Following Cruise Ship Accident, Captain Tested Positive for Alcohol

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Last week, we wrote about the Nippon Maru pier accident, in which the Japanese luxury cruise liner allided (e.g. crashed into a stationary object) with a US Navy fuel pier at Arpa Harbor in Guam.

Though Nippon Maru was transporting over 748 passengers and crew members at the time of the accident, there were no reported injuries.  Injuries can be tricky, however, in that passengers may not be aware of the symptoms at first.  An unexpected impact can exacerbate a passenger’s pre-existing injuries, and may not be noticeable until weeks or months later.

Following the accident, there have been new developments concerning its cause.  According to official statements by Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines, Ltd. — the owner and operator of Nippon Maru — the captain of Nippon Maru was given a blood alcohol test by Coast Guard authorities and was found to have a level that exceeded the 0.04 BAC limit required by US and Japanese law.

Though the liability of the captain seems clear on that basis, according to reports, the captain claims that he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident, and in fact, that he consumed alcohol after the accident in an effort to “calm down.”  Even if we were to accept the captain’s version of the events, this behavior is still irresponsible due to the need to evaluate the accident after-the-fact and respond to any safety concerns in a clearheaded manner.

If any passengers suffered harm due to the actions of the captain in the present case, they might not only have a claim for damages against the intoxicated captain, but also against the cruise line.

Cruise Line Liability in Cases Involving Alcohol is Nuanced

Injured passengers will likely want to bring a claim against Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines, Ltd. in addition to the captain, to ensure that they have access to a defendant with sufficient insurance coverage to compensate them for their losses.  However, to accomplish this one must plead it correctly. If you wish to hold a cruise line responsible for the alcohol-induced actions of their crew member employees, you have to bring a claim against the cruise line asserting that it was independently negligent.  In the present case, the argument would most likely have to be center around negligent hiring and supervision of the captain.

Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines, Ltd. does not require that its crew members submit to a breathalyzer test, and instead requires only that crew members “visually inspect each other” to determine whether there is intoxication.  Given the captain’s position over the rest of the crew on Nippon Maru, this policy is unlikely to discourage a captain from consuming alcohol, nor is it likely to lead to a report.  If the company is to supervise its employees in a manner that ensures that safety protocols are enforced, an objective test (i.e., breathalyzer) is the only way to go.

Though based on the facts to date it is not clear, if the captain had alcoholic tendencies, and if these tendencies were known (or reasonably should have been known), then they could be held liable for this incident.   Cruise lines have a duty of care to ensure that they perform comprehensive background checks of their personnel, and that they properly supervise personnel to ensure that passengers are not exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm.

We Can Help

If you have suffered injuries in a cruise ship accident, then you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against the cruise line to obtain compensation.  If Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines, Ltd. engaged in negligent hiring and supervision of the captain in the present case, then they have potential exposure for the harms suffered by passengers in the wake of the accident.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our nationally-recognized attorneys have over a century of combined experience litigating claims on behalf of injured cruise ship passengers and crew members.  We have handled a wide range of cruise ship accidents, from pier allisions to overboard accidents.  Over the years, we have gained substantial insight into what is necessary to effectively litigate a maritime injury claim, and have secured many favorable results for our clients.

Contact Lipcon today to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled maritime lawyers to discuss your claims.