Princess Cruises to Base New Ship Out of China – How Will This Affect Maritime Law Cases?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Shanghai-Cruise-PortPrincess Cruises recently announced that it will be basing its newest ship out of China. The yet unnamed ship is currently under construction. It will be homeported in Shanghai and will debut in 2017, specifically serving the Chinese market. This is understandable, as Chinese tourism has been growing in recent years and cruise lines want to get in on the action.

As the first of Princess’ vessels to be specifically designed for Chinese passengers, the ship will offer an array of innovations tailored to the Chinese market, including cultural cuisine selections and specially-designed entertainment programs. While exciting, with the introduction of any new ship comes a number of maritime safety concerns. Anyone thinking of traveling on the new vessel should consider the kind of impact that China’s maritime laws can have on both passenger rights and oceanic environmental practices.

First, let’s explore what kind of effect this new ship can have on the environment. For starters, cruise ships in general can leave an environmental footprint, especially on ocean ecosystems. But while cruise lines around the world have a responsibility to uphold environmental safety practices, according to the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, only about 10 percent of China’s environmental laws are actually enforced. The language of the laws in place tends to be vague, thus enforcement can often be difficult to pursue in court. The current law favors economic development, so when it comes to marine ecosystems and shore protection, China’s laws may not be up to date when compared to Europe or North American laws. Moreover, the Journal explains that China’s judicial system lacks training in environmental legal matters, which can lead cruise lines to get away with violations to marine safety.

When it comes to maritime law, China has only recently initiated reforms that centralize the bureaucratic control of maritime law enforcement agencies. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, in 2013 several maritime agencies were united. While supporters claim that this will reduce potential conflicts, critics worry whether the unified agency will lead to China being more assertive in pursuing more territories in the area, and how the nation will handle development in any new regions. As more tourists show an interest in the Asian market and in visiting Asian ports of call, countries in the area will likely have to wrestle with questions of development, political stability, and environmental policy.

On a brighter note, having a unified maritime agency can mean faster response times in the event of a cruise ship accident. Yet, the fact remains that ships based out of a foreign port of call, or those flying a foreign flag, will uphold the maritime laws pertinent to said nation. These laws aren’t always as strict as U.S. laws, which can create issues for cruise passengers seeking justice for an accident, injury, or crime that transpired aboard the vessel.

As tourism in China (and Asia in general) continues to grow, it remains uncertain how China will respond in terms of providing legal protections for passengers and for the natural environments that these passengers visit. Only time will tell. Until then, it’s a good idea for cruise passengers traveling abroad to check with local agencies regarding current travel policies, maritime laws, and safety alerts. It’s also important for cruise passengers to be thorough when reading their passenger ticket contracts to ensure they understand their legal rights.

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