Passengers and Lawsuits over Carnival Triumph Cruise Experience

Maritime Articles

The lawsuits from angry passengers are mounting up against Carnival Cruise Lines, all of which seek financial redress for mental and physical trauma caused by 5 days of unsanitary conditions onboard. Though no one was hurt, Carnival Triumph passengers had to endure long waits for food, deal with broken toilets, and do without hot water for almost a week—turning what would have been a dream vacation into an all too-real nightmare. Some horrified vacationers reported extreme conditions, claiming that human waste had flooded the floors, including the state rooms.

The Mississippi based maritime law firm of John Arthur Eaves is the latest to file suit against Carnival, which was filed in Galveston TX. Meanwhile, a Miami maritime law firm has filed a proposed class action lawsuit in a Miami federal court in an attempt to establish a higher level of accountability for the cruise company. 

Unfortunately, the plaintiffs’ chances of obtaining legal redress and compensation through the court system is highly unlikely. According to Nova Southeastern University maritime law professor Bob Jarvis, the chances of winning these types of lawsuits are “Zero, zilch, zip, nada, not happening, not in this lifetime…Maritime law is very much on the side of the ship owner.”

The trouble began when an engine room fire broke out in the morning of February 10. Though automatic suppression systems quickly extinguished the blaze, the resulting damage immobilized the vessel’s propulsion, forcing it to run on inadequate emergency backup power.

Seatrade Insider reported that a boat carrying 11 technical and guest service specialists never reached the Triumph, which was confirmed by Carnival Cruise Lines.

“Between the sea conditions and the pace at which the Carnival Triumph was rapidly drifting north, the smaller vessel ultimately had to return to shore due to fuel concerns,” Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz confirmed. “The purpose was to lend additional support to the shipboard team but unfortunately the group was not able to reach the ship.”

With the aid of tug boats, the Triumph finally docked in Mobile, AL on Valentine’s Day, much to the relief of the ship’s 4,229 passengers.

The proposed class action complaint filed by the Miami maritime law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, alleges that Carnival Cruises Lines was negligent about the ship’s fitness for sailing. The lawsuit claims that the company should have known that the ship would have engine problems due to previous propulsion issues, and that it cut corners by having the ship towed to Alabama instead of a closer port in Mexico, prolonging the agony and trauma endured by the unfortunate cruise passengers, stating: “Carnival recklessly and intentionally put more than 3,000 passengers through a five-day living nightmare so it could protect its bottom line.”

In its defense, Carnival denies that the decision to tow the Triumph to Alabama had anything to do with cost cutting and expedience. According to the Miami-based cruise line, the Triumph was already drifting north away from Mexico due to strong currents, so it made sense to tow the boat to Alabama.

Regardless of the merits of the lawsuits and the all-too real suffering and emotional trauma endured by the unlucky vacationers, maritime law overwhelmingly favors cruise lines. As they say, the devil is in the details – in this case, it’s the fine print on the cruise ticket that serves as a legally binding contract. The terms on the ticket dictates who can sue, and where lawsuits can be filed – which severely limits an aggrieved passenger’s ability to get justice through the court system.

"If the ship breaks down, consumers are dependent on the goodwill of the cruise lines, which drafted iron-tight terms and conditions which protect them from virtually all bad experiences," explained notable Miami maritime attorney and maritime law blogger Jim Walker.

All tickets issued by Carnival Cruise Lines specify that any lawsuit against the company must be filed in South Florida federal courts, since the company’s headquarters are located in Miami. This can be problematic for many vacationers, since many of them traveled from all over the country just to take the cruise.

However, it’s not completely hopeless. Many maritime lawyers point out that the plaintiffs can win as long as it is proven that Carnival Cruise Lines was negligent about the ship’s seaworthiness and that the mental trauma was severe enough to merit medical intervention.

"I think there is a good case of liability against Carnival. The issue really comes down to the damages," noted maritime lawyer Robert Peltz.

While negligence can be extremely difficult to prove, the hardships suffered by the passengers have been confirmed by news outlets all over the world. According to the lawsuit filed by Matt and Melissa Crusan of Oklahoma, they feared for their lives and witnessed fellow passengers suffering from insomnia, nausea, headaches, and nightmares. They also claim that the agony and trauma was unnecessarily prolonged when Carnival decided to have the ship towed to Alabama instead of Mexico.

Though the Carnival tickets include a clause that prohibits the filing of class-action lawsuits, the Crusans are arguing that the clause is inapplicable because of the company’s negligence regarding the Triumph’s seaworthiness.

According to maritime lawyers and experts, there are 3 main prerequisites a class action lawsuit must meet to be considered valid:

  • Is the class action waiver on the tickets applicable? A judge must evaluate the circumstances and merits of the case before determining the validity of a class action clause. While courts have historically ruled in favor of cruise lines, there are exceptions.
  • Is class action status appropriate, considering the varying degrees of illness, trauma, and injury experienced by different people?
  • Did the passengers have true cause for concern over their physical and emotional health? Did the passengers need medical intervention as a result of their experience aboard the ship?

If the lawsuits are able to meet these criteria and are not dismissed due to printed ticket restrictions, Carnival could very well choose to settle just to end the negative publicity.

"It’s been my experience that the cruise lines are more concerned about the issues that affect the brand, as they call it," Peltz explained. "It could really affect their bottom line and ability to attract customers."

In the end, maritime legalese can only do so much to win the battle of public opinion. If enough consumers refuse to buy cruise vacations due to the perceived lack of liability and responsibility on the part of the cruise company, it could very well cost Carnival Cruise Lines far more in lost revenue than any successful lawsuit ever could.

Maritime Law: Cruise Ships and Assistance for Distressed Boaters

Maritime Articles

Stories of distressed boaters getting much needed assistance from cruise ships are fairly commonplace, especially in South Florida. It’s only when a cruise ship refuses or fails to provide any help that the incident is considered out of the ordinary.  

When a Princess Cruise ship reportedly failed to help three Panamanian boaters, it shocked many cruise ship industry insiders and maritime law professionals. According to maritime law and tradition, ships have a legal and moral obligation to help distressed seafarers.

Ship crew have a legal and moral obligation to help distressed seafarers.

The duty to respond to persons in need of assistance at sea is based on the moral obligation to save human life,” stated South Miami maritime lawyer James Walker. He also noted that the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates the shipping industry, requires mariners to help boaters in trouble.

The IMO explicitly states this requirement in its International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea: “A master of a ship at sea, which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance.

To comply with this law, cruise ship officers can receive essential training at the STAR Center in Dania Beach. The program includes information on how to assist distressed vessels; how to establish and maintain effective communication; how to handle ship emergencies; and how to enhance team and crew cohesion.

Every ship’s crew should have established protocol for helping distressed boaters

It should be standard operating procedure for every ship to have a set of “standing orders”, which is an established protocol for dealing with distressed boaters. The ship’s watch keeping officers should be well trained in recognizing distress signals out at sea, such as flares, hands waving, or urgent radio messages.

The International Code of Signals manual contains all recognized distress signals, which must be available on the bridge of every active vessel. If the watch officer spots a distressed vessel, it is his or her responsibility to inform the captain. Afterwards, steps must be taken to offer help to the distressed ship, as well as its crew and passengers.

It is still unclear as to why the captain of the Princess Cruise failed to help the troubled Panamanian fishermen. After all, the ship’s deck officers received the required bridge, emergency response, and vessel assistance training at the Center for Simulator Maritime Training in The Netherlands.

Three American passengers on the Princess claimed that the ship’s captain did nothing to help the fishermen after a crew member was informed of their plight. Two of the fishermen died as a result, leaving only one survivor who was rescued after 28 days at sea. The three men were seen waving frantically for help as the cruise ship sailed from Ecuador to Costa Rica on March 10.

The Princess, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., released an official statement saying it was “very sorry for the tragic loss of life.” The company conducted its own internal review, claiming that it could be a “case of unfortunate miscommunication,” since the ship’s captain was never notified of the fishermen’s signals for help. This conflicts with recorded passenger accounts of the incident, who claim that the crew knew about the distressed fishermen and did nothing.

Since the ship is registered in Bermuda, it is the responsibility of Bermudan authorities to investigate the incident. It is still unclear if the results of the investigation will be revealed to the public.

The failure to help is especially surprising, since other Princess cruise ships have assisted in more than 30 at-sea rescues in the last ten years. “The cruise industry has an incredibly good record overall of rendering assistance at sea,” declared Brad Schoenwald, an official at the U.S. Coast Guard Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise in Fort Lauderdale.

Possible penalties for the incident under Bermuda law include imprisonment for the ship’s captain, and a fine levied against him and his employer. The fishermen’s families will also most likely file a civil suit against the cruise company and the captain in the U.S. or in Panama.

Maritime law and crimes in the high seas

Information for Passengers

Effects of maritime laws on cruise ship passengersFor 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 Safety: The Legacy of the Costa Concordia Disaster

Maritime Articles

Cruise ship safety: cruise ship on the rocks 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.

Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) Becomes Effective in August 2013

Maritime Articles

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) of 2006 starts enforcement in August, 2013, affecting the working conditions of more than 1.2 million mariners. Now that the MLC is coming into effect, sailors, ship owners, and nation states can expect international consistency in maritime laws and regulations regarding work environment, employment conditions, as well as health and medical issues.

Working and living conditions -both on board and on shore- have been standardized internationally to prevent the problems of conflicting jurisdiction and regional maritime law. Under the convention, all ships weighting 500 tons or more must comply with all minimum requirements specified under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).

The International Labour Organization (ILO) needed a minimum of 30 countries to ratify the Maritime Labour Convention. As of August 2012, the Maritime Labour Convention has been ratified by 35 countries, representing 67% of the world’s shipping.

The convention is organized into 5 main Titles:

1. Minimum Requirements for seafarers to work on ships

  • Minimum age: must be 16 year old, or 18 for night work or for hazardous areas
  • Medical certificate that assures fitness to work
  • Training for work duties and personal safety
  • Proper recruitment and placement, as well as proper registration, complaint procedures, and compensation if recruitment is unsuccessful

2. Conditions of Employment 

  • Clear, legally enforceable maritime work contracts that include standards set forth by existing collective bargaining agreements
  • Mariner wages that are paid every month, and can be transferred to family upon request
  • Standardized hours of rest and hours of work for all marine workers
  • Official right to annual leave and shore leave
  • Seafarers do not have to pay for repatriation
  • Seafarer unemployment benefits for ship’s loss or foundering
  • Manning levels should always be sufficient on all ships

3.  Accommodation, Recreation, Food and Catering

  • Ship accommodations and facilities should promote seafarer’s health and well being
  • Food quality, quantity, and water must be regulated by the ship’s flag state. The ship’s cooks and all other food preparers should be properly trained.

4. Health Protection, Medical Care, Welfare and Social Security Protection

  • Medical care provided on board and ashore
  • Ship owner’s liability—form of worker’s compensation for seafarers, which includes at least 16 weeks of wages after the start of illness or injury
  • Standard health and safety protection and marine worker accident prevention
  • Access to shore based welfare facilities, which should be accessible to all seamen regardless of race, sex, religion, or political affiliation
  • Social Security coverage for all mariners.

5. Compliance and Enforcement

  • Flag states are responsible for enforcement
  • MLC applies to ships of non-member countries if they plan to call to ports of member states
  • Labor agencies are to be inspected, to ensure that they are in compliance with the MLC

The purpose of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is to ensure basic universal rights for seafarers around the world, in terms of reasonable working conditions, medical and health protection, accommodations, and social security benefits. The difficult part comes with the consistent implementation of the convention throughout the world. Certification and inspection will require a lot of time, effort, and resources, so ratifying governments and the maritime industry must work together to achieve compliance.

Ships that choose to remain uncertified or sail under the jurisdiction of non-ratifying states may have to endure more red tape and delays when entering the ports of ratifying states. Hopefully, the hassle and cost that comes with being uncertified will encourage all ships to become certified, or for more countries to ratify the MLC.

Overall, the convention is supported by many of the world’s seafarers, ship owners, and nation states. Hopefully, the Maritime Labour Convention will be properly enforced by all ratifying countries, which should improve the working and living conditions of mariners from all corners of the globe.