New York Senator Proposes Cruise Ship Bill of Rights to Improve Maritime Safety and Protect Cruise Ship Passengers

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Maritime safety agencies like the Coast Guard and European Cruise Council (ECC) have all tried to improve the situation regarding the lack of safety and sanitation onboard cruise ships for several years. However, cruise companies have repeatedly disregarded the protocols that these maritime organizations have set forth, continuously putting thousands of lives at risk for serious – if not fatal – injuries at sea.

Although all cruise lines at some point have been involved in accidents on the high seas or while in a foreign port, the recent – and seemingly endless – string of incidents that one cruise line company, Carnival Corp., has suffered has pushed the limit of safety violations, leading one man to take matters into his own hands.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York wants to take a crack at improving cruise ship safety once and for all with what he has dubbed a “Cruise Ship Bill of Rights.” Schumer, who has been one to favor various “Bill of Rights” legislations in the past, is trying the get the cruise ship industry to adopt a plan that would “guarantee sanitary conditions, backup power and medical staff in case of emergencies.”

However, if several other maritime agencies have failed to ensure cruise lines uphold safety protocols day in and day out, Schumer certainly has his work cut out for him if he intends to drastically change the industry for the better on his own.

Schumer’s plan was revealed after another one of Carnival’s ships, the Carnival Dream, experienced technical problems last week, causing the vessel to remain docked in St. Maarten. The ship’s back-up generator malfunctioned, leaving toilets and elevators to become disabled for some hours. While repairs were completed and arrangements were made for passengers to be flown home, the incident served as a reminded of the previous month’s nightmarish conditions experienced by passengers onboard the Carnival Triumph and the blatant need to improve safety across all cruise ships in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

The bill also follows another failure by the “Fun Ship” cruise company to maintain working conditions onboard the Carnival Legend. The Legend experienced issues with its propulsion system the same day as the Dream, preventing the ship from attaining full speed. The captain ordered the vessel to return to port in Tampa, after just three days at sea. Yet, immediately after docking, Carnival scrambled to get passengers off so a new batch of potential victims could be boarded for the next itinerary.

The New York Democrat plans to reveal more details of the bill this Sunday, when he will be asking cruise ship industry leaders to voluntarily adopt the legislation, but stipulated the following six guidelines for cruise ships to abide by:

  • Cruise ship passengers must be allowed to disembark after a certain time if the ship cannot be repaired in a reasonable amount of time.
  • If a serious medical or technical situation should arise aboard the ship, passengers will get a full refund.
  • Passengers should have access to well-trained medical personnel during an emergency situation and vessels should have an adequate number of medical personnel onboard each vessel who are trained to deal with emergencies.
  • Passengers will be entitled to real time updates on any problems that arise on their vessels and will be informed of the specific details of the incident, the severity of it and how long it will take to fix the issue.
  • Crewmembers should be well-trained to handle a number of emergencies, including evacuations from the cruise ship.
  • Every cruise ship should have a backup generator in case of a power failure.

Additionally, Schumer’s plan would include the right to a full refund for passengers if a cruise is abruptly canceled due to a vessel’s mechanical problems.

Unfortunately, despite the string of cruise ship accidents in the industry that have called to question the lack of safety fleet-wide, cruise lines often try to evade liability for accidents and the responsibility of compensating passengers for their pain and suffering. Because most vessels are registered in foreign countries, responsibility for any accident investigation lies primarily with the government whose flag the ship in question flies. These governments don’t always take the same hasty approach the U.S. government might take in investigating an incident, and may not even reveal any information into an accident case, leaving the cruise lines to walk away Scott Free.

Our cruise ship accident lawyers continue to work on helping Carnival Triumph passengers obtain damages for the dire conditions they were forced to endure following the fire that erupted in the vessel’s engine room, but whenever an accident onboard a cruise ship takes place, trying to obtain a cruise company’s cooperation and urging them to take responsibility for their actions can be an uphill battle. Carnival Corp. originally offered a mere $500 in money damages to Carnival Triumph passengers (along with a refund and reimbursement for travel expenses), but this figure is laughable when taking into account the unsanitary conditions passengers were forced to experience for five long days at sea, including non-working toilets, overflowing sewage and meager food provisions. These conditions created a breeding grounds for life-threatening diseases to spread, yet Carnival thinks $500 should be enough to appease passengers.

As far as the Carnival Dream incident is concerned, Carnival has so far only offered passengers a refund for the remaining three days of the cruise that were canceled, as well as 50 percent off a future cruise. For passengers who were onboard the Carnival Legend when it experienced mechanical issues, the company has proposed a meager $100 in reimbursement to passengers. Who knows what it plans to offer the new batch of passengers who are out at sea right now. The vessel’s operators didn’t even have time to fix the propulsion problem, but given the cruise industry’s usual trend of prioritizing monetary gain over passenger safety, we aren’t too shocked by Carnival’s actions at this point.