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 »

Boat propellerWhat began as a selfless act to help a struggling group of boaters turned tragic for one South Florida man this weekend. Ernesto Hernandez, only 23 years old, was killed on Sunday while trying to aid local Miami celebrity DJ Laz, whose vessel became stuck on a sandbar on Nixon Island. According to police, Hernandez, a bodyguard, was one of three people who tried to help push the 40-foot pleasure boat back out to sea when he was fatally struck by the vessel’s propellers.

Jorge Pino, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), explained Hernandez sustained severe injuries to his entire torso. The victim was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital via helicopter, but later died from his wounds.

Authorities are investigating the boating accident but we have yet to learn whether negligence was involved in the tragedy. If so, criminal charges could be filed, especially if anyone operating the vessel was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

We don’t know yet who the owner of the vessel is, but what we do know is that DJ Laz, whose real name is Lazaro Mendez, was in control of the boat at some point. Though everyone at the scene of the accident should have been issued a breath or blood test to determine if anyone was intoxicated, it appears as though this critical step was not taken.

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Life saverLately, it seems all the news surrounding the cruise industry is negative. There have been an uncharacteristically high number of shipboard and offshore accidents involving cruise ships, along with several reports of crimes, including sexual assault and armed robbery. At the start of each week, our firm will usually have some ghastly maritime tragedy to report, but not today. Today, we are proud to report on an accident that could have turned deadly, but because of one cruise ship’s crew, a happy ending ensued.

During the weekend, three people who whose raft was caught in the currents of a storm faced peril on the high seas. The rip currents pushed the raft three miles away from the Texas City Dike, where the victims were originally sailing, into the Houston Ship Channel. It was then that the crew of the Caribbean Princess noticed the rafters and contacted the Coast Guard for help. The ship had been sailing in the area and instead of ignoring the situation, took action to ensure the victims obtained the assistance they needed.

Within about an hour, Coast Guard rescue operators located the raft and rescued the occupants – a man and two boys ages six and 17. None of the victims had cell phones with them and it is unclear whether they were wearing life jackets. It is a miracle no one was hurt.

We could be hearing about a completely different turn of events, had the Caribbean Princess crew failed to notify emergency operators. While many of you may be thinking that it was the crew’s duty to notify the Coast Guard – and you are right – unfortunately, there are times when cruise lines fail to do the right thing.

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Cruise ship accidents on the riseCruise ship vacations are supposed to be fun…right? No one really thinks twice about what could possibly go wrong onboard a ship or at a foreign port when they are on vacation. After all, the purpose of a vacation is to kick back and relax. Once travelers board a ship and get a whiff of that party, care-free atmosphere, all their fears – if there even were any – start to fade away. But unfortunately, it’s not so easy to forget the dangers and focus solely the fun.

Many of the foreign ports that are frequented by cruise lines are actually pretty dangerous. Some of these places are notorious for their crime rates – especially crimes against tourists. Tourists can easily be spotted by criminals and often become the targets of crimes or become the victims of shore excursion accidents stemming from lack of safety. Sometimes, cruise lines give fair warning when docking at these ports, while other times, passengers are left in the dark. Our maritime lawyers have outlined a few of these not-so-hot hot spots so that you can be fully prepared on your next cruise vacation and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

 

The Bahamas

The Bahamas is by far the most popular foreign cruise destination. Every cruise line that features a Caribbean itinerary calls on the Bahamas and offers dozens of shore excursions at these tropical ports. Nassau, the capital, is the most frequented of all the cities in the Bahamas, but it also happens to be one of the most dangerous. The crime rate in the Bahamas is staggering, with tourists (including cruise passengers) being targeted for robberies and sexual assault. A few months ago, Carnival Cruise Line began passing out flyers to passengers when docking in Nassau, warning them of escalating crime rates and advising them to remain close to port. Anyone visiting the Bahamas is advised to keep a lookout for suspicious activity and to travel in large groups. Continue reading →

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water activitiesThere are many factors that can result in an accident at sea. Some are caused by an inexperienced captain and crew, while others result from unfavorable conditions. Below are some of the most common factors contributing to maritime accidents throughout the world, including cruise ship, cargo vessel and pleasure craft accidents:

Inexperience

No matter what state you live in, there are strict maritime laws that govern pleasure craft activities. In addition to those laws, there are international maritime regulations that oversee the operation of cruise and cargo ships to ensure not only the safety of those onboard the vessels, but the safety of anyone else in the vicinity. From the smallest boat to the largest passenger ship in the world, one of the main rules everyone must abide by when manning the helm is the fact that a minimum amount of experience is required. There can be both age limits and experience restrictions when it comes to operating vessels in open water. Inexperience has resulted in many accidents at sea, mostly due to the fact that if a pilot or crew member does not have the sufficient expertise in responding to emergency situations, such as inclement weather or a collision, they will not understand how to maneuver out of the emergency. Yet, these types of accidents continue to occur. Continue reading →

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stay safe on your cruise“How can I stay safe on a cruise?” That’s one of the questions our cruise ship lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. are most often asked. As the number of accidents and crimes at sea continue to escalate, it’s important passengers understand they can play an active role in staying safe. If you’re planning on taking a cruise vacation, we’ve outlined five key tips that can drastically improve your chances of staying safe.

 

Travel in Groups

The old adage, “safety in numbers,” is tried and true for good reason. The larger the group you travel with, the lower your chances of becoming a target of a crime. It’s much easier for an assailant to target and isolate single travelers. Traveling in groups also ensures that if you happen to get hurt, you’ll have loved ones by your side who will make sure you get help immediately.

 

Establish Meeting Points

It’s easy to get lost on big ships and it’s also easy to find yourself in a troublesome situation where you might become the target of a crime. Establish a meeting point in an open, high-traffic area on the ship in case your group gets separated. This way, if someone in your group doesn’t show up at the designated time, you can alert crew members and initiate a search as quickly as possible.

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Coast Guard helicopterOverboard accidents are one of the most common types of accidents onboard cruise ships. Since 1995, a total of 231 overboard accidents have been reported. In the first few months of this year alone, 11 people have been reported missing from cruise ships, some of which were caught on camera falling or jumping overboard, while the circumstances surrounding the other accidents continues to remain a mystery.

Sadly, another overboard accident was recently reported near Florida, and the likelihood of rescuing the victim grows dimmer with each passing day.

According to news reports, the victim was James Miller, 30, of Charleston, South Carolina.  Crew members reported Miller jumped over the railing of the Bahamas Celebration cruise ship, operated by Celebration Cruise Line, while the vessel was en route to its home port in West Palm Beach.

The accident happened around 27 miles east of Delray Beach, which is a relatively short distance to port when considering the likelihood of finding and rescuing the victim.  But while cruise officials argue the Bahamas Celebration crew turned the ship around the moment they realized Miller was missing, by the time they reached the area, Miller was nowhere in sight. Coast Guard members initiated a search for Miller, while the Bahamas Celebration continued along its scheduled itinerary.

Is the cruise ship somehow responsible for this tragedy? According to the family of the missing man, the answer is yes.

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Life saverCruise accidents have been occurring since the first cruise ship set sail over 100 years ago. Though advancements in technology have certainly led to the creation of larger ships, the cruise industry appears to have fallen behind in terms of creating safer ships. Lack of safety and security onboard ships have led to accidents and crimes, some of which resulted in fatalities.

As experienced maritime lawyers, we recognize the importance of placing safety at the forefront, yet, cruise lines have failed to upgrade ships with the latest safety technology and have failed to take other measures to improve shipboard conditions for travelers and crew members. Inevitably, as long as there are ships in the sea, accidents are bound to happen. The world is never going to be 100 percent safe. However, taking all possible reasonable steps to reduce accident and crime probability is really all we can ask of any maritime industry, including the cruise industry.

So what exactly can cruise lines do to improve safety at sea? Quite a bit! Our firm can attest to three key steps cruise lines can take to create safer shipboard conditions:

 

Improve Ship Maintenance

Several cruise ship accidents result from mechanical failures. Issues with propulsion, broken fuel hoses and other malfunctioning equipment can lead a ship to lose power and get stranded in the middle of the ocean, or worse, succumb to a fire. Cruise lines should be dedicating more time and crew to ship inspections – and should perform more thorough inspections – before a vessel sets sail in order to prevent a mechanical mishap.

 

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South Korea Ferry AccidentLast week’s ferry accident in South Korea has left the world in a state of shock. Over 400 people boarded the Sewol ship en route to the resort island Jeju, never imagining the nightmare that was about to unfold. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip. Since the accident, only 174 victims were rescued, and though over 700 divers have been scouring the waters off the Korean peninsula, no other survivors have been found since the actual day of the sinking, on April 16.

As each day passes, the death toll rises, and so does the list of people to blame. As of this morning, 169 bodies were recovered, leaving 133 victims still missing. Families struggle to stay positive, as the hope of finding any other survivors begins to falter. Meanwhile, 11 crew members, including the captain, have been arrested in connection with the disaster.

Capt. Lee Joon-seok and several crew members have been criticized for failing to evacuate the ship when it first began to list, telling passengers to stay put and ultimately, sealing their fate. Lee has since issued a public apology, claiming he held off on the evacuation due to the frigid temperature of the water, strong currents and an overall lack of rescue vessels, but what was stopping him from ordering passengers to board lifeboats? Lee also drew public anger after news surfaced that he was one of the first to abandon ship. Though he ordered passengers to remain calm and wait for further instructions, he sure seems to have seen the urgency in evacuating the sinking vessel.

Our firm was one of the first to report on the tragedy, and has kept a close watch on news reports to bring you the latest information on the accident. From the get go, our maritime lawyers suspected the accident shared eerie similarities to the Costa Concordia capsizing in 2012.

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Cruise shipWe’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen onboard vessels far and wide here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. . When we say “crazy”, we’re not talking about 100-foot waves that appear out of thin air or casino slot machines suddenly spewing never-ending reams of cash. We’re talking about the kind of crazy that stems from a cruise line’s sheer disregard for passenger safety. You know, those times when a passenger has succumb to a life-threatening injury but wasn’t evacuated off the ship. Or when a passenger is sexually molested, but the cruise line fails to apprehend the perpetrator or contact FBI agents. The kind of crazy happenings that make you think twice about sailing in the first place, unless of course you’re travelling with a full entourage of body guards, doctors and maritime lawyers.

Unfortunately, crazy seems to be the operative word used to describe cruise line behavior these days. As accidents and crimes continue to escalate – even in the wake of the U.S. government vowing to take a stand against the lack of transparency in cruise accident crime and accident reporting – we can’t help but wonder what is really preventing the industry from taking a steadfast approach to improve safety conditions onboard ships. This year alone, we’ve seen several overboard accidents, more sexual crimes than we would like to even think about, a host of Norovirus outbreaks, and an array of other accidents or mechanical mishaps.

More often than not, passengers who are hurt don’t get taken off ships. Likewise, criminals are also oftentimes not taken off a ship and handed over to police. The point we’re trying to make is that it is not very often we see someone get taken off a ship, even when all signs point to the need to have that individual disembarked, whether to treat an injury or to take them into custody.

But this week, someone did manage to get taken off a ship. Like you’re probably wondering right now, our cruise ship lawyers also wondered what could possibly have happened that resulted in someone getting removed from their vessel? It must be something extraordinarily catastrophic, right? Wrong.

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Charleston, SCLast year, our cruise lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. blogged about the South Carolina case involving the creation of a new port in Charleston. That legal battle is still ongoing, with environmentalists pushing for the idea to be scrapped, and the State pushing for the terminal on the grounds that it will increase revenue to the city.

At first, the idea seemed mostly favorable. South Carolina gave extensive consideration to a $35 million cruise ship terminal and obtained a permit from state environmental regulators at the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. Taking activists’ concerns into consideration, the Ports Authority and Charleston officials even agreed to limit the number of cruise ship port calls to 104 per year in order to minimize the environment impact.

But then, in a move no one saw coming, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel decided to void the federal permit that had been issued for the cruise terminal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the grounds that the Corps of Engineers failed to give sufficient consider to the environmental impacts of the terminal. Environmentalists cheered, thinking they were victorious, but then, another unexpected turn of events took away the Environmentalist win.

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