Attack or Opinion? One Travel Agent’s Thoughts on the Cruise Industry and Maritime Lawyers (Part 1)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise shipsOur maritime accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. frequently report on what happens within the cruising industry because we feel it is the public’s right to know about the number of accidents and crimes that befall cruise lines. Of course, if a potential traveler were to take a cruise line’s word for what really goes on behind closed cabin doors, they would never get the full story. Instead, they’d most likely see an account of all the good things they can expect from a cruise vacation, including spa treatments, musical shows, good food, and other “fun” activities. Unfortunately, to quote a famous saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This means that since the cruise industry is a giant corporate mogul worth billions of dollars, they have a responsibility to provide their patrons with the truth, as ugly as it might be.

A few months ago, U.S. Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller held a Senate hearing on the lack of transparency within the cruise industry. He brought several “experts” in to testify as to the real number of accidents and crimes that occur on any given day onboard any given ship and the results were drastically different than what the lines have been reporting. Thus, he launched the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, which requires cruise lines to release accurate information regarding accidents and crimes to the public.

Sadly, it took a U.S. Senator’s persistent actions to lead four major cruise lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Norwegian, to “voluntarily” release their reports, but if it wasn’t for Sen. Rockefeller, the public would be in the dark as to how many burglaries, assaults, sexual crimes, and passenger disappearances really occur within in the industry.

Unfortunately, the cruise industry is barely regulated by the United States government. Because most cruise lines register their ships in foreign ports and have their ships fly foreign in flags, the U.S. is unable to regulate what happens within a ship. Instead, the vessel will abide by the laws of the country it’s registered in and whose flag it flies, and in many cases, these nations’ maritime laws are neither strict nor imposed. This leaves the victims of an accident or crime nearly powerless to contest their incident with the cruise lines. U.S. maritime law would otherwise protect a victim of cruise line negligence, but because of this longstanding tradition, cruise lines are able to get away with a lot of negligent acts.

Bottom line, if someone doesn’t report the ugly side of cruising, the truth will likely get buried. We believe passengers should have both sides of the story. They can get the puff piece from the cruise lines, but it’s our duty as maritime accident lawyers to show what can happen on a ship so travelers are better able to protect themselves, and hopefully, prevent an accident or crime.

That being said, we are advocates of the truth. And by truth, we report the facts – both good and bad. However, one travel agent’s account on the negative press regarding the cruise line is both shocking and inaccurate. In his article The new wave of attacks on the cruise industry, Richard Turen discusses how the media is pointing a finger at cruise lines and exaggerating the negative incidents.

We can’t speak for these media outlets regarding what was said, but we can discuss Mr. Turen’s point of view and address several of the ideas he expresses about cruise line bashing.

After discussing several articles that give cruise lines a bad name, Mr. Turen pointed out the tragic death of a young boy from drowning. He says, and we quote:

“Then there’s the story of the young boy who drowned onboard a Carnival ship in full view of his parents. CBS News led this story with the admonition that it was “the latest blow to the cruise industry.” No, it wasn’t. It was a heartbreaking tragedy that could have been avoided had a family member been in the pool supervising the boy directly in the absence of a lifeguard.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Turen, he clearly omits some very important facts. First, he notes that the accident could have been avoided had a family member supervised the child in the pool. Statistics show that many drowning accidents actually happen in the presence of other people. And, according to the CDC, “Near-drowning most often occurs when there is no lifeguard or medical professional around. You may attempt to rescue the victim from water, but only if it is safe for you to do so.”

So, this leads us to address the other issue at hand: the fact that Mr. Turen points out there is an “absence of a lifeguard.”

His words in this regard couldn’t be any more accurate. Yes, there were no lifeguards present. In fact, it was only last September that a cruise line, Disney to be precise, actually became the first major cruise line to hire lifeguards.

So why has it taken this long for just one cruise line to hire lifeguards? We discuss this topic in our blog, Why Don’t Cruise Lines Have Lifeguards? but we can tell you it has a lot to do with money and the cruise line’s desire not to spend it.

Without lifeguards, passengers are in complete danger of succumbing to near-drowning and drowning accidents. And this goes for adults as well. In fact, last September, we reported on the drowning of the famous 1985 MOVE Bombing survivor Michael Ward, better known as Birdie Africa. Mr. Ward , 41 years of age, drowned while in a hot tub onboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship. Here’s a grown man who has no need to be supervised, right? One would think than an adult, perfectly capable of following proper hot tub safety etiquette would be ok on his own, right? Additionally, one would think that because he was in a shallow hot tub, lifeguards aren’t needed, right? Wrong.

Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Someone may suffer a medical condition, may be intoxicated, may hit their head, and so on. We still don’t know what happened to Mr. Ward, but what we do know is that no lifeguards were around when he needed them.

Drowning accidents, as we can see, can happen to both children and adults. Sometimes, even with lifeguards, victims cannot be saved. It’s because a drowning occurs  in an instant. And with so many passengers enjoying a cruise ship’s pools or hot tubs, it’s hard – even for a trained lifeguard – to keep an eye on everyone.

Unfortunately, no one keeps an eye on passengers. The price of a cruise vacation is pretty steep. One would think that safety should be included in that ticket price, but how can any maritime activity  be unsupervised by a lifeguard? Or several in the cruise industry’s cases since many ships these days can hold over 3,000 passengers.

To address Mr. Turen’s opinion that the little boy drowned because his parents weren’t looking, we have to disagree. His life may have been saved had a trained lifeguard been monitoring the pool.

Additionally, it would also benefit cruise lines to wait until everyone is settled in before allowing guests access to the pool area. Embarkation can take several hours and is usually pretty chaotic. People are scrambling around looking for their rooms or their luggage and it’s not very safe to allow access to the pools before a ship sets sail. But hey, that’s just our opinion. One of many, along with Mr. Turen’s.

There are several more points to discuss regarding Mr. Turen’s article and our maritime lawyers’ take on the issues he addresses, so stayed tuned for Part 2 of this blog coming soon.