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 Maritime Matter of the Week

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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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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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Life saver Workplace accidents are extremely common, especially in the maritime industry. Though there are times when unforeseen circumstances are the cause of maritime workers experiencing injuries at work, the vast majority of injuries that take place while a crew members are at work are caused by either the employer’s or another crew member’s negligent actions. This includes the employer’s failure to maintain a reasonably safe work environment free from equipment failure, among other things. Though all maritime operators are required by law to maintain a reasonably safe workplace, many fail to do so, resulting in worker injuries, illness and even death.

A recent maritime workplace incident may highlight this disturbing fact. Did this incident result from negligence? Let’s explore the details.

Last week, a 39-year-old Filipino crew member who was working aboard the container ship Cap Posada was killed while on duty. The accident occurred at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

According to news reports, an investigation by the Port Police and the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration showed that the victim died as a result of “an industrial accident” aboard the cargo vessel. The victim sustained blunt force trauma to the head after a cable broke on the vessel as some containers were being moved. Additionally, it appears as though the actual accident occurred at some point between 10:15 and 10:30 pm; however, the victim’s body was not discovered until approximately 10:45 pm. Why was there a 15 to 30 minute lag time between the moment the accident occurred and when the victim’s body was found? Was he working unsupervised? Did the cable break because it was faulty or because the containers were overloaded?

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Cruise ship accidents on the riseIn our last blog, our cruise ship lawyers discussed a recent report that was published by the U.S. government regarding escalating crime rates in the Bahamas. As we’ve previously noted, crime in the Bahamas, and several other foreign ports frequented by cruise lines, is reaching an all-time high. Though there have been a number of ships that have either temporarily ceased calling on foreign destinations, or have at least issued warnings to passengers venturing to these dangerous locations, the fact still remains that cruise travelers are constantly at risk of getting injured or even killed due to the increasing criminal activity in some of the more popular Caribbean cruise destinations, the Bahamas being one of the most perilous.

Cruise lines can only do so much to help keep passengers and crew members out of harm’s way. Sure, stopping port visits would be the ideal situation, but let’s face it, if all of these dangerous locations are taken out of a Caribbean itinerary, the Caribbean itinerary would basically consist of an extended sail around the ocean without any actual stops. Cruise lines have no authority to implement crime-reduction tactics in the foreign ports they visit, but even when a cruise line tries to do the right thing, such as educate passengers of the potential dangers associated with a particular port, that nation’s government will fire back and complain.

After Carnival Cruise Line issued a warning to its passengers regarding crime in the Bahamas, and which places should be avoided the most, Nassau’s most popular resort, Atlantis, retaliated and demanded Carnival stop issuing the guest warnings because it would diminish their revenue. As usual, the providers of travel often favor money over a traveler’s safety. Atlantis officials said they were concerned about Carnival’s informative warnings, especially the warning of increased gun violence. Carnival also warned guests not to carry cash while in Nassau, over which Atlantis officials expressed their concern. Since Atlantis boasts one of the largest casinos in the world, of course a lack of cash would be an issue for them. Cash is much easier to spend than a traveler’s check or a credit card.

But then given the escalating number of attacks against travelers in the Bahamas, what exactly is the Bahamian government doing to minimize the risk for cruise passengers and crew members?

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