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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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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Walkie Talkies to reduce accidents, injuries and crimes at seaLast time, our cruise ship lawyers discussed some simple ways in which you, as a cruise passenger, can reduce your chances of becoming a target of theft while on the high seas or in port. In this part of our blog installment, we’ll explore how you can reduce your chances of getting hurt at sea, as well as how to keep loved ones as safe from harm as possible.

The attorneys at our firm have been representing the victims of cruise ship accidents and crimes for several years. Though we would like nothing more than for all cruise passengers to have an incredible and safe time on their vacations, our experience has shown us that unfortunately, even the most careful of travelers can get hurt at sea or in port. Sure, at some point we all take a tumble and suffer an injury through no particular person’s fault, and sometimes we may make a few wrong decisions (such as consuming a little too much alcohol) that can cause us to get hurt. But there are times when even the most prudent of travelers is faced with an unforeseeable circumstance that can result in a serious accident.

No one goes on a cruise vacation automatically thinking the worse will happen. But it’s important to always keep a watchful eye for signs that something may be off. Many of us get that “6th sense” when danger approaches, and it’s important to listen to that gut feeling. But for the average cruise passenger, who is trying to relax and having a good time, it can be difficult to stay alert at all times.

That being said, there is a huge difference between being in a constant state of anticipation for the worst possible scenario, and enjoying a vacation in a responsible and cautious manner. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can reduce your chances of getting hurt while on your cruise voyage.

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reduce theft on cruise shipWhile cruise vacations can be a lot of fun, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that (as with all vacations), they can also be dangerous. With a higher than average rate of cruise ship accidents happening lately, it’s important to understand that things can go wrong at sea. Sometimes accidents occur at random, through no one particular person’s fault. However, there are times when a cruise accident results from a lack of safety on board. Safety should be the number one priority for all maritime industries (cruise lines included), but unfortunately, safety is not always the main focus.

There are several factors that can contribute to an accident at sea, or even a crime on board a cruise ship. Oftentimes, incidents result from a lack of safety personnel. Our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have often discussed the need for cruise lines to hire a greater number of trained lifeguards, as well as trained security guards. However, these types of positions require greater pay – pay which cruise lines don’t always budget for. One might think that the cruise industry, a multi-billion dollar industry, would be able to afford highly trained safety personnel, but this isn’t always the case. One might also argue that cruise lines should be able to afford the installation of state-of-the-art technology, such as infrared sensor devices that can notify a ship’s crew the instant someone goes overboard. Yet, these technological advances are not mandated across the industry.

So then where does that leave passengers? Must cruise ship passengers fend for themselves while on a cruise vacation? Of course not, but given the fact that the possibility of an accident or crime on a ship is fairly high these days, it’s important that passengers become aware of their surroundings, of the fact that incidents can – and often do – occur, so they can better prepare themselves for an emergency.

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American flagOur maritime lawyers would like to take this moment to wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July. Independence Day is an incredible holiday. After all, it celebrates the birth of our nation. Many of us will enjoy the holiday at home, while some of us may go out and enjoy the great outdoors. And naturally, since the holiday falls during summertime, some of the most popular activities on the 4th of July involve the water, including boating, water skiing, parasailing and kayaking.

Water activities are a lot of fun, especially on a holiday like the 4th, when beaches and lakes are packed with people of all ages enjoying the day with their loved ones. Of course, many will be enjoying alcohol and fireworks as well. Unfortunately, when you combine heavy marine traffic, drinking and fireworks, sometimes things can get out of hand. It’s important to keep safety in mind while celebrating, especially if your plans involve water sports and activities.

Statistics show that more boating accidents occur on Independence Day than any other holiday. Waterways are going to be extremely crowded, and it can be tempting to overcrowd vessels. Each state has specific maritime laws that govern water activities, including how fast vessels and Jet Skis can be operated, the minimum age of operators, how many people can ride on a boat or watercraft, etc. There are also laws regarding alcohol consumption, which can lead to boaters and watercraft operators getting charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI).

Some people may not be aware of the fact that there are laws that govern alcohol consumption on waterways, just as there are regulations for consuming alcohol while operating a motor vehicle on land. Through not all state laws impose strict laws as far as punishment for those found guilty of BUI, it’s important to refrain from any alcohol consumption if you are planning on operating a watercraft or vessel.

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Security guardIn Part 1 of our blog installment, our maritime lawyers discussed the significance of onboard safety and how cruise lines go about protecting those onboard from harm. Cruise lines employ several tactics to reduce crime and accident levels on ships, including installing surveillance cameras and performing background checks on potential crew members, but oftentimes, these methods fall short. As we previously mentioned, one of the best options cruise lines have to maintain shipboard safety is to hire trained security guards who know how to spot crimes, who can efficiently prevent situations from escalating and above all, who can ensure a victim obtains justice.

Though all potential cruise line crew members undergo screening for their positions, as would be imagined, individuals applying for a security guard position are generally more thoroughly evaluated. We discussed the screening process employed by the majority of cruise lines in our last blog, but in essence, applicants are given hypothetical scenarios and asked how they would handle them, if such an incident were to arise onboard a ship.

Many cruise line security guards have prior experience in security, law enforcement and even military combat, but unfortunately, this is only a plus, not an actual requirement for employment. So what does this mean for the safety of passengers and crew on ships? Well, in all honesty, if “security guard” with no prior security experience is charged with the extremely important task of monitoring a huge vessel (and the 3,000+ people that may be on it), it is very likely that there will be crimes that go unnoticed, unreported, improperly documented, and, worst of all, assailants may even be able to get away with their offenses.

Which brings us to our next topic: training. Ok, we understand that the cruise industry is one that is rooted in entertainment, not law enforcement. But as experienced maritime lawyers, we also recognize the growing need for security personnel who actually know what they are doing.

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Security on cruise shipsIt’s no secret that crime onboard cruise ships is reaching disturbing levels. Even though technology has drastically improved since the first cruise ships set sail over 100 years ago, our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. continue to worry about the cruise industry’s safety standards.

Make no mistake, we think cruises are generally safe and an excellent, affordable vacation, but given what we do on a daily basis (help those seriously injured or harmed on cruise ships), we keep a laser-like focus on what is really on out of the public’s view.

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to keep both passengers and crew members safe from harm. But how exactly do they go about protecting those onboard?

For one, there are cameras onboard that monitor common areas. Unfortunately, these cameras aren’t monitored on a consistent basis. There are also certain safety protocols that cruise lines require their crew members to follow. Crew must be trained on how to properly handle emergency evacuations and must pass a background check, but even then, dangers can still be faced by everyone onboard. Some checks fail to provide the full scope of a potential new hire’s background, which means cruise lines can – and often do – inadvertently hire individuals with a criminal past or who have a history of mental disease.

The next line of defense the cruise industry has against crime onboard ships is to hire experienced security personnel. Let’s face it, even though crew members should be trained on how to monitor areas for signs of crime and how to apprehend suspects, many of the individuals who are involved in shipboard crimes are the crew members themselves! Enter security personnel to the rescue.

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