Does Bigger Mean Better Within the Cruise Industry?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Two ships in Grand TurkThese days, going on a cruise vacation means a lot more than just boarding a vessel and heading to a foreign port. Now, the ships themselves are part of the vacation experience, with many lines featuring entertainment options that rival Vegas. Onboard water parks, water acrobatic shows, mobile gambling, and even cupcake making classes provide everyone in the family with an option for fun. No matter what age you are, if you are going on a cruise in the 21st Century, you may not even want to get off the ship.

And with so many different entertainment options, ships are growing in size to accommodate more features and more passengers. At one point, cruise lines would reach max capacity at only a few hundred travelers, but now, the largest cruise ships in the world can hold well over 4,000 people.

Though the chance for a memorable vacation is certainly there, as cruise ship accident attorneys, we have to wonder if perhaps ships aren’t getting a little too big. The expression “bigger is better” isn’t always accurate. From a safety standpoint, there are numerous reasons why having such large vessels is not necessarily the best thing, but we can understand how from the traveler’s standpoint, the larger the ship, the better the trip.

It’s important for anyone going on a cruise to be aware of the potential dangers they can encounter in order to best protect themselves from harm. The more you know about these potential perils, the better equipped you will be to avoid them and the more time you’ll have to concentrate on the fun and relaxation.

Firstly, large cruise ships aren’t necessarily the best when it comes time to debark in the scheduled Ports of call. Most ports of call, especially those in foreign countries, are not equipped to handle today’s mega ships. As a result, these ships are unable to dock in many of these locations and must drop anchor a ways away from land. Passengers going ashore must then rely on the tenders to get to shore and then back to the ship.  Apart from not being the most comfortable of experience it can be tricky maneuver to accomplish safely first when going from the ship to the tender and then from the tender to the shore side dock and then when going from the shore side dock to the tender and from the tender to the ship.

Second, mega vessels can cause shoreline erosion.  Venice has long been complaining of how big ships are affecting the fragile ecosystem of the lagoon and have fought to ban larger cruise ships from entering Venetian waters.  Additionally, mega ships bring with them more noise pollution. Locals often complain of greater noise and disruption caused by the mega ships greater number of passengers, which can ruin the charm of a quaint town and interfere with the lives of its residents. Many also argue these larger ships will cause an increase in pollution, affecting the wildlife and marine life in the areas they visit.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates and grades cruise ships yearly based on how well cruise lines uphold environmental preservation laws, including how well lines manage and reduce air and water pollution and their sewage treatments . Last year, the grades were extremely poor. Only Disney Cruise Line received an “A” grade.  Most of the major cruise lines failed their environmental report cards, receiving D” and “F” grades.  Generally speaking the larger a ship is, the greater its impact on the environment.  Unfortunately, not many lines are taking the necessary steps to minimize the impact of their vessels on the environment and are causing more harm than good.

Lastly but most important for us, mega ships mean mega potential for accidents. The larger the ship is, the more passengers it carries and the greater the statistical probability for there to be slip and falls, overboard accidents, assaults, sexual crimes, theft, and the like.

Just within the first few weeks of 2014, we’ve already seen six overboard accidents occur and the world’s largest cruise ship Norovirus outbreak. Cruise lines have yet to incorporate all the protocols detailed in the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 (CVSSA), including the need to better train crew members for emergency situations. Cruise ships have also failed to incorporate radar detection technology to aid with overboard accidents and victim rescue, a critical mistake given the high number of man overboard accidents that have occurred this year alone.

On the older smaller ships it was not uncommon for the line to not have surveillance cameras in all the places where accidents happen, as the ships have grown, the level of camera coverage has not kept the same ratio as existed on the smaller vessels and since the cameras are not monitored in real time, when an investigation is launched, authorities have to waste valuable time reviewing footage for hours on end.

On the upside, some ports believe bigger ships mean an opportunity for an upgrade.  Larger ships mean more passengers, more passengers can mean increased revenues for these ports. Some nations derive most of their revenue from cruise ship travel, and welcome the mega ships. But at the same time, port upgrades cost a lot of money, usually upwards of $30 million. Not something each city is willing to invest in, especially if they have to compromise on pollution and congestion.

The question of whether bigger is better when it comes to cruise ships is still up for debate. The cruise ship accident attorneys at our firm are sure of one thing, they are better for the Cruise Lines pockets. They have banked on these mega ships resulting in more and more passengers spending their money onboard instead of just suing them as a place to sleep, eat and get from home port to their scheduled ports of call and as is often the case when the Cruise Lines places their bets, they have paid off handsomely.