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 »

Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents

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Was there a fire on board Holland America NoordamSeems like the issues that the Holland America ship, ms Veendam, was experiencing last week are worse than our maritime lawyers originally imagined. HAL cancelled the ship’s seven-day itinerary from Quebec City to Boston on September 28 after the vessel suffered an issue with one of its propellers, but now, we’ve also learned that the Carnival Corp. subsidiary line cancelled its two subsequent sailings on October 4 and 11. Is there more to the ship’s equipment problems than HAL is letting on?

According to the cruise line, the Veendam will be going into dry-dock for repairs, which are apparently extensive.  True to cruise industry form, HAL is not releasing any information to the public regarding what exactly these issues may be, referring to them simply as “technical problems.”

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Propeller malfunctionsA maritime attorney can help with a wide range of cases. Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., we’ve helped the victims of several types of accidents and injuries, both onboard a ship and ashore. We often get asked whether or not a particular victim has a viable case, which we determine through thorough evaluation of each individual incident. Many victims who were skeptical will be surprised to learn about their rights as cruise passengers and that they can, in fact file a case.

Because every case is unique, we cannot stress how important it is for a victim of a cruise ship accident or injury to consult with an experienced maritime attorney to review their situation. Many times, we’ve been able to acquire compensation for victims who didn’t even think they had a claim.

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Security on cruise shipsStatistics show that over 200 cruise passengers and crew have gone overboard since 1995. Though several factors can play a role in these tragic accidents, including intoxication or foul play, cruise line security and safety continues to be subpar – despite recent advances in technology that have led to the creation of overboard passenger radar detection. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who are involved in overboard accidents do not survive. The sheer fall from a ship alone can be fatal, but other factors, such as exposure, tides, and marine life can also contribute to an overboard victim’s death.

The maritime lawyers at our firm have represented several grief-stricken loved ones whose family members and friends have fallen overboard from cruise ships. And what’s most striking is the fact that in many of these cases, there was no footage of the actual incident. These days, cruise ships are designed to carry well over 2,000 passengers and hundreds of crew members. Most cruise ships are equipped with surveillance technology, but then how are there no records of these accidents? Moreover, why aren’t there any crew members monitoring public areas to prevent these accidents in the first place?

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AnchorAny maritime attorney at our firm can tell you that maritime safety is a very broad term. It can apply to the seaworthiness of a vessel, the actions taken by a vessel operator to protect those onboard from harm, and the laws that are put in place on the state or federal level to avoid injuries at sea. But while we usually hear this term used in circumstances related to accidents involving seafarers, cruise ship passengers, boaters, or pleasure craft operators, maritime safety is also a term that applies to the protection of the environment.

Though there are several laws in place that work to limit a vessel’s impact on the environment, violations continue to occur, creating catastrophic problems for the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life. There are countless ways in which the environment can be affected by vessels – both large and small. An oil spill, for example, can destroy marine ecosystems and cause numerous health problems for sea creatures and plants. It can be years before an oil spill can be completely contained and the effects reversed, but in most cases, the damage is permanent.

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Life saver Last week, our maritime law firm discussed the increasing tensions in the Middle East and how cruise lines might soon need to modify itineraries – if not drop all port calls in Israel – if the conflict over the Gaza Strip continues. Israel and Palestine have been in a state of unrest over the rights to the Gaza Strip for years, but recently, the conflict has become aggressive once more, with both countries exchanging threats and attacks. There is a huge risk that a cruise ship sailing near the area – which many frequently do – will become a casualty of the conflict, which our maritime attorney Jason Margulies addressed in a previous blog. Ashdod and Haifa are two cities that cruise ships call on frequently, and if cruise lines do not cease these port calls, they might get caught in the line of fire.

Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that our fear has already come to pass. According to an article on telegraph.co.uk, an AIDA Cruises ship that had been sailing near the Israeli coast was hit with debris from a missile last month.

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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 lawyer 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 lawyer 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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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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