It’s not every day that our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. get to see a cruise line making the right decision when it comes to protecting the safety of passengers and crew. We’ve seen far too many accidents that have resulted from a cruise operator’s inability to make the correct call when avoiding regions of political unrest, warfare and general turmoil. In fact, just a few weeks ago, cruise ships were sailing through the Middle East and right across the Gaza Strip conflict. One AIDA ship was even hit by missile debris from an attack on Ashdod as it was leaving port. Though calls on any Israeli port should have been cancelled the moment tensions between Israel and Palestine arose over the Gaza Strip, cruise lines continued to visit the area, placing passenger and crew lives at risk of serious – if not fatal – injuries.
Now, another threat has placed the safety of cruise passengers at risk – a volcano. According to a post on Cruise Critic, a volcano erupted in Papua New Guinea, which led Princess Cruises to make a big decision regarding the itinerary of its ship, the Dawn Princess.
The Cruise Critic post explains the Dawn Princess had been scheduled to call on the town of Rabaul on Sept. 9, where the volcano, Mount Tavurvur, is erupting. Instead, the cruise company decided to spend the day at sea to keep passengers out of harm’s way. Additionally, which is not something our maritime lawyers have seen cruise operators do often, Princess decided to add an additional port call to the itinerary, Kiriwina Island.
The Dawn Princess is the only cruise ship that was scheduled to call on Rabaul this month, so travelers can breathe a sigh of relief that their ships will not be affected by the volcano. However, the volcano should be the least of the cruise industry’s concerns.
Though it might seem as though Princess’ decision to avoid the dangerous area is common sense, the public would be pretty surprised to learn that not all cruise lines are adamant about avoiding ports of call that present a threat to passengers. As can be seen from the amount of time it took many major cruise operators to cancel port calls in Israel given the region’s state of unrest over the Gaza Strip, safety isn’t always the first thing cruise companies worry about – though it should be.
Cruise lines, like all maritime companies, have a responsibility to keep both passengers and crew members as safe as possible. One way to do so is to ensure all crew on board a ship are properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures. Another way to maintain and/or improve shipboard safety is to maintain vessels in top working order and to install the latest safety technology, such as radar detectors that can immediately notify a vessel’s operators when someone falls overboard. At the very least, cruise lines should avoid ports of call that present a threat to the safety of those on the ship. The fact that several cruise lines did not take any action until several weeks after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated – even after the AIDA ship was hit by missile debris – can, by many, be considered a violation of maritime safety. Had someone been injured by the debris, maritime lawyers could have been consulted upon to assist victims in determining their options as far as filing a case.
When a cruise line fails to do everything within reason to maintain the safety of passengers and crew, they may be found liable for any injuries or fatalities that ensue as a result of their negligence. We applaud Princess’ decision to avoid the area where the volcano erupted, as do we applaud cruise lines that cancelled port calls in Israel as a result of the Gaza Strip conflict, but the unfortunate truth still remains: cruise lines tend to prefer dealing with the aftermath of an accident as opposed to taking the necessary steps to prevent one in the first place.
Cancelling port calls means losing revenue, which might seem trivial given that the cruise industry is a multibillion-dollar franchise. However, there’s much that would surprise the public about the cruise industry as a whole in general. As the fall cruise season approaches, we hope that cruise operators will take the necessary precautions to prevent accidents and injuries at sea or in port, especially considering the number of incidents that have occurred in recent years, such as the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy and the Carnival Triumph fire. Alas, as the popular saying goes, “Dare to dream.”