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 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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Coast Guard helicopterIn our last blog, our firm discussed a tragic accident involving a Carnival Spirit crew member. The victim, who allegedly worked in the ship’s kitchen, was reported missing July 8 after failing to report to his station and was presumed to have fallen overboard. The area where the victim was presumed to have fallen overboard was scoured, but sadly, the search for the missing man was called off the following day.

Carnival alleges the vessel was turned around immediately after a shipboard search did not find the missing man and the appropriate authorities were notified. But is there more to this accident than meets the eye? Did Carnival follow protocol or could something more have been done to try and save the crew member?

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald online site discusses a Carnival Spirit passenger’s testimony that is rather alarming. The passenger, who wished to remain anonymous , told Fairfax Media that an announcement had been made at around 9:30 am on July 8 informing those on board that a crew member had gone missing. However, the passenger claims the ship did not turn around until around 2pm. The passenger also added that it is possible the crew member could have been missing since the previous night, when the ship left Vanuatu.

The passenger’s recount, if accurate, could mean quite a bit for Carnival. For one, it could mean the ship’s operators did not initiate a search as quickly as they should have and if so, may be held liable for the crew member’s death.

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Coast Guard helicopterAs any maritime injury lawyer can tell you, accidents involving cruise ships are more common than anyone can imagine. Several factors can cause an accident, including mechanical failure, captain error, inexperienced crew and overall negligence on a cruise line’s part in maintaining a safe shipboard environment. But while there are many different types of incidents that can transpire on the high seas, a large number are, unfortunately, fatal.

One of the most common types of cruise ship accidents (and also one of the most fatal) is an overboard accident. Since 1995, over 200 overboard accidents have been reported across various cruise lines. Some of these accidents have been caught on a ship’s security footage, while many are not, making it extremely difficult to determine whether the victim went overboard as a result of their own actions, the cruise line’s negligence in maintaining safe conditions on board, or because of another’s criminal actions. Since evidence is not available in all overboard cases, many of the victims’ loved ones are never able to obtain the justice or closure they deserve.

This is incredibly frustrating given the fact that negligence is almost always a factor in these types of accidents. Negligence in the sense that most cruise lines doesn’t have sufficient security cameras throughout a vessel to capture victims going overboard the moment it happens or sufficient security personnel monitoring each deck. Negligence also in the sense that cruise lines have yet to install radar detection technology that will alert crew members when someone has fallen overboard. This technology is especially critical because it can ensure a ship is stopped immediately and that a search for the missing person(s) is initiated right away.

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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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