Contributors

Charles R. Lipcon
Charles R. Lipcon is the firm's founding attorney and has been handling injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims for over 40 years. Read More »
Jason R. Margulies
Jason R. Margulies is an experienced maritime lawyer and an active trial attorney handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Ricardo V. Alsina
Ricardo V. Alsina is an active trial attorney, handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Michael A. Winkleman
Mr. Winkleman is an active trial and appellate attorney handling all personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims, as well as complex business disputes. Read More »

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JayRockefellerAs we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of our blog series, cruise ship accidents have seemed to occur with greater frequency lately, but it’s not necessarily because a greater number of accidents are happening. It only appears that way because cruise ship accident and crime reporting has become much more transparent in recent times – something that was propagated by the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy in 2012.

When the Concordia accident brought to light that cruise lines were not disclosing full information on accidents, were not doing everything within their power to protect passengers from harm, and were severely lacking in safety operations in general, it became obvious to many, including each maritime attorney at our firm and Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, that cruise lines were out to protect themselves above all else.

Sen. Rockefeller has been extremely vital in the fight for improved safety within the cruise industry. Just this past Wednesday, he called a second hearing (the first having been held last year) on cruise ship safety to discuss the fact that cruise lines are not doing their part to drastically reduce accidents and crimes on board ships. Last year, he introduced a legislation called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would require cruise companies to accurately disclose accident and crime reports as well as to simplify the language in passenger ticket contracts, which, as it stands, is extremely difficult to understand. In the very, very fine print, a passenger ticket contract allows cruise lines to avoid liability for many incidents that occur on ships, the vast majority of which result from the cruise line’s own negligence.

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Increase in cruise ship accident rateIn Part 1 of our three-part blog series, we discussed a pressing matter that’s been on the minds of several people lately, including each admiralty attorney at our firm – cruise ship accidents. Though the cruise industry has never been entirely free of accidents, as no industry can ever truly be, it seems to many that the number of accidents involving cruise ships is increasing at an alarming rate. Nearly every week, we hear about a cruise ship that experienced mechanical issues or crashed or had a passenger suffer an injury, or even a combination of all the above. And while the accident rate itself is frightening, perhaps the most alarming aspect of it all is that it feels as though these accidents just started happening out of nowhere.

Doesn’t it feel as though just a few years ago, cruise ships were just plain fun? No one ever seemed worried that the ship they were about to sail on could get stuck in port or disabled by a fire. It would appear – at first glance – that cruise ship accidents just magically started happening without rhyme or reason and wouldn’t stop. But, like we said, this is what we see at first glance.

In a way, the frequency with which cruise ship accidents have been occurring has increased, but not as much as one might think. The increase is largely due to the fact that newer ships are much larger than they used to be and can carry many more passengers. A couple of years ago, a ship was only able to carry around 1,000 or so passengers. Now, some ships can carry well over 4,000 people.

It honestly all boils down to numbers. If there are more passengers on a ship, the likelihood that someone will get injured is obviously higher. Additionally, the fact that the ships are much larger means that it’s not as easy to keep an eye over everyone onboard and it’s not as easy to monitor equipment. If you have a ship that’s only about 700 feet in length versus one that’s over 1,100, naturally it will be harder to find mechanical glitches and it will take a lot longer to do so. Unfortunately, ships only have so much time in port between sailings during which crew members can inspect for issues (usually less than three hours). Though the fact remains that inspections are rushed (another issue entirely), and sometimes crew members purposefully overlook certain details, it cannot be denied that larger ships will naturally be more prone to malfunctions based on the sheer fact that there’s just much more equipment to begin with.

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Increase in cruise ship accident rateThese days, it’s hard to turn on the TV or read a newspaper without hearing about a tragic accident involving a cruise ship. Whether it’s a mechanical issue or Norovirus outbreak, cruise lines seem to be constantly plagued with issues related to maritime safety – or as it would appear, a lack thereof.  As any maritime attorney at our firm can tell you, the cruise industry has never been 100 percent accident free, but it’s hard to ignore the surge of incidents that have been occurring in recent years.

But what exactly is contributing to all these accidents at sea? One would think that with all the technological advances that have been made in the past few decades, accidents involving cruise ships would be few and far between. At the very least, if an accident were to occur, it should be something so minor that guests on board the vessel shouldn’t even notice.

Maybe we aren’t asking the right question. Perhaps it’s not so much the fact that the cruise ship accident rate is increasing, but instead, the fact that the public is hearing about incidents a lot more these days.

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Laurie Dishman Cruise Ship Safety Senate HearingIn Part 1 of our blog, we discussed how sexual assaults are an ongoing problem within the cruise industry and how cruise lines have continuously failed to provide accurate reporting of the numbers and the facts surrounding these crime and have also failed to improve ship board safety aimed at addressing it, despite the fact that they have a responsibility under maritime law to the health and welfare of their passengers and crew. As a result, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller recently held his second hearing to discuss the lack of passenger safety.

Sen. Rockefeller has continuously tried to improve the safety of passengers on cruise ships yet, cruise lines have been very slow to respond to his concerns. Last year, he introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act and held a Senate Committee hearing to discuss the lack of safety within the industry. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly on the senate website and showed just how large of a discrepancy there was between the crimes cruise lines report and the actual number of incidents that take place.

Shortly after the hearing, four of the world’s major cruise lines, “Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corporation, Disney Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines, “voluntarily” published crime reports, which included statistics on the number of passengers who reported sexual crimes dating back to 2010. We say “voluntarily” in quotation marks because the disclosure was mostly a response to the Senator’s bill, which mandates reporting compliance and also standardizes the way reports are revealed to the public.

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Senator John Rockefeller Cruise Ship Safety HearingSexual assault is an issue that has plagued the cruise industry for several years. Unfortunately, as each maritime lawyer at our firm knows all too well, not very many people are aware of this.  For years, the cruise industry has been allowed and worked very hard to hide the number of crimes that occur on board, as a result only minimal about this has gotten out to the public.

Though maritime law requires crimes to be reported to the FBI, Coast Guard and other appropriate law enforcement agencies, the fact that most cruise ships are registered in foreign countries and fly foreign flags results in a kind of loophole – one that has allowed the cruise lines to get away with not reporting these crimes. By flying these “flags of convenience”, cruise lines until recently, had been allowed by the U. S. government to not have to report these crimes.

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Life saver In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed how the continued lack of safety within the cruise industry has prompted Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to host several Senate Committee hearings on the issue. Despite the advances in surveillance and accident detection technology and the number of incidents that have occurred within the cruise industry, including injuries, assaults, thefts, and death, the cruise industry doesn’t seem to be taking the necessary procedures to ensure optimal safety for passengers on board. The continued increase in cruise crime and accident statistics has led the senator to propose another hearing to discuss these issues, which will hopefully be the turning point for improved cruise safety policies and procedures.

The new hearing, titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers,” is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM and will be broadcasted live to the public via the Senate Committee’s website.

Much like each admiralty attorney at our firm, Sen. Rockefeller recognizes that the lack of industry-wide safety onboard ships has contributed to the escalating number of incidents. A problem that we’ve seen time and time against is that safety seems to be an afterthought for the cruise industry. It usually takes a serious accident or crime to occur – followed by heavy media coverage – to get cruise operators to discuss safety concerns and make promises to improve safety policies or even address the concerns of the public or maritime safety organizations.

Unfortunately, cruise ship safety isn’t one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” matters. Cruise lines shouldn’t wait until someone is seriously injured, assaulted, robbed, or killed in order to make improvements to their safety policies. If there is even the slightest chance that an accident or crime may occur due to a particular cruise ship’s maintenance conditions or the line’s overall safety policies, the issue should be addressed immediately. Sadly, this has not been the case, and hopefully, next week’s hearing will touch upon this critical concern.

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Life saver Last year around this time, the cruise industry was receiving a lot of negative attention following the Carnival Triumph fire in February, 2013, the Costa Concordia crash in January, 2012, and not to mention, a host of other cruise ship accidents and crimes. Though the cruise industry has never been 100 percent free of turmoil, the past few years have been wrought with an uncharacteristically large number of incidents involving passenger injuries, sexual assaults, overboard accidents, and deaths, along with several accounts of mechanical malfunctions, cruise operator negligence and crew member misconduct.

And while the cruise industry claimed several times it would improve safety features, new accidents and crimes have continually occurred and the industry had failed to provide any tangible evidence showing it had made good on the promise to improve safety. This prompted U.S. Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to call a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on July 24, 2013 so the issues stemming from a lack of safety within the cruise industry could be addressed. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly online and provided shocking statistics regarding the discrepancy between cruise ship crimes and accidents and actual crime and accident reporting.

Several industry experts and notable figures testified during the hearing, including the “Cruise Junkie”, Professor Ross Klein. Prof. Klein’s website, cruisejunkie.com, offers statistics and the latest news on maritime accidents, environmental issues, illness outbreaks, and other incidents at sea or in port. During the hearing, he shared his research, explaining that in 2013 alone, the cruise ship industry experienced 2 collisions, 2 passenger bumps, 3 groundings, 5 cruise ship fires, 8 failed health U.S. inspections, 10 cancelled port calls and/or itinerary changes, 16 delayed embarkations/disembarkations, and 19 mechanical issues.

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HondurasIn our last blog, we discussed the escalating crime rate in one of the most popular cruise destinations, Honduras. Though several Caribbean ports frequented by cruise lines suffer from high crime rates, it appears as though the situation in Honduras is reaching a critical level. Even the US Department of State has issued warnings on the dangers of this nation, explaining how violent crime has increased drastically and advising visitors to exercise extreme caution while in port, remaining aware of their surroundings at all times.

Though crime rates are escalating, the warning states that “…the Government of Honduras lacks the resources to address these issues.”

Last week, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández issued a ban on guns in Roatan and the Bay Islands, the regions cruise lines most frequently call on, but just days after the announcement, a tragic shooting crime occurred.

According to news reports, a young man was shot on Sunday morning, just three days after Hernández announced the disarmament mandate. The victim, identified as Henry Alexander Almendarez Orellana, was reportedly shot by two men in the area where he was living, Barrio La Punta of Coxen Hole.

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HondurasCruising should be a relaxing venture. One where guests can take a break from the stress of everyday life and enjoy their vacation doing as much – or as little – as they like. But while many travelers book cruise vacations in the hopes of unwinding and exploring new destinations, the unfortunate reality is that cruising these days can often be far from enjoyable.

Though we wish it weren’t so, every maritime attorney at our firm can tell you nightmarish stories of what really goes on behind closed doors aboard a cruise ship. Despite the fact that technology has improved drastically over the years, as well as the fact that maritime laws have become stricter, aiming to improve onboard safety for cruise travelers (and crew members), a greater number of accidents and crimes are taking place both on board a ship and in foreign ports.

The other day, our maritime lawyers blogged about some of the many actions cruise lines can take to improve safety on board ships, such as providing better and more comprehensive training for all crew members, hiring staff with a specific security background as well as equipping all ships with better surveillance technology. But while there are numerous things cruise operators can do to offer a safer shipboard environment for guests and crew, there’s not much cruise lines can do to improve safety in a foreign port, short of ceasing port calls altogether.

Many of the ports cruise ships call upon are nations were crime rates are extremely high. To a cruiser, the port may seem exotic and mysterious, but in reality, some of these popular destinations – especially those in the Caribbean – are often plagued with violent crimes. And though cruise lines often do advise guests to steer clear of certain “trouble” areas in port, suggesting venues that are closer to port, crime can happen anywhere and at any time.

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Alcohol on cruise shipsFor many, one of the best perks of going on a cruise vacation is the fact that you do not have to worry about finding a designated driver if you want to enjoy an alcohol beverage or two. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to kick back and have a cocktail while on your cruise. However, while the danger of drinking and driving may not apply on the high seas, alcohol consumption has played a significant role in many accidents – and even deaths – on the high seas.

One thing to keep in mind is that cruise ships make an enormous percentage of their revenue from alcohol sales. Naturally, cruise operators may glamorize alcoholic beverages, offering a “special drink of the day” or alcohol packages that allow guests the option of enjoying more alcohol for a lower price. But no matter where you are, be it the comfort of your own home, your neighborhood bar or a cruise ship, alcohol will always have the same effect if overly consumed – intoxication.

The dangers of becoming drunk while on land are vast. Intoxicated persons may become overly aggressive and be much more likely to get into an altercation – something that would otherwise not happen while sober. At the very least, an intoxicated person will lose inhibitions and may find themselves unable to keep their balance or a sharp focus on their surroundings. Bottom line, being intoxicated can lead to a plethora of unfortunate decisions, and unfortunate accidents.

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