After a young boy nearly drowned in an Oasis of the Seas wave pool last month, the need for cruise lines to hire trained lifeguards to work on board ships is more apparent than ever before. Lifeguards are specifically trained to look for certain signs of danger and can respond to an emergency the moment it happens. With the current trend in cruise ship size favoring larger, aka “mega ships”, able to carry well over 3,000 passengers, the chances of a drowning or near-drowning accident are much higher.
Our cruise ship accident lawyers here at LMAW have often stressed just how critical it is for cruise lines to have lifeguards on board, yet, as it currently stands, there is no maritime law in place that actually requires cruise lines to do so. Why is that?
Well, though cruise lines haven’t actually come clean about their reasons for not employing lifeguards on ships, we can speculate as to why they haven’t done so. Let’s explore some of these possible reasons.
Though building a mega ship like Oasis of the Seas costs quite a pretty penny (we’re talking a billion dollars), as does the wide range of entertainment options provided on these vessels, cruise lines don’t tend to invest the same amount of revenue on safety features – lifeguards being a main factor in the preservation of passenger safety. Sure, they have no qualms about dishing out the big bucks on those “wow” factor features, like AquaTheaters or FlowRiders, but in the grand scheme of things, the cost of hiring lifeguards is a miniscule expense when compared to the amount spent on all the glitz and glam. If cost really is a factor, then maybe it’s time cruise lines reprioritized. Establishing a safe shipboard environment should be the primary area where funds are allocated to because all the cool attractions on a ship won’t mean anything if no one wants to sail on a ship that isn’t safe.
We can assume cruise lines just don’t want to take on the burden of spending money to hire lifeguards, but perhaps it all just boils down to ignorance. Maybe, it’s as simple as understanding cruise lines are just unaware of what it takes to keep passengers safe. Even a multibillion-dollar empire like the cruise industry can lack the comprehensive abilities to determine exactly how extensive safety measures on a ship need to be. Perhaps cruise lines think having a few lifeboats and lifejackets is more than enough to keep passengers safe from harm? Maybe they don’t understand the significance of having trained lifeguards on a ship and their role in maintaining maritime safety? Drowning and near-drowning cruise ship accidents continue to occur, and cruise lines continue to ignore the need for lifeguards and the statistics that show how lifeguards can prevent pool and hot tub tragedies. So, lack of education must be playing a big role here.
Deflection of Responsibility
We’ve personally seen and have represented dozens of cases where cruise lines refused to take responsibility for any accidents or injuries suffered by a passenger that were the direct result of the cruise line’s own negligence in providing a safe onboard environment. Let’s face it, cruise lines just don’t want to be held accountable for anything, and it certainly seems they don’t want to burden themselves with looking after the safety of their guests. But, as the popular saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Passengers trust cruise lines with their money, their time, and above all, their lives. Cruise lines, in turn, should do everything within reasonable power to make sure that trust is not broken – and this includes providing the safest possible shipboard environment.
Unfortunately, cruise lines would rather just slap on a tiny “Swim at your own risk” sign and heave the responsibility of swimming over to passengers. What about young children, like the Oasis of the Seas 4-year-old near-drowning victim, who probably can’t even read or understand what those signs mean? Many times, these signs are so small passengers don’t even get to see them. And the bigger ships are getting, the more distracting they are becoming. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion of a 3,000-plus passenger ship and become submerged under water – without anyone even realizing what’s going on because they are too engrossed in their own activities. Furthermore, drowning accidents can happen in a split second and do not often involve victims crying out for help. This means that even if another passenger or a child’s parents were monitoring the pool area, they still may not be able to tell the difference between someone horsing around under water or an actual emergency. This, however, is something a lifeguard is trained to do.
So, whatever reason cruise lines may have for not employing lifeguards, it’s still not a good one. The pros of having lifeguards on ships far outweigh the cons. Hopefully the cruise industry does something to change this before someone else becomes the victim of a cruise ship drowning.