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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HandcuffsCruise crime is an issue our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have long been discussing. We’ve talked extensively about how some of the most popular cruise destinations, including the Bahamas, Honduras and Belize, are among the most dangerous locations in the world. Yet, while the number of crimes against tourists at these foreign ports continues to increase, little has been done to improve passenger and crew member safety when venturing to these nations. One approach is to completely avoid these ports – at least for the time being until crime rates start to decrease. This would be the ideal approach, since avoiding a dangerous place entirely assures that no one will be placed in harm’s way. Realistically speaking, we understand that cruise lines can’t completely eliminate certain port calls, because Caribbean itineraries would fall apart.

Another approach, which would at least provide some sort of alert regarding a particular port’s crime level, is for cruise lines to start educating passengers and crew members as to the truth about these destinations and the fact that there is a very high chance of armed robbery and sexual assault. A few months back, Carnival Cruise Line issued warning notifications to its passengers taking Bahamian itineraries, informing them of the crime rate and instructing them on which areas were deemed “safe” and which should be avoided. This was, in our opinion, a great idea. While the port wasn’t entirely avoided, at least Carnival recognized the possibility of passengers and crew members encountering a potentially dangerous situation, and wanted to ensure everyone was fully aware of which areas were more prone to criminal attacks so as to plan a visit accordingly.

Unfortunately, it’s been over a year since this warning was issued, and the Bahamas, among other foreign ports, continues to be a volatile destination for cruise travel. In fact, the situation is so dire, the U.S. Department of State addressed the issue in a recent publication, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) crime report for the Bahamas for 2014.

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Costa CruisesAre cruise ships safe? That’s a question each maritime injury lawyer at our firm is often asked. As a general rule, the answer is yes, cruises are safe! Cruising is one of the most popular – and convenient – ways to travel for a host of reasons. But unfortunately people have come to have false expectations regarding cruise safety. Most people think: Not only do you have everything you could possibly need at your fingertips, including food, alcohol and entertainment, but you also don’t have to worry about transportation to and from a hotel to a site or driving intoxicated, or any kind of accident… right? WRONG.

Though many would like to believe cruise travel is safe, in many ways, it can be dangerous. Though crime rates in popular cruise destination ports like Roatan Island, the Bahamas and Belize are increasing at alarming rates, the lack of safety is most often a result of the cruise industry’s failure to incorporate innovative equipment and policies that would prevent accidents and crimes from happening in the first place.

In Part 1 of our blog, we discussed two of the world’s most highly publicized cruise accidents: the Costa Concordia tragedy in 2012 and the Carnival Triumph fire of 2013. Though not the first two cruise accidents in history, these two incidents received so much media attention, it lead to the stark realization that there’s a whole world of safety violations and seemingly negligent practices within the cruise industry that the public rarely gets to see.

Not only have cruise lines failed to adopt state-of-the-art technology that would aid in the detection of accidents and crimes, but lines have also failed to properly train crew members on how to effectively handle emergency situations. Moreover, when an accident or crime does occur, cruise lines literally do everything they can to avoid compensating passengers for their pain and suffering and financial hardships.

A new cruise accident has once again highlighted this consistent lack of shipboard safety and lack of passenger rights consideration across the industry. A few days ago, another Costa ship, the Costa Deliziosa, suffered a power failure and blackout in Valencia, Spain, which caused the vessel’s electrical systems to shut down. Though power and main services were restored after a few hours, we have to admit, we were on the edges of our seats for quite a while. Given Costa’s accident history – and Carnival Corp.’s in general – we were a bit skeptical about the ship being repaired within a prudent amount of time. However, we were not only pleasantly surprised to learn that ship was quickly repaired, but that Costa made the decision to keep the ship in Spain until the repairs were made, instead of attempting to sail back and risk further damage to the vessel, which could potentially leaving passengers stranded at sea, similar to the Triumph incident.

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Costa CruisesIt’s been over two years since the Costa Concordia capsized near the coast of Giglio, Italy, leaving 32 people dead and hundreds injured. The Concordia tragedy will forever go down in history as one of the pivotal moments in cruise industry history because it brought to light a very real, but once very concealed reality – the fact that cruise lines don’t always follow maritime safety regulations.

The Concordia capsized because of one man’s decision (and his company allowing the decision to occur) to go against the ship’s planned itinerary, Capt. Francesco Schettino. Schettino made a last minute decision to bring the vessel close to shore in a maneuver known as a salute (which had similarly been performed in the past and the cruise line was aware of the manuever). This, in turn, caused the Concordia to crash into a large rock and become damaged. What happened next was even more shocking. Survivors recount how crew members were entirely unprepared to handle an emergency situation. Instead of helping passengers remain calm and evacuate in as much of an orderly manner as possible, victims explained crew members were scrambling around, unable to communicate with one another and making the evacuation procedure nothing short of a nightmare.

In the wake of the Costa Concordia accident, another cruise ship debacle caught the world’s attention, the Carnival Triumph fire. The Triumph made headlines not just because of the fire, but because the ship had no emergency backup generators, which caused over 3,000 passengers to suffer amidst deplorable shipboard conditions, including overflowing sewage, meager food provisions and non-working toilets. In this day and age, when cruise ships are built with the most innovative features and fully loaded with every entertainment option under the sun, it’s hard to believe that of all things a cruise company would fail to equip its ships with, it would be backup generators. Cruise ships these days are practically expected to fly, let alone do something as basic as, say, keep running after a mechanical issue. Many people have backup generators at home in case of an emergency.

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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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