It’s been a few months since the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 was introduced by Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, and our maritime attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. were hoping that the industry would use these months wisely to improve transparency when it comes to their accident and crime reporting. Unfortunately, some lines have yet to abide by the protocols specified in the legislation, and according to government reports, are still underreporting crimes and accidents to the public.
While accidents have befallen cruise ships since the first one that was ever launched, it was only recently that anyone started digging deep into the hidden world that lies behind every deck and every corridor on each vessel. Starting with the Costa Concordia capsizing accident in 2012, the industry’s failure to provide a reasonably safe onboard environment for passengers and crew became a widespread revelation.
In the past two years, we have learned of the high number of sexual crimes, assaults, overboard accidents, numerous collisions and crashes that have occurred within the cruising industry. Many of these incidents could have been entirely prevented, had the line in question had in place reasonable safety protocols and enforced them. Keeping machinery updated and working properly, training crew members adequately so that they could responsibly respond to emergency situations, and checking surveillance footage in real time to keep an eye out for suspicious activity are just a few of the many ways cruise lines can contribute to the safety of those onboard. Yet, time and time again when the facts come out after an accident takes place, we find that these very simple steps are not the norm and so passengers and crew continue to get hurt.
While cruise lines have historically been able to get away with underreporting of accidents and crimes due to the fact that most ships are registered in foreign countries, the Cruise Passenger Protection Act was supposed to change that. No longer were cruise lines going to be able to hide behind the foreign flags they fly. Instead, with the passage of the Act they were going to be required to provide accurate information about accidents and crimes, whether or not the cases were closed or still under investigation.
The thought process was that by releasing accident and crime data, maritime authorities and the public would gain a better understanding of what really goes on while a ship is in international waters and then pressure could be brought upon the owners of the vessels to improve conditions fleet wide.
What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, understanding the mind of the cruise industry isn’t easy. And while it is true that some lines have complied with the legislation and provided crime and accident data reports, several others have yet to follow suit.
According to CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, who appeared on “CBS This Morning” to discuss the matter, cruise lines have yet to effectively report incidents, many times either reporting matters slowly or altering the information they report.
Will the U.S. government take further steps to regulate the industry, before another mayor incident like the Concordia or the Triumph occurs or will it wait?
If history teaches us anything it is that governments rarely are proactive, so be careful while on your cruise, and if you should end up suffering an injury or a loss document it yourself with video and pictures, go to the vessels hospital and demand to see and receive a copy of your medical file before you disembark, contact a land based authority and lawyer as soon after your injury as you can and get the names of as many witnesses as are available, for otherwise you may find that as far as the Line is concerned what happened to you didn’t really happen.