing a mayday signal soon after the accident; his choice to abandon ship without warning the passengers; and his refusal to return to the ship to assist with rescue efforts.
According to Nautilus, the maritime professionals’ union, there needs to be a re-evaluation of current cruise ship safety guidelines. With last year’s sinking of the Concordia still fresh in people’s minds, many would-be cruise ship passengers are finding themselves in agreement with that assessment.
In response, IMO Secretary General Koji Sekimizu pledged to review the current regulations on large passenger ships: "We should seriously consider the lessons to be learnt and, if necessary, re-examine the regulations on the safety of large passenger ships in the light of the findings of the casualty investigation. In the centenary year of the Titanic, we have once again been reminded of the risks involved in maritime activities.”
According to the IMO’s interpretation of maritime law, all cruise ships must carry enough lifeboats for all passengers on board. But enough lifeboats aren’t much help if they are inaccessible during an emergency, as the doomed Concordia passengers found. Standard cruise ship safety regulations aside, it could be said that the biggest danger to a passenger’s well-being are ship and crew personnel that don’t care enough to follow established rules. Captain Schettino was found to be non-compliant of many standard safety procedures, which helped seal the fates of the unlucky passengers of his ship.
Precautions to take before embarking on an international cruise
Fortunately, maritime disasters like the Concordia are extremely rare. While passengers have no control over the skill and conscientiousness of their captain, there are still some measures they can take to ensure their safety. If you are an American citizen who wants to travel internationally, you can register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) or go through the U.S. Embassy, which will make it easier for the State Department to help you during times of emergency.
Before travelling out of the country, it is a good idea to make a copy of your passport and store it electronically on a cloud drive, so you can access it anywhere with an internet connection. Always bring a bag with essentials, such as your prescription medication and toiletries. And once you board the ship, make sure to locate your life vest and attend the muster drill.
For everything that went wrong with the Concordia evacuation, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the ship’s passengers were able to leave the ship safe and sound. Overall, cruise ships are still one of the safest vacation options travelers can choose—and as long as the cruise industry stays vigilant, there’s no reason for another Concordia type accident to happen again any time soon.
It was one year ago on January 13, 2012, that the cruise liner Costa Concordia sank off the Italian island of Giglio after accidentally navigating into rocks. There was no warning—the lights simply went out during the magic show, which was quickly followed by sounds of scraping, the ship tipping to one side, and a panicked and disorderly evacuation. The disaster claimed the lives of 32 people, and even now the ship remains submerged in the ocean. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, may be indicted on various charges, including manslaughter, negligence, and abandoning the ship before his passengers. Other Concordia crew members and executives may also face trial, though it will definitely take more time before accountability is fully established.
Fortunately, the cruise industry has taken action and reviewed cruise safety policies, enacting changes designed to make cruises safer for both passengers and crew members alike. Since the disaster, cruise ships all over the globe have redoubled their commitment to safety on cruise ships. Nobody wants to repeat the Concordia disaster, which means that routine cruise ship safety measures are no longer taken for granted. Passengers need to pay attention, attend muster drills, and listen to cruise safety instructions.
New cruise safety drills
After Concordia, the new muster rule was established—which means that cruise ship safety drills must be completed before sailing. This is especially important, since at least several hundred passengers on the doomed liner had not attended a muster drill. This was cited as one of the biggest factors behind the panicked and disorderly evacuation.
In addition, 10 new initiatives have been enacted, which include important cruise safety measures such as: restrictions on bridge access, an increase in available life jackets.
Cruise ship passengers can help ensure their own safety by listening to the ship’s crew members Whether it’s the massage therapist, server, or bartender, they are all rigorously trained and knowledgeable when it comes to safety on cruise ships and emergency evacuation procedures. Passengers should not blow off muster drills, since the information being dispensed is always essential during the event of an emergency.
Safety standards and regulations have been standardized for cruise lines all over the world after the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) was formed at the end of 2012. The organization’s focus is to create and update existing cruise ship safety regulations for the cruise industry, in order to ensure a safe traveling experience for everyone involved.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Coast Guard also play an important part in regulating cruise safety, since these organizations conduct safety inspections and ensure compliance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Passengers looking for more information regarding cruise safety records can access CDC reports posted on the CDC web site, or read the Coast Guard incident reports on the U.S. Coast Guard web site.
An important consideration for ensuring passenger safety is for the traveler to practice good hygiene. As always, frequent hand washing with soap and hot water is one of the best defenses against illness. If hand washing is not always possible, infrequent use of over the counter hand sanitizers may be the next best thing (overuse can inadvertently create resistant bacteria).
It can’t be emphasized enough that a little preparedness can go a long way to ensuring a safe and fun vacation. Travelers looking to prevent seasickness would do well to pack ginger candies, Dramamine, and acupressure wristbands into their luggage before boarding the ship. Health forms should be answered honestly, so the crew can take the proper precautions to ensure the health of all boarded passengers.
While there’s no way to undo the Concordia disaster, much can be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. As long as the cruise industry is vigilant and passengers are active participants when it comes to ensuring their own safety, a cruise trip will continue to be one of the safest vacation options a traveler can choose today.