Coast Guard Performs Double Medevac Rescue of Cruisers

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Last Friday, on August 17, 2018 in the early morning, helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, NC simultaneously and successfully medevaced two cruise ship passengers from Anthem of the Seas — a Royal Caribbean vessel that was traveling from Haiti to Bayonne, NJ — and brought them to shore, where they were immediately transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, a higher-level care facility.  At the time of the medevac rescue, Anthem of the Seas was located 160 miles off the coast of North Carolina, thus necessitating a long-range helicopter medevac.  To ensure their safety, passengers were accompanied by their cruise ship nurse.

The condition of the medevaced cruise ship passengers — an 18-year old man and an 82-year old man, both of whom required emergency medical assistance for heart attack symptoms — is currently unknown.

According to reports, on late Thursday morning, Anthem of the Seas was making its return journey from Haiti to Bayonne when crew members first reported the need for a medevac (due to the 18-year old passenger’s heart attack symptoms) to Coast Guard watchstanders in Portsmouth, VA.  Coast Guard authorities then requested that Anthem of the Seas reroute closer to the North Carolina shore so that a long-range medevac could be executed.  By Thursday evening, however, another passenger — the 82-year old man — had developed heart attack symptoms, and Coast Guard were notified of the need for a double-medevac rescue.  in the early hours of Friday morning, Anthem of the Seas was close enough to shore for the medevac to be safely performed.

Though we are pleased by the transparent and well-coordinated emergency response orchestrated by Coast Guard in both Portsmouth, VA and Elizabeth City, NC, as well as crew aboard Anthem of the Seas, we are rather perturbed by the timeline for the medevac in the present case — the rescue was conducted more than 12 hours after the initial medevac request.  It seems clear that the planned trip route was the critical issue, as Anthem of the Seas could not navigate into position for a safe medevac within a reasonable timeframe.  If the passengers suffered any injuries as a result of this extreme delay, they might have an actionable claim against the cruise line for damages.

Cruise Lines Must Develop Safe Trip Routes and Provide Adequate Medical Facilities On-Board

In the present case, we are struck by two possible negligence concerns on the part of Royal Caribbean: 1) the original trip route was not safe for passengers suffering from an emergency medical event, as a rescue could not be performed within a reasonable timeframe, and 2) the on-board medical facilities may not have been sufficient to safely treat an emergency medical condition until the medevac arrived.

Generally speaking, medical facilities on cruise ships are rarely comprehensive or capable of providing high-level emergency care.  Cruise ship doctors and nurses may be able to treat basic injuries and illnesses, and diagnose more serious conditions, but may lack the advanced equipment and medicines necessary to adequately treat a passenger undergoing a severe cardiac event.  This is not normally a problem, but in the present case, the trip route was so far off from the coast that it took half-a-day for Anthem of the Seas to get into position for a long-range medevac.  If Royal Caribbean intends to operate a route that is so thoroughly isolated from high-level shore facilities, then it must expand its on-board medical facilities to compensate.

Had Anthem of the Seas taken a route that more closely hugged the American coastline, it’s likely that such a delay would not have occurred.

Cruise lines are primarily concerned about their bottom line.  When planning a route, the cruise line may choose to have the ship stray farther from the coast so as to minimize travel time and therefore reduce their operating costs — but in emergency medical situations, every minute counts.  Cruise lines must exercise reasonable care in developing trip routes that offer passengers more responsive access to emergency medical care, when necessary.

We Can Assist You

If you or a family member has suffered injuries — serious or even fatal — while traveling aboard a cruise ship and the medevac rescue was delayed or otherwise mishandled, then you may be entitled to bring an action against the cruise line for the damages you incurred as a result of such negligence.  Bringing an action against a cruise line can be a challenge, however, and demands careful execution of an airtight litigation strategy.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkelman, P.A., our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience representing cruise ship passengers in a range of disputes with large multinational cruise lines, including those that involve a medevac rescue effort.  Our extensive track record handling maritime and admiralty claims brought against cruise lines has made us uniquely well-equipped to successfully litigate such disputes.  We understand the contours of a dispute and how best to proceed so as to maximize your prospects.

If you’d like to speak to a qualified attorney for further assistance (and for an evaluation of your medevac-related injury claims), contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced maritime lawyer here at Lipcon.