How Increased Cruise Ship Accidents and Lack of Transparency in Crime Reporting Have Affected Public Opinion on Cruising: Thoughts from a Cruise Lawyer

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

surveyEach cruise lawyer at our firm has represented a wide range of cruise ship accident cases. Some cases involved serious injuries, while others centered on a fatal accident at sea. Sadly, not all victims seek legal counsel because they either do not believe their injuries were severe enough or because they feel intimidated by cruise companies into thinking they will never win their case. At one point, perhaps there was some truth to a victim’s fears when trying to go up against big name cruise companies, but these days, thanks largely in part to Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller’s efforts, it’s a lot harder for cruise lines to hide.

We’ve previously noted that many accidents involving cruise ships were never reported due to the numerous loopholes cruise lines have put in place that have allowed them to avoid liability for accidents resulting from their own negligence. These loopholes can be found in passenger ticket contracts and even in the fact that most major cruise ships are registered in foreign ports, which allows them to bypass U.S. maritime laws so they can defer to the laws of that particular government whose flag they fly. Because of these loopholes, which gave cruise lines a certain level of protection when being accused of failing to provide a safe onboard environment for passengers and even crew members, many cruise operators decided not to report certain accidents and crimes, especially those involving fatal overboard accidents and sexual assault. Of course, if these incidents became public knowledge, then who would ever feel safe cruising?

But these days, things are a little bit different. Senator Rockefeller, along with several other maritime safety activists, has been pushing for increased transparency in cruise accident and crime reporting and introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act last year to require cruise lines to show their real statistics to the public, as well as to allow the federal government to have greater authority over regulating the industry itself. His efforts paid off when four major cruise lines revealed their true accident and crime reports. After reviewing the reports, it was determined that there were a significant number of incidents that cruise lines reported more cases to the FBI that did not make it to the public eye.

With these reports, we also learned that only about 30 percent of crimes on cruise ships were actually reported to the public. And now that the public knows this, how exactly did they react? Well, the results are in and they aren’t pretty.

According to a recent Harris Poll, public trust in the cruise industry has dropped by around 12 percent. The survey also revealed that the overall quality of cruise ship experiences dropped by 11 percent, compared to results from a similar poll last February. In addition, the number of people who had made plans to book a cruise vacation dropped by 13 percent.

These figures are largely indicative of the fact that the public has not reacted well to the number of cruise accidents and crimes that have been reported, nor have they reacted well once it was revealed cruise lines kept several accident and crime reports concealed from the public.

Cruise lines have gotten a lot of negative press because of their lack of transparency, but even without the public knowing this was a long-time practice of the cruise industry, several major accidents took place over the past few years that reduced the public’s faith in the cruise industry – namely the Costa Concordia tragedy of 2012 and the Carnival Triumph fire of 2013.

Through these major accidents, which gained world-wide media coverage, the public also learned that cruise lines often fail to uphold maritime safety laws that require each ship operator to provide the safest possible onboard environment for cruisers (within reason). There are several advancements in technology that would help reduce accident and crime rates, including special radar technology that can detect when a passenger goes overboard the instant it happens. Yet, most cruise ships do not feature this critical and potentially life-saving technology. Why? Because cruise lines would rather risk the possibility of an accident and deal with a lawsuit (banking on their chances of winning because of the many loopholes they have in place), than spend some money now, up front, and avoid an accident or crime from occurring to begin with. Only after the tragedy occurs do most cruise ships show initiative to improve safety, and even then, once the smoke clears and the hype dies down after the accident or crime, the matter is once again swept under the proverbial rug.

The public now has knowledge of this, which has drastically reduced their faith in cruise lines. It has become evident to the public that cruise lines are pretty much out to protect themselves above all else – even if this means risking safety to save money.

Another factor that has contributed to the decreased popularity of cruise lines is the fact that we’ve seen several Norovirus outbreaks in the past year. In fact, the worst Norovirus outbreak in history occurred on board the Royal Caribbean ship, the Explorer of the Seas, with over 600 people contracting the highly contagious – and potentially deadly – gastrointestinal virus.

Though the cruise industry is a multibillion-dollar franchise and will undoubtedly bounce back, a 13 percent drop in cruise plans is pretty significant. Hopefully the results of the poll will lead cruise operators to spend more time on developing significant improvements to their current safety policies.

Click here to view the full results of the poll.