Carnival Responds to Sen. Rockefeller’s Letter Regarding Cruise Ship Safety, Dismissing Allegations

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

It was only a few weeks ago that Sen. Jay Rockefeller took it upon himself to call out Carnival to explain its recent rash of cruise ship equipment failures and other mishaps putting the safety of all on board potentially at risk.

Following the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire accident, Rockefeller decided to write a letter to Carnival President and CEO Micky Arison about the dire conditions experienced by passengers onboard the Triumph.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was appalled with the unsanitary conditions passengers had to suffer after a fire broke out in Triumphs engine room, disabling the vessel and leaving it adrift at sea. Over 4,200 people were left stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five days in February, as tug boats pulled the vessel at a snail’s pace to Port in Mobile Alabama where it could be repaired rather than to the nearest Port from its location at the time it became disabled. Carnival has given an explanation for the decision to do this but whether that explanation will hold up to scrutiny is yet to be determined.

The incident gained widespread media attention, as it quickly became apparent that Carnival lacked any modicum of adequate emergency backup system or procedures to deal with this kind of emergency. Passengers recounted stories and shared footage of the meager provisions they were given to eat, the handful of working toilets onboard the vessel that thousands of people had to share, and the disgusting sewage and waste that was overflowing from deck to deck, creating an excellent breeding grounds for disease.

A preliminary Coast Guard investigation has revealed that the fire broke out due to a leak in a pipeline, however, the ship had already experienced mechanical issues during sailings prior to the fire. Many question whether the previous equipment problems had something to do with the pipe leak, but because the Triumph is registered in the Bahamas, the Bahamian Maritime Authority is conducting the investigation, and hasn’t revealed any details regarding the cruise ship fire accident to date.

Carnival’s lack of shipboard safety and vessel maintenance was questioned repeatedly the month following the Triumph incident, as three other vessels in the fleet, the Elation, Dream and Legend, also experienced debilitating equipment failures.

Sen. Rockefeller, along with several other leaders, have had enough and have urged the cruise industry to do a better job of regulating itself.

Sen. Rockefeller has gone further by asking Congress to repeal tax provisions that allow cruise companies to register ships registered in foreign ports, which also allows cruise lines to avoid paying American corporate taxes. Sen. Rockefeller did not hold anything back on this second issue. When it comes to Carnival (and other ships) avoiding taxation because their ships are registered in foreign ports, Rockefeller spoke out bluntly on NBC’s ‘Rock Center’, claiming Carnival is “bloodsucking off the American people and having no second thoughts about it.”

He has also written to Arison, expressing his concerns over the lack of cruise ship safety. In the letter, he asked Arison several questions regarding the maintenance of Carnival-owned ships and went as far as to threaten to subpoena Arison if he did not answer the questions honestly.

Well, Rockefeller certainly received the honesty he was looking for, in the response he got. Carnival responded to the letter, claiming there was no connection between the Triumph engine room fire and the earlier technical issue and defended itself with regards to several other claims that have been made against the “Fun Ship” cruise line.

In a detailed letter, Carnival responded to Rockefeller’s questions, including the costs of USCG and Navy assistance when the organizations aid cruise ships in distress. Carnival’s response was that cruise vessels come to the aid of other ships that are in distress, at their own expense, so why should the USCG or Navy have to profit when doing their job? However, this belies the fact that the law of the sea is that in a distress situation all vessels in the vicinity which are called upon for assistance have to render it unless by doing so they will put themselves at risk and the further fact that recouping the costs of a rescue operation is not ” profit”.

Rockefeller’s claim of the line’s lack of safety by pointing out 90 cruise ship accidents that have taken place that were allegedly “serious events.” Was also addressed in Carnival’s response.

Seatrade Insider obtained the cruise line’s response, which was authored by Carnival’s Capt. James Hunn, Senior Vice President of corporate maritime policy.

Hunn reviewed Rockefeller’s list of Carnival Cruise ship accidents, based on reports the company filed with USCG over a five-year period. According to his response 83 of those incidents did not meet the Code of Federal Regulations’ definition of a ‘serious marine accident’ and did not require USCG intervention. The seven that did included the Triumph and Splendor fires, the tragic Costa Concordia capsizing, two cruise ship collisions that did not result in injuries, a case of a crewmember coming down with appendicitis that required the victim to be airlifted, and an incident involving a passenger jumping overboard.

In Hunn’s response he claims that “Carnival takes all of these occurrences very seriously and our commitment to safety is reflected in the significant reviews, corrective measures, redundancies and investments undertaken by Carnival.”

Hunn went on to outline a comprehensive audit following the Costa Concordia tragedy that led the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to propose 10 new policies regarding cruise ship safety. Hunn further pointed out that following the Triumph fire, Carnival implemented short-term preventive measures and launched a fleet-wide safety review, adamantly assuring readers that Carnival has maintained an excellent safety record throughout its 41-year history.

Apparently an excellent safety record can be claimed even when one has multiple ship board fires and has a Captain that ran a vessel aground and then abandoned it.

As far as the dire conditions aboard the Triumph, Hunn said statements in Rockefeller’s letter about rotting food and raw sewage were inaccurate, saying everyone should wait for the official Bahamian Maritime Authority’s reports.

However, we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for those to surface or to be damning of Carnival.

Each cruise ship accident attorney at our firm, Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. has represented hundreds of cruise passengers and crewmembers who have been hurt or killed on the high seas or in port, and we know firsthand exactly what an uphill climb it can be to obtain information from foreign countries regarding an accident.

While cruise lines are required by maritime law to report information regarding a serious incident, such as a cruise ship rape or death, to the FBI and U.S. authorities if the vessel is either in U.S. waters or calls on a U.S. port, cruise lines failure to report incidents is not an uncommon event.

Just a few days ago, passengers onboard the Princess Cruises vessel Coral Princess (another Carnival-owned line) reported on a Cruise Critic message board about a passenger going overboard. Yet, there have been ZERO media reports regarding the incident and neither Princess nor Carnival Corp. have issued statements regarding the matter.

If Carnival claims that only seven of its 90-plus cruise ship accidents were serious, it must not think cruise ship rapes and sexual assaults, reports of missing passengers and crewmembers, crimes and murders, along with other alarming incidents are serious matters.

According to CruiseJunkie.com, there have been a total of 198 overboard or missing passenger reports on cruise lines and ferries between 1995 and 2013 – and these are just the ones that were reported. Of that number, a whopping 92 missing persons were reported on Carnival Corp.-owned lines and 48 of those were on Carnival Cruise Line’s Fun Ships alone!

If those are not “serious maritime accident,” what is?!

This isn’t even counting the number of cruise ship accidents in general that have been reported throughout the years, including cruise ship fires and other injury incidents.

Carnival had the perfect opportunity to address the seemingly endless array of accidents that have been taking place within their fleet but instead, as usual, they chose to avoid taking responsibility for these incidents and have even claimed that the conditions reported onboard the Triumph were “inaccurate,” despite the endless footage that has circulated the globe from personal passenger photographs and videos, depicting the conditions on board.

We await the day when cruise lines will take responsibility for their business models and lack of maritime safety, but given all the accidents, claims and failure by cruise lines to take action BEFORE an accident or injury occurs, that day will not come any time soon and in all likelihood will not come absent intervention from forces outside of the Cruise Line Industry mandating it.