Cruise Ship Safety is a Worldwide Issue

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Two ships in Grand TurkAs the number of cruise ship accidents continues to rise in the U.S., we’re not the only ones worried about safety onboard vessels. Australia is taking a stand against cruise lines after loopholes in passenger ticket contracts have allowed lines to limit liability for accidents and injuries one too many times.

Cruise ship lawyers know that the sad truth about law and politics is that those with the power and the money to lobby governments for laws beneficial to their interest will for the most part continue to have the upper hand when it comes to regulatory oversight, fines, and the decision of where disputes will be resolved as well as the mechanisms for the resolution of those disputes. This leaves consumers with only one tool at their disposal, fortunately that tool, the decision to buy the item or not, is the ultimate tool in the battle. For without the ability to sell their cruises, cruise lines will simply have to start putting their passengers first rather than last.

The Cruise Lines recently enacted the “Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights”, which reads well but does not really give the cruising public anything more than what they already had, but in reality, passengers remain unprotected and subjected to the same treatment they have been facing for years. Despite the fact that maritime law requires cruise lines to provide “ a reasonably safe under the circumstances” environment for all passengers people are still suffering accidents due to the negligence of the line and it’s employees, are disappearing overboard and are subject to crimes such as cruise ship rape and sexual assault.  And when these things happen because most cruise lines register their ships in foreign ports and impose limitations on their ticket contracts, cruise lines can avoid responsibility for what happens on their ships.  How you ask can they do this, two main ways:  1) Cruise lines divert responsibility for investigating accidents and crimes to the foreign countries whose flags they fly, also because they self police, they are able to limit access to the documents and the witnesses that would provide the truth about what happened and 2) they use their ticket contracts to limit their liability for incidents on their vessels, even when they are the direct result of the cruise line’s own negligent or wrongful actions. In this manner they are able to limit their exposure to being taken to Court and even when they are taken there they are able to limit the money they pay for the injuries and other damages they caused.

But Australians have had enough and are now demanding better protection for cruise guests. A parliamentary committee is calling for both the Australian government and cruise lines to enact better safety laws and regulations on ships as well as review policies regarding cruise line liability following accidents and crimes for passenger who purchase their tickets in Australia.

Cruise travel within Australia has never been as large as in the United States, but the parliament committee in charge of legal and social affairs has noted a growth in cruise travel interest in the country. Around 700,000 Australians took cruise vacations last year, a fivefold increase over the past decade. And an increase in travelers should undoubtedly be followed with by an increase in safety features on ships, but we are still waiting for the safety improvements that the cruise industry claimed it would put in place since the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy in January 2012.

Australians, just like Americans, are concerned because there are several cruise lines operating out of Australian ports and crimes and accidents that take place in Australian waters or on Australian territory are subject to Australian law. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for incidents that occur at sea, which is where the majority of them actually do occur.

The issue regarding the discrepancy between Australian maritime laws and the apparent lack of any laws onboard cruise ships protecting passengers began when an Australian cruise passenger died in 2002. The victim, Dianne Brimble, died of a drug overdose while on a P&O cruise ship in September 2002, this raised questions regarding cruise lines’ party atmosphere and how it encourages passengers to drink to excess and fail to thoroughly investigate incidents.

The recent disappearance of an Australian couple last month while onboard the Carnival Spirit has also contributed to the nation’s growing concern over the lack of safety on cruise ships. Paul Rossington and his girlfriend Kristen Schroder were filmed going overboard but despite the fact that there were over 600 surveillance cameras on the ship, not one crew member saw the victims go over the railing nor was anyone reviewing surveillance footage at the time, which could have allowed the ship’s operators to stop the vessel immediately and perform a search for the couple.

The committee suggested the Australian government do a better job of warning potential cruise travelers that they will be under international maritime laws and will not be under the protection of Australian laws while on the high seas, so they should exercise caution to avoid getting hurt during their vacations.  It also called for limitations on the serving of alcohol onboard lines. The over serving of alcohol is known to increase the risk of accidents and injuries occurring , especially here in the United States.

But as I said at the beginning of this article, for the most part the lines will continue to operate on their own terms in the immediate future, which is why taking your case to a cruise ship lawyers as quickly as possible is your best chance at protecting your rights following an accident or crime and getting the justice and compensation you are due.