Crewmember Exploitation Documentary Still Causing a Stir

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise line operators aren’t too thrilled with a recent Channel 4 documentary highlighting the exploitation of crewmembers onboard cruise ships. The Dispatches program, which aired earlier this month in the UK, examined the conditions onboard the Celebrity Cruises cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse. It revealed that several crewmembers earned less than half the national minimum wage in the United Kingdom, with some workers getting paid as low as £375 ($600) per month without gratuities.

Some of the crewmembers claimed they were required to work seven days a week consecutively for several months without being given days of rest. Some allege they were forced to pay recruitment agencies in order to obtain their jobs. Moreover, some crewmembers said they were given so much work, they had to pay other people to help them finish because it was too much for them to handle.

In addition to exploring the working conditions aboard the cruise ship, the documentary also featured experts who have accused several cruise lines of flying a “flag of convenience,” meaning they register their ships in countries where employment laws are not as strict in order to get away with the exploitation of crewmembers.

Celebrity Cruises, whose parent company is Royal Caribbean International, is an example of one such cruise line that flies a flag that is not of its national origin. The cruise line is incorporated in Liberia and the ship which was featured in the documentary, Celebrity Eclipse, is registered in Malta. This means that neither United States nor British employment laws apply and the ship’s operators can continue to pay below the minimum wage for both of those countries.

Unfortunately, this method doesn’t stop with Celebrity Cruises. Other major cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and Carnival Cruise Line, and even luxury liners like Oceania Cruises and P&O Cruises have ships registered in other countries like Panama or the Bahamas. Cruise lines deny this is done to avoid Western labor laws, and instead, make excuses to divert attention away from labor and shift focus to other reasons why this practice is beneficiary to the cruise ship companies. Kevin Sheehan, the chief executive of NCL, claims the practice provides greater “legal flexibility” when it comes to creating itineraries and launching new ships. P&O Cruises and Cunard say registering ships outside of their nations allows them to offer “lucrative” weddings at sea — ceremonies which are not otherwise recognized under British law.

Celebrity Cruises plans to investigate the allegations against the line after a spokesman said that the documentary was “biased and unbalanced.” The spokesman added that the cruise line was “committed to our employees, both shipboard and shoreside,” and operated “within the letter of the law.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first – nor will it likely be the last time – a cruise line is accused of evading maritime law when it comes to crewmembers. Crewmembers are entitled to receive fair wages as well as medical assistance, food and compensation should any injuries occur while onboard. If you or someone you know works onboard a cruise line and has failed to be given their rightful benefits, turn to our maritime law firm to file a seafarer claim immediately.

Each maritime lawyer at our firm has spent years defending the rights of crewmembers from various major cruise lines and will help you obtain the compensation your rightfully deserve. Call to schedule a consultation today to discuss your options regarding your seaman’s claim.