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 »

HandcuffsLast time, our admiralty lawyers described a very odd situation involving the Independence of the Seas ship in Norway. So odd in fact, it could be considered somewhat criminal. The vessel was “arrested” this week after a pilot’s association petitioned a Norwegian court. Why did they petition the court, you ask? Simple, the Independence of the Seas failed to pay what was owed. When a ship fails to pay its obligations to any kind of association (ie provision of goods or services), the vessel gets detained, aka “arrested”, until the outstanding balance is paid. If the ship refuses to pay, then the vessel can be sold at auction. Kind of like a foreclosure.

Though a practice not often highlighted in the news, a maritime lien can be enforced at any point when a cruise ship fails to pay its obligations. Much like authorities would do if an individual failed to pay their taxes, mortgage or credit card bills, collectors, etc. In this case the courts, will go after the vessel in question and will use it as collateral until the lien is satisfied. This can happen with a cruise ship, cargo ship or any other type of vessel.

Maritime liens can be placed on ships due to any of the following factors:

  • Failure to pay crew member wages
  • Failure to pay general claims
  • Breach of a charter party
  • Failure to pay a ship’s “mortgage”
  • Failure to pay costs associated with repairs, supplies, pilotage, and other “necessities”
  • Following a personal injury, death, or collision claim
  • Following the damage or loss of cargo
  • As a result of pollution

But why does this happen to begin with? Well, it’s no secret that (in this case) cruise lines don’t always follow the rules. Our firm has blogged about several cases in which vessels were involved in accidents or became the site of violent crimes, all because onboard safety was not made a priority. Though all maritime vessels must abide by the reasonable safety standards to protect both passengers and crew members from harm, many vessel operators choose to cut corners and avoid paying for improved safety features or improvements to policies, despite the fact that these same cruise operators seem to have no qualms about spending millions of dollars on projects to improve onboard entertainment.

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HandcuffsWe’ve heard a lot of weird news over the years here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. We’ve seen all sorts of cruise ship accidents, crimes that would make anyone going on a cruise vacation want to stay on dry land, and an overall negligence in keeping passengers safe from harm that would give someone nightmares. But every once in a while, we hear of an incident on the high seas that makes us all take a step back in order to analyze the situation in question. This week, we’ve had one of those “a-ha” moments. Our cruise lawyers got wind of an interesting happening involving a Royal Caribbean ship in Norway. Though there have been a lot of crimes onboard cruise ships involving both passengers and crew members, which have led to arrests, this time, it appears as though the offense was so large, an entire ship had to be taken into custody!

According to a newspaper in Norway, the Independence of the Seas cruise ship was arrested while in Alesund and booked on criminal charges. Well, we’re joking about that last part, but seriously, the ship was arrested!

So this is what transpired. You’ll want to pay close attention, this one’s a douzy. Allegedly, a pilot association seized the Independence of the Seas after the ship’s operators failed to pay association’s fees related to provisions and services, including crew member wages, nourishment and fuel. After failing to pay the fees, the association petitioned a court in Norway to detain the cruise ship, leading to the “arrest.” It was all very strange, but hey, failing to pay fees could, in some form, be considered a type of financial crime. That’s probably why the Independence of the Seas was treated just as any other fee-avoiding scoundrel would be. A local bailiff served the ship with the arrest papers and that’s where the ship remains… behind figurative bars and stranded on the dock.

Ok, we know this sounds far-fetched, but all jokes aside, what happened to the Independence of the Seas was not all that uncommon. Much the way legal action can be taken against a crew member were one to engage in criminal practices, vessels can be seized for a number of reasons as well. Think of it in terms of collateral. Royal refuses to pay the association, so, their “account” went to collections and a collector has taken the ship as a form of collateral until the cruise line pays what it owes to the association.

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message in a bottleIt’s been the topic of many a romance and comedy film throughout the years, but rarely do they actually happen in real life. We’re talking about the ever-whimsical “message in a bottle”. A message in a bottle is basically what it sounds like – a rolled up letter stuffed into a glass bottle and unleashed into the open waters, with the hopes that someone will find it. Bottled messages have been used as a form of SOS as well as by those who have flirted with destiny, hoping their bottle will make its way to their one true love. But while the idea of a message in a bottle is fanciful, rarely do people these days actually take the time to create a message, insert it in a bottle and throw it into the ocean. Why? Well, first off, the chances of it finding anyone are slim to none.

This is precisely why one cruise couple’s story is so amazing. The couple, who jokingly threw a message in a bottle overboard from the ship they were sailing on last year, actually had someone respond to their note! The maritime lawyers at our firm are pretty shocked to hear of this news, so we can only imagine how the couple reacted when the bottle’s finder visited them at their home.

The story is a rare, but interesting one. Gwen and Clinton Bennet were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary and Clinton’s birthday onboard a P&O Ventura cruise ship when they decided to throw a plastic bottle containing a letter overboard into the Atlantic Ocean. The couple was on the last leg of their three-week cruise around the Virgin Islands last year and Gwen explained she’d had a “Titanic” kind of moment, which prompted her to launch the bottle from the back of the vessel.

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Swim at your own riskIn Part 1 of our blog, our cruise lawyers discussed the ever-growing, yet ever-ignored need for trained lifeguards onboard cruise ships. We talked about how an Orlando-based news station reported on the staggering number of children who have fallen prey to drowning and near-drowning accidents onboard cruise ships, including Qwentyn Hunter, a six-year-old boy who died after drowning in a Carnival Cruise Line pool last year.

Qwentyn was one of four children who died last year after drowning in cruise ship pools. But despite these horrific statistics – and truth be told just one child drowning death is appalling enough – most cruise lines do not employ lifeguards to keep watch over passengers and prevent these perilous situations.

When confronted with the question of why lifeguards aren’t employed on ships, many cruise offer a rebuttal. Some might argue that it’s up to the parents to watch for their children’s wellbeing, while others insist that having sporadic and inconspicuous signs near the pool areas warning passengers to “swim at their own risk” is more than adequate contribution on their part to maintain onboard safety. But the fact of the matter is that children aren’t the only ones who can suffer a drowning or near-drowning accident while on a cruise vacation; adults can be victims as well.

Last year, our firm reported on the death of 1985 MOVE bombing survivor Michael Ward , better known as “Birdie Africa”. Ward, a 41-year-old man, died after drowning in a Carnival Cruise ship pool last September. Though not many details were revealed pertaining to the circumstances of the accident, this terrible drowning goes to show that just about anyone can fall victim to a drowning onboard a cruise ship.

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lifeguardIt’s an issue our cruise lawyers have discussed time and time again, yet one which has yet to be addressed. An issue that is widespread in the cruise industry, but one which perpetually gets ignored. Lifeguards – or lack thereof. Though one might imagine that all cruise ships should employ trained lifeguards, seeing as the nature of a cruise vacation centers around water, the dire truth is that only a handful of cruise ships actually do.

Believe it or not, cruise passenger drownings are more common than anyone might think. And these drowning aren’t happening due to overboard accidents; they are happening right onboard the cruise ships in pools and hot tubs.

A special aired on WKMG Local 6 (ClickOrlando) discussed the frightening truth of cruise ship drownings, especially accidents involving children. The news station interviewed the parents of one child who drowned onboard the Carnival Victory, six-year-old Qwentyn Hunter. Qwentyn was surrounded by his family when the accident occurred, which further demonstrates the need for trained lifeguards to watch over passengers in pool areas at all times.

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Cruise ship accidents on the riseOur firm has continually been keeping track of increasing crime rates in popular cruise destinations, including the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica. Following several reports of theft, sexual assault and homicide crimes involving both cruise passengers and cruise crew members, our maritime lawyers had hoped cruise lines and the leaders in these countries would begin to work together to determine the best safety options for travelers, as well as to carry out an effective plan to diminish crime in general. And – shockingly – it appears as though our hopes have come true.

A news station in Honduras reported yesterday Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Carnival Corp. security managers have met with government and tourism officials in Honduras, home to reportedly one of the most dangerous cruise destinations, Roatan Island, as part of a workshop to discuss the safety of cruise travelers and crew members who visit the port.

Allegedly, the workshop was hosted at the behest of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández. President Hernández recently paid a visit to cruise officials in Miami to discuss the increasing violence in Roatan Island.

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Cruise ship medical facilitiesIn Part 1 of What You Should Know About Cruise Ship Medical Facilities, we presented a very frightening, but very possible scenario involving a cruise passenger who went into anaphylaxis after consuming an alcoholic beverage with a nut ingredient. The passenger was not informed of the ingredients in the drink prior to consuming the cocktail, and began experiencing an extreme allergic reaction a few minutes out. Though the passenger, who was well aware of their allergies, came equipped with an epinephrine pen (EpiPen) in case of emergencies, it was left behind as the victim relaxed on the Lido deck. After seeing the passenger’s reaction, crew members transported the victim to the ship’s medical quarters, where an epinephrine shot was administered. Unfortunately, too much time had elapsed and even with the shot, the passenger died.

This hypothetical passenger shares a fate similar to many who have sailed aboard cruise ships and fallen gravely ill or succumbed to life-threatening injuries. Though accidents can and do happen, it’s impossible to turn away from the fact that many accidents and illnesses on the high seas end in fatalities. Why does this happen?

For one, many people who suffer a medical emergency on a cruise ship do not obtain the treatment they need in time. Heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis, and allergic reactions can be fatal, but have a much greater chance of being surpassed if superior medical treatment is attained immediately. Yet, cruise passengers often are not rushed to sick bay or are not rushed off the ship to the nearest hospital.

But aside from the time aspect, health emergencies that transpire on cruise ships often become fatal because the ship itself is extremely ill-equipped to handle little more than a common cold, headache or minor scrape. In an age when over 3,000 people can easily sail aboard one ship to some of the most remote and places where hospitals aren’t even found, it’s hard to believe that cruise lines haven’t started equipping vessels with urgent care units.

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doctorLet’s pretend you’re right in the middle of sailing the high seas on an exciting cruise vacation. You’re out on the Lido deck, working on your tan and sipping on an unidentified, yet oh so tasty tropical cocktail your server referred to as the “Signature Drink of the Day”. A smile begins to sweep across your face as the rhythmic sounds of Calypso music play in the background. Taking a deep breath, you lay back and close your eyes, letting the cool salty breeze drift you into pure bliss.

But just as quickly as you slipped into relaxation mode, your downtime was rudely interrupted by the realization that you’ve developed a tickle in your throat. You take a big gulp of your drink and chock it up to the cigarette smokers a few feet away from you. But the tickle quickly escalates into a raging sore throat. Your palms begin to itch and you suddenly have trouble breathing. But you’re no stranger to these symptoms. You know exactly what’s happening. As you start to panic, you look down at your drink and it dawns on you – that mystery drink isn’t all that much of a mystery anymore. Gasping for air, you run toward the first cocktail waiter you see and somehow manage to ask him to tell you what’s in the drink. But he doesn’t know, and seeing the urgency in your actions, turns around and asks for the bartender’s help. The clock is ticking.

As the bartender is running through the list of ingredients, you’re worst fears are confirmed – there’s Peanut Rum Crème in the drink….and you are deathly allergic to peanuts. You are going into anaphylactic shock. You brought an EpiPen, but it’s back in your cabin. You weren’t planning on eating anything containing nuts, so why would you bring it to the Lido deck? Who would have ever imagined a cruise ship would serve a drink with peanuts without informing anyone, when it’s one of the world’s most common allergens?

As the allergic reaction intensifies, frightened crew members rush you to the medical facility on board the ship. The doctor gives you a dose of epinephrine right away, but you do not feel relief. Too much time passed. You need serious medical attention right now. Unfortunately, you won’t be getting it.

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onboard a cruise shipIt seems like every other day, we hear about a new cruise ship disaster. Whether it’s an engine malfunction, a fire, a disappearance, or a Norovirus outbreak, the past few years seem to have been wrought with a higher than average number of mishaps for the cruise industry. Ships keep getting bigger, but are they getting any safer? What are the odds that the next ship to set sail will be involved in an accident, become a crime scene or a cesspool of rapidly spreading viruses? Given the industry’s track record, the odds aren’t exactly in their favor.

So how safe are cruise ships these days? Well, if we’re talking sheer mechanics, pretty safe. The odds of a ship becoming completely and utterly disabled are actually not as high as you might imagine. These days, ships are built to withstand inclement weather conditions and mechanical issues. No, really. Just because there are ships, like say, the Carnival Triumph that become completely disabled because of a fire, doesn’t mean that this is a common occurrence. Most catastrophic accidents that involve ships breaking down or catching fire are not the result of poor design or outdated equipment, they are the result of someone – or multiple people’s – negligence.

The Triumph, for example, would probably have never caught on fire had Carnival complied with recommendations concerning repairs to the fuel hoses. Contrary to what many might think, there is A LOT of technology that can effectively prevent as well as contain a fire, if one should break out. The Triumph fire didn’t happen because the ship itself was built to be unsafe, it happened because of a series of very bad decisions. Bad decision #1: Not complying with maintenance and repair recommendations concerning the fuel hoses, including installing spray shields. Bad decision #2: Not installing backup generators. The recommended repairs and maintenance would have prevented the fire, but the fact that there were no backup generators on board to keep the power running was a gross error in judgment on the cruise line’s part. The safest piece of equipment in the world isn’t immune from experiencing a glitch. Its equipment, it can break. However, this particular fire should have never happened and would have never happened had the cruise line been more adamant about safety. So, in this regard, it’s not the ships that are unsafe, it’s the overall manner in which the cruise industry operates.

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doctorIf you’ve noticed an increase in the number of cruise passenger injuries and deaths, you’re not alone. Our maritime lawyers worry constantly about the ever-increasing rate at which cruise travelers are becoming exposed to life-threatening situations. It’s natural that with the growing size of ships and the larger number of passengers they accommodate, accidents would be much more likely to occur. But at the same time, cruise lines have done nothing to improve onboard medical facilities or facilitate the transport of seriously ill or injured passengers to the nearest land-based hospital.

In our last blog, Sick at Sea? Don’t Expect Much Help from Cruise Lines, we provided an inside look into what passengers requiring medical treatment during their cruise vacation can expect. In all honesty, they shouldn’t expect much. Though not for lack of space, cruise ships are not equipped with extensive emergency medical facilities, nor are all ship doctors even properly trained to treat serious or life-threatening illnesses and injuries. If a passenger needs emergency treatment right away, they might not even get approved for an air medevac, and may suffer serious – if not fatal – complications as a result.

Even when a cruise passenger does obtain treatment, whether for a larger health issue or for a minor injury, they can expect to pay an arm and a leg for it. Health insurance isn’t usually accepted onboard ships, which means that anyone needing medical attention, even if it’s just for sea sickness, will be paying full-price out-of-pocket costs.

But while there are times when emergencies strike without any foreseeable cause, there are many things cruise passengers can do to minimize their risk of getting sick or hurt on the high seas, and reduce their chances of having to pay the exorbitant cost of onboard medical care. Let’s explore these options.

 

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