Should Cruise Lines Worry About Shark Attacks in Maui?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Shark attacks pose threat to cruise passengersCruise lines have a responsibility to protect passengers from harm, both onboard and offshore. While many of the maritime accidents we report take place aboard a vessel, several also occur while passengers are ashore, exploring ports and participating in shore excursions. Though a cruise traveler might think they are in good hands while enjoying a snorkeling, shopping or sightseeing tour, truth is, many of these excursions are not even backed by the cruise lines. The result? A huge possibility for accidents, injuries and crimes.

One of the most popular cruise vacation spots here in the U.S. is Hawaii – and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want to bask in the warm tropical breeze while lying out by the beach, enjoying a spectacular view of the ocean, mountains and lush rainforests? Hawaii is definitely a top spot for cruisers, but despite the fact that the state has been frequented by cruise lines for several years, there are dangers to be watchful of. One particular danger that has our attention is the increasing number of shark attacks in Maui. Granted, none of the victims – that we know of – have been cruise passengers, but because of the high risk for attack, should cruise lines be concerned for passenger safety?

Earlier this month, a fatal shark attack claimed the life of a male fisherman who was kayaking in South Maui. The man was fishing with his friends when a shark bit him on the leg. The man’s friends sought immediate assistance and took the victim to a nearby snorkeling charter boat so they could be transported to shore and obtain medical attention, but the victim died before reaching the shore.

While the incident occurred a good ways away from shore, officials closed the shoreline area for the day after the accident. But unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Several shark attacks have been recorded in Maui this year, including one in November shortly before this accident, two in October, one in August, one in July and two in February. So far, it appears that two lives have been claimed in shark attack accidents in the region, including one woman whose arm was severed and died a week later. Others have reported serious injuries and lacerations. Oddly, before this year, the last shark attack-related fatality occurred in 2004.

There are also several other shark incidents, but only those that have actually resulted in a bite to a person or a surfing board are reported on the state’s Hawaii Sharks website. We don’t know what has caused the surge of shark attacks in Maui, but what we do know is that several cruise ships frequent the area and may result in danger for travelers.

Shore excursions involving water activities in Hawaii are extremely common, including beach visits, snorkeling adventures and kayaking trips. If sharks pose any sort of threat, and it’s apparent they do, cruise lines should notify their guests of the imminent threat and cancel any excursions they sponsor involving water activities.

This would be the sensible thing to do, but we highly doubt any cruise line will want to lose money associated with Hawaii excursions. We haven’t heard any news regarding canceled itineraries or excursions, so most likely, cruise passengers are also in the dark about the increasing shark attacks.

A few months ago, Carnival issued a letter to its guests who were taking Bahamian cruises, informing them of the increase in criminal activity in Nassau. Guests were warned to stick to areas close to port and the line even went as far as to provide passengers with a list of places that were “safer” than others so travelers would steer clear from the danger zones. Other cruise lines did not follow suit, especially after Bahamian officials voiced their concern about losing money from cruise tourism.

It seems that every way you look at it, all that cruise lines and the authorities of the ports they call on care about is money. Well, they will certainly be seeing no profit if a cruise passenger is injured, killed or becomes the target of a crime.

There’s no way to stop sharks from entering into Maui waters, but there IS a way to prevent travelers from getting hurt.  A little lost profit now can go a long way toward improving the reputation of a cruise line and can also save the cruise company a lot of money down the line when a passenger gets attacked by a shark and files a personal injury lawsuit.