Is the Cruise Ship Accident Rate Really Increasing? (Part 3)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

JayRockefellerAs we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of our blog series, cruise ship accidents have seemed to occur with greater frequency lately, but it’s not necessarily because a greater number of accidents are happening. It only appears that way because cruise ship accident and crime reporting has become much more transparent in recent times – something that was propagated by the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy in 2012.

When the Concordia accident brought to light that cruise lines were not disclosing full information on accidents, were not doing everything within their power to protect passengers from harm, and were severely lacking in safety operations in general, it became obvious to many, including each maritime lawyer at our firm and Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, that cruise lines were out to protect themselves above all else.

Sen. Rockefeller has been extremely vital in the fight for improved safety within the cruise industry. Just this past Wednesday, he called a second hearing (the first having been held last year) on cruise ship safety to discuss the fact that cruise lines are not doing their part to drastically reduce accidents and crimes on board ships. Last year, he introduced a legislation called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would require cruise companies to accurately disclose accident and crime reports as well as to simplify the language in passenger ticket contracts, which, as it stands, is extremely difficult to understand. In the very, very fine print, a passenger ticket contract allows cruise lines to avoid liability for many incidents that occur on ships, the vast majority of which result from the cruise line’s own negligence.

Sen. Rockefeller’s efforts were largely prompted by the Costa Concordia accident, as well as another accident that rocked the cruise industry one year later – the Carnival Triumph fire. The Carnival Triumph was sailing in the Gulf of Mexico in February, 2013 when an engine room fire disabled the ship. After over 3,000 people were left stranded in the gulf without power, working bathroom facilities and sufficient rations, Carnival made the choice to tow the disabled ship all the way back to the U.S., instead of to the nearby port of Progreso, Mexico, subjecting passengers to horrific conditions for five days at sea.

These accidents, coupled with Sen. Rockefeller’s efforts, have brought to light the fact that there are many more accidents and crimes happening on board ships than the public knows about.

The more the Senator has fought against cruise lines, providing statistical evidence on the real number of accidents and crimes that occur on ships, the more the cruise lines have fought back, denying these claims – even in the fact of hard evidence. Cruise lines know that if they just fold and admit to their mistakes, the government will have a clear path to regulate the industry as a whole.

Before the Costa Concordia accident, the lack of safety on cruise ships was information only few were privy to – mostly maritime safety organizations, government officials and maritime lawyers such as ourselves. The powerful and wealthy cruise industry was able to hide behind its “flags of convenience”, its passenger ticket contracts and its wealth, but not so much anymore.

Though the cruise industry continues to deny any wrongdoing, the public now has a much clearer picture as to what really happens on a ship, how cruise lines are not doing everything within their power to make sure ships are as safe as possible for passengers and how even after an accident or crime does occur, cruise lines will vehemently try to avoid responsibility – and a settlement. Because of this, at least passengers understand what can happen on a ship and can better protect themselves. And, because of the cruise industry’s adamant denial of wrongdoing in the fact of hard evidence, it is much more likely a victim of cruise ship negligence will obtain the compensation they deserve.