Contributors
Charles R. Lipcon

Charles R. Lipcon is the firm's founding attorney and has been handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims for over 40 years.Read More »

Jason R. Marguiles

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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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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Security on cruise shipsIt’s no secret that crime onboard cruise ships is reaching disturbing levels. Even though technology has drastically improved since the first cruise ships set sail over 100 years ago, our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. continue to worry about the cruise industry’s safety standards.

Make no mistake, we think cruises are generally safe and an excellent, affordable vacation, but given what we do on a daily basis (help those seriously injured or harmed on cruise ships), we keep a laser-like focus on what is really on out of the public’s view.

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to keep both passengers and crew members safe from harm. But how exactly do they go about protecting those onboard?

For one, there are cameras onboard that monitor common areas. Unfortunately, these cameras aren’t monitored on a consistent basis. There are also certain safety protocols that cruise lines require their crew members to follow. Crew must be trained on how to properly handle emergency evacuations and must pass a background check, but even then, dangers can still be faced by everyone onboard. Some checks fail to provide the full scope of a potential new hire’s background, which means cruise lines can – and often do – inadvertently hire individuals with a criminal past or who have a history of mental disease.

The next line of defense the cruise industry has against crime onboard ships is to hire experienced security personnel. Let’s face it, even though crew members should be trained on how to monitor areas for signs of crime and how to apprehend suspects, many of the individuals who are involved in shipboard crimes are the crew members themselves! Enter security personnel to the rescue.

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HandcuffsThe maritime lawyers at our firm have consistently reported on the escalating crime rates at some of the world’s most popular destinations, including the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and Honduras. Though we understand that initiatives aimed at improving safety for not only cruise passengers touring these destinations, but for locals as well take time, it’s important that these nations acknowledge the problem and make an effort to reduce crime incidence in a feasible manner.

That being said, it surprises us that certain countries are still not seeing a significant decrease in crime rates, despite the fact that authorities claimed initiatives would be enacted to tackle the problem. In fact, the Department of State in the United States has just issued another travel warning this month about the continually high crime rate in Honduras, one of the most popular cruise destinations.

The Department, which also issued a travel warning for Honduras a few months ago, stressed that the “level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high”, but the nation “lacks the resources to address these issues.”

The warning goes on to explain that Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world since 2010, with the Honduran Ministry of Security reporting a homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 people in 2013.

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Life saver In our last blog, our cruise ship passenger law firm discussed ways in which cruise lines could reduce the rate of crimes on board ships. Let’s continue exploring how the cruise industry can protect the safety of those on board and also, what passengers can do to reduce the likelihood they will become the victims of a crime as well.

 

Follow Maritime Laws and Policies

Victims of crimes on cruise ships often do not obtain the justice they deserve due to overlapping investigations, lost or insufficient evidence, failure to fully or properly question witnesses, and the fact that cruise lines often fail to abide by maritime laws and policies. There are a number of maritime regulations in place that are designed to protect those on board a ship against harm, especially against the threat of criminal activity.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 is one of the most important maritime laws. Aimed at strengthening safety and reporting standards, the law requires the cruise industry to provide a safe environment on ships, which includes installation of video surveillance systems in common areas, as well as door viewers and security latches on cabin doors. The law also requires that cruise ships be fully equipped with materials that can adequately allow medical professionals to perform medical exams on sexual assault victims, as well as materials that allow for accurate collection of forensic evidence.

The law also requires cruise line operators to log and report all incidents related to missing persons and deaths, as well as criminal acts involving U.S. citizens. The purpose of this provision is to ensure the FBI, Coast Guard and all other appropriate law enforcement agencies obtain accurate information regarding the incident in order to carry out an investigation, as well as to ensure the public has full access to cruise ship crime statistics.

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Justice ScaleCrime is something that affects everyone, no matter where you live or where you travel to. Naturally, crime is something cruise ship operators have to deal with as well. Not only is crime something that can affect cruise guests and even cruise ship crew members while in a foreign port, but it’s also prevalent on the ships themselves.

Though there isn’t much cruise operators can do to change the laws of each country in order to make destinations safer for guests – aside from stopping port calls completely – there are several tactics cruise lines can employ to reduce the likelihood that someone on board a ship will become the victim of a criminal act, such as theft or assault.

Our cruise lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. will explore the many ways cruise lines can reduce the likelihood a crime will occur on board.

 

Improve Crew Member Training

Though there are times when incidents can occur without any foreseeable way to prevent them, many crimes on cruise ships occur because of the lack of adequately trained crew members. One way to reduce crime on board a ship is for cruise operators to invest in better training for their staff. For one, there is a significant lack of emergency training for crew members, as well as a lack in specialized officers, such as security guards. Far too many passengers become the victims of serious crimes and often, crew members are unable to help because they lack the proper training. Hiring trained security officers and providing specialized security training for all crew members can have numerous benefits. Crew members can better spot crimes in the making, for example, and can possibly stop life-threatening incidents from occurring or can stop minor crimes from escalating. Also, if crew members are properly trained on how to document incidents, crime scenes and evidence can be better preserved, which means those who have been wronged have a much greater chance of obtaining justice.

Additionally, given the fact that many perpetrators are crew members themselves, cruise lines can invest in more rigorous background checks to reduce the likelihood a convicted offender is hired. Just because a background check surveys the crew member’s record in their home country, this doesn’t mean they didn’t commit an offense in another country. More extensive background checks and even the issuance of psychological exams can prevent those who are not of sound mind from being employed on ships.

Furthermore, cruise operators can also station a greater number of crew members to stand watch in both public areas and in locations where only crew can access to reduce crimes. Many incidents take place in the late hours of the night or in hidden corridors, when no one is monitoring the ship. If a greater number of ship personnel are standing watch at all times, there is much less of a chance that a criminal will strike.

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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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Coast Guard searches for boating accident victimsIn our last blog installment, we discussed a fatal boating accident that took place in the Cal-Sag Channel, near Palos Hills, Illinois on Friday night. According to police, a 19-foot pleasure craft collided with a 66-foot commercial towing barge at around 11 pm last Friday night, causing the pleasure craft to capsize. The bodies of two victims, Jeremy Muzika and Viengsavanh Bielarz, have already been recovered, but police initially believed there may have been others that were still missing as of Saturday. We have yet to learn whether or not any other victims were recovered, but as of now, only two fatalities have been recorded, and the victims had both been riding in the pleasure craft. No word on whether anyone on the barge sustained injuries.

Though investigators are still searching for answers as to the nature of the accident, there are several factors that could have contributed to the terrible crash, many of which stem from negligence.

According to one of the victims’ brothers, Greg Bielarz, the group had a tendency to “go out boating every week.” Bielarz added that the group was aware of the frequent presence of barges and noted that “things happen.” This is a rather odd thing to say given the fact that his brother (who may have also been the owner of the vessel) and his brother’s wife were on the boat.

Officials are not releasing the names of the missing boaters as of yet, but continue to hope for the best with the search.

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Coast Guard searches for boating accident victimsOur boating accident attorneys are saddened to hear of a disturbing incident that occurred near Palos Hills, Illinois on Friday night. As of today, three people are believed to be missing and two were killed after their boat capsized in the Cal-Sag Channel.

According to Coast Guard reports, the 19-foot vessel collided with a 66-foot commercial towing barge at around 11 pm Friday night. Someone near the accident scene reportedly heard a loud noise and alerted police, and authorities rushed to the scene to determine what happened. Though investigators found the wreckage, none of the victims were seen initially.

Police report there were at least three people on the pleasure craft, but believed there may have been two others onboard. The search was conducted for five people.

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Life saverThe 2014 cruise season is well underway, but that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing for the cruise industry thus far– no pun intended. In the first half of the year, we’ve already seen a host of accidents and crimes, many of which have resulted in fatalities. The cruise lines’ image have again been tarnished with news of violent sexual assaults, and both passengers and crew members have faced peril while exploring foreign ports due to high crime rates, including gun-point robberies. Each maritime and offshore injury lawyer at our firm knows all too well that accidents do happen, but from our perspective it just seems as though the cruise industry as a whole far too frequently fails to maintain a safe shipboard environment. There can only be one result of this type of conduct: crime, injury, and death on the high seas.

Recently, it has come to our attention that negligence in maintaining a safe shipboard environment likely contributed to a new accident involving a passenger aboard an MSC ship. According to the media station Univision, a passenger went overboard from the MSC Divina cruise ship this week. The news report, originally written in Spanish, explains the passenger, who was on deck 15, fell roughly 164 feet into the water – an extremely dangerous, if not deadly, fall. The vessel had been on a special sailing around Brazil in honor of the World Cup. The ship was transporting around 3,500 passengers, all of whom were from Mexico, and was traveling between the three cities where Mexico’s soccer team was scheduled to play during phase one of the World Cup games.

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