We’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen onboard vessels far and wide here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. . When we say “crazy”, we’re not talking about 100-foot waves that appear out of thin air or casino slot machines suddenly spewing never-ending reams of cash. We’re talking about the kind of crazy that stems from a cruise line’s sheer disregard for passenger safety. You know, those times when a passenger has succumb to a life-threatening injury but wasn’t evacuated off the ship. Or when a passenger is sexually molested, but the cruise line fails to apprehend the perpetrator or contact FBI agents. The kind of crazy happenings that make you think twice about sailing in the first place, unless of course you’re travelling with a full entourage of body guards, doctors and maritime lawyers.
Unfortunately, crazy seems to be the operative word used to describe cruise line behavior these days. As accidents and crimes continue to escalate – even in the wake of the U.S. government vowing to take a stand against the lack of transparency in cruise accident crime and accident reporting – we can’t help but wonder what is really preventing the industry from taking a steadfast approach to improve safety conditions onboard ships. This year alone, we’ve seen several overboard accidents, more sexual crimes than we would like to even think about, a host of Norovirus outbreaks, and an array of other accidents or mechanical mishaps.
More often than not, passengers who are hurt don’t get taken off ships. Likewise, criminals are also oftentimes not taken off a ship and handed over to police. The point we’re trying to make is that it is not very often we see someone get taken off a ship, even when all signs point to the need to have that individual disembarked, whether to treat an injury or to take them into custody.
But this week, someone did manage to get taken off a ship. Like you’re probably wondering right now, our cruise ship lawyers also wondered what could possibly have happened that resulted in someone getting removed from their vessel? It must be something extraordinarily catastrophic, right? Wrong.
You can imagine our shock when we came to discover that a passenger sailing aboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship was kicked off for something that, in our professional legal opinion, isn’t that big of a deal. Certainly nothing compared to a life-threatening medical emergency or a violent criminal. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can’t find something drastic enough about this strange occurrence that puts Carnival’s actions into perspective.
It all started last week, when Matthew Brennecke, 38, and Stephanie Bunzel, 40, decided to take a cruise vacation aboard the Carnival Victory to celebrate Bunzel’s birthday. But at some point, things started to take a sour turn.
According to police, the couple had a bit of a spat. But it seems their issues had begun long before the vessel even set sail. Brennecke had gotten upset because the couple was late to get onto a shuttle that would take them to the Victory in PortMiami, where they would first board the ship. According to Bunzel, Brennecke threw a drink at her and pushed her because they were running late. Bunzel told police she only got on the shuttle because Brennecke had her luggage. Brennecke claims there was no physical confrontation, explaining he merely argued with Bunzel. He then proceeded to tell police that Bunzel was the violent one. He claims Bunzel burned him on the arm with a cigarette and that she “lost her mind.”
Then, Bunzel told officers that Brennecke tried to put a pillow over her face while in their cabin, but she somehow managed to escape, and ran out to find ship security. Officers inspected the couple’s stateroom, but found no sign of a struggle. Seems like a classic case of “he said, she said” at this point, but the drama didn’t stop there. Carnival authorities kicked Brennecke off the ship in Key West, allowing Bunzel to remain onboard.
Ok, let’s recap: there were no signs of a struggle and no one appeared to have been hurt, BUT, Brennecke was kicked off. Are you baffled? Because we sure are.
Brennecke made accusations against Bunzel, but it appears as though the ship’s crew took Bunzel’s side and believed her story over Brennecke’s. But why? Did crew members bother to review the ship’s footage to see what really happened? Doubtful.
All signs point to both passengers exaggerating what really happened, but none of this makes any sense. In our professional opinion, kicking Brennecke off the ship was uncalled for. If someone was going to get kicked off, it should have been both parties, since Bunzel was accused of putting a cigarette off on Brennecke’s arm.
There have been NUMEROUS times when sexual assailants weren’t even apprehended onboard a ship. Perfect example, last year, after a little girl was molested by a crew member aboard the Disney Dream vessel. It took HOURS before the perpetrator was taken into custody by cruise security, even though footage from the incident corroborated the little girl’s story. Even then, the offender was not taken off the ship and handed over to authorities.
Was Carnival trying to prove some sort of point that it will no longer tolerate any sort of altercation onboard its ships? Or was this all just a completely random and ridiculous waste of time? Hmmm, we’re going to go with option two. Does this mean that when there really is a violent criminal onboard the ship, Carnival will waste no time in kicking them off and handing them over to authorities just as quickly as they did with Brennecke? Let’s hope so, because if not, Carnival will have a lot of explaining to do.