Here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., we represent a lot of individuals who have been involved in cruise ship accidents. The vast majority of cases stem from some form of negligent action by either the cruise line as a whole or its individual crew members. The most memorable accident by far this year was the Carnival Triumph fire, which left over 4,000 people stranded in the Gulf of Mexico amongst dire and unsanitary conditions. We have already voiced our opinion that it was negligent of the cruise line to not have equipped its vessels with emergency backup generators, as well as by failing to ensure a swift evacuation of its passengers to the nearest port (some believe that was Progreso, Mexico), but a new report has revealed an even greater act of carelessness on the line’s part, and it may completely change the way this accident is regarded.
According to a “compliance notice report” sent to the Triumph before it left port on February 7, the vessel had been recommended to install spray shields on the vessel’s fuel hoses. This implies Carnival knew about the risk of a leak from its fuel hoses and recommended taking precautions to avoid an accident.
Accident reports show that the leak which caused the fire on February 10 originated from a hose on engine No. 6. The compliance notice was first discovered yesterday and is being used as evidence in defense of Triumph victims who have filed a lawsuit against Carnival. Our cruise ship accident attorneys have also filed a Class Action Lawsuit against the cruise line, and this new piece of evidence will undoubtedly contribute to the protection of victims’ rights.
The documents now offer proof that Carnival was aware of the condition of the vessel’s fuel hoses and the potential risks of fire they posed and nonetheless made the decision to proceed with the itinerary, without first implementing the recommended fix or increasing other safety measures until it could implement the fix.
So far Carnival has not commented on this finding. Instead the cruise line, the largest in the world, is standing by its previous response that the ship’s engines passed an inspection before the Triumph left Galveston on its ill-fated voyage. Carnival has stated that the recommendation to install the spray shields was just an extra safety measure, not one that was required for the ship to sail or for the vessel to be deemed seaworthy.
Hindsight being 20/20, we believe that considering the risk, a fuel fire, Carnival should have not taken the chance it did with its vessel, passengers and crew. Cruise lines are required by maritime law to provide reasonably safe vessels to their passengers and seaworthy vessels to their crew. The question is did they really? It has been pointed out there is only so much time allotted for inspections between the moment the ship docks and the point at which it must embark on its next itinerary and that with little over two hours, it’s nearly impossible for inspectors to review all equipment on the ship and make sure everything is running smoothly or make the necessary fixes. But should that be there excuse this time?
This lack of inspection time has contributed to several maritime accidents in the past, aside from the Triumph fire. Though the cruise industry is a multibillion-dollar business, it lacks safety standards of comparable land based businesses yet it refuses to amend its policies so passengers and crew members will not have the face the risks of accidents on the high seas that they do each time a vessel sails as currently equipped.
Even now, months after the accident, Carnival’s multimillion-dollar safety changes to its ships promised after the accident have not been made known to the public. Had Carnival installed the spray shields, it is quite likely the fire would have been avoided altogether. The compliance notice report also indicates that the cruise line and the engine manufacturer were working together to investigate the issues with the hoses and both agreed that the spray shields would be a huge safety barrier. The report even used a similar incident on another ship, where the spray shields prevented a fire, as proof of the benefits of installing the spray shields. But rather than take the vessel out of service and loose revenue, Carnival gave the Triumph TWO MONTHS to comply with the recommendations. Because Corporate America routinely puts profits and revenue before safety, remember the Ford Pinto. So long as Congress the Courts continue to accommodate and protect Corporations consumers will continue to pay the price. Sometimes in physical damages and the rest of the time in economic ones.
History shows us that cruise lines will avoid spending money on safety features on ships as long as they can, (remember the boiler explosion on the Norway in May 2003) but they have no limit of money for the revenue generators unnecessary and excessive entertainment features .
Let’s hope that it doesn’t take Carnival as long as it took the owners of the Norway and the line for which it sailed to change their ways. That incident caused lives and severe pain and suffering too many, but that Line NCL, did turn the page and is now holding the top position in the cruise industry that Carnival use to hold.