We tend to hear a lot more about cruise ship accidents, it seems, than good news within the cruise industry. The past two years have been especially wrought with maritime disasters involving crashes, crimes and illnesses, beginning with the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy through this year’s Carnival Triumph fire. There are many things the industry can do to improve passenger safety, yet it appears as though no matter what happens at sea or in port, lines just don’t take the necessary and sufficient actions to introduce better safety equipment or invest in training crew members to better respond to emergency situations.
Hundreds of cruise passengers – and crew members – are injured, killed or are the victims of a serious crime like sexual assault each year. And while we, as maritime lawyers, can see all the steps the cruise industry can take to reduce the chances of guests getting hurt, the public isn’t always aware of what’s going on or how easy it can be to suffer an accident on a ship.
Yet, in spite of all the terrible tragedies that have occurred over the years onboard cruise ships and in the foreign ports they call on, a milestone in maritime history has been reached this year, with Disney Cruise Line becoming the first major cruise line to have lifeguards onboard its ships. The news, though a surprise to our attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., is appreciated, especially seeing as a young boy drowned in a cruise pool last month.
Disney actually began stationing lifeguards onboard its ships in September, but appears to have avoided the public eye. It’s sad to see how such a significant change could go unnoticed, but we’re glad to know that the risk of passengers being involved in drowning accidents on a Disney ship is now lower.
So far, the Disney Dream and Disney Magic have lifeguards stationed at their family pools already and the Disney Fantasy and Disney wonder should have lifeguards by the end of the month. What’s especially great about this news is that the lifeguards will be on duty 24/7 as long as the pools are open.
As it stands, many cruise ships don’t even have regular crew members stationed by the pool areas to protect passengers from harm. And the speed at which someone can suffer an accident in a pool or hot tub is unsurprisingly swift.
But it’s not just children who can suffer a drowning accident. Even adults who are skilled swimmers and who may be surrounded by other adults can drown in a pool or hot tub. In September, Michael Ward, better known as Birdie Africa and one of only two survivors of the 1985 MOVE Bombing, died after drowning in a hot tub onboard the Carnival Dream. These types of accidents can happen to anyone and at any point, so it’s important to have lifeguards around who can look for signs of danger and who can act quickly to save a victim’s life.
Though Disney Cruise Line maintains a pretty safe track record, the line isn’t immune to accidents. Back in March, a 4-year-old boy nearly drowned after being found unresponsive inside a Disney Fantasy pool. The boy is very lucky to have survived, but as we have seen, others are not as lucky.
Disney is also improving safety at their resort pools, enforcing pool hours and adding new fences around the pool areas so guests can only access them when there is a lifeguard on duty.
Our maritime attorneys applaud Disney’s efforts in making such a critical change to both its cruise ships and its resorts. It’s hard to believe that what should be an important requirement on all cruise ships around the world is one of the most overlooked safety features. It’s so easy for cruise lines to hire trained lifeguards and reduce the threat of drowning accidents, yet, the industry would prefer to allocate its funds elsewhere, such as toward establishing bigger and better entertainment venues and features.
Hopefully other lines will follow suit and take the necessary steps to increase passenger safety as well. It will be interesting to note just how much lower the rate of drowning accidents will be on Disney ships now compared to all the others that still refuse to employ lifeguards.