In our last blog, our maritime attorneys discussed the concerns that have been raised over cruise ship safety protocols and the lack of trained lifeguards on the majority of ships following the near-drowning of a 4-year-old boy on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. The accident occurred in the ship’s wave pool, where there were no lifeguards stationed to monitor guests. The boy was submerged for roughly six minutes, and pulled from the water by a fellow passenger. He is currently in critical condition.
But while this accident is tragic, it is not the first near-drowning or drowning accident to befall the cruise industry. Several other young children have suffered similar accidents, but cruise lines have yet to employ lifeguards. Wave pools themselves are extremely dangerous and difficult to monitor, even when a lifeguard is present. The crowds, the fact that people will drift under the water as the waves pass, and the motion of the water itself can create difficulty in surveillance – even for a trained professional. The fact that cruise lines have these kinds of pools on board without any lifeguard at all is a disaster waiting to happen, as the accident involving the four-year old this weekend proves.
Cruise lines claim that patrons are warned to swim at their own risk and parents are asked to watch their children. But in wave pools, where even a professionally trained lifeguard on duty would have trouble keeping everyone safe, how can parents be expected to watch all their children in a roiling mess of water and crowds without professional assistance? Moreover, the fact that drowning accidents can happen even to adults further highlights the dire need for all cruise ships to employ trained lifeguards. The 2013 drowning of 1985 MOVE Bombing survivor, Michael Ward (nicknamed Birdie Africa), in a Disney cruise ship hot tub is a prime example.
Parents may not always be aware of the dangers these waves can pose to their children. The boy in the wave pool wasn’t even noticed for several minutes by the people all around him, a testament to the danger and confusion that these pools cause.
At New Jersey’s famous Action Park, 100 people had to be pulled out of the wave pool on only its first day of operation. How many people experience near-drownings in cruise ship wave pools where there are no lifeguards on duty is a question that warrants further investigation.
Worse, individuals and children may not be able to properly estimate their abilities before jumping into a wave pool, and while “swim at your own risk” signs offer a warning, they don’t always inform patrons about the challenges of negotiating strong surf conditions. Experienced swimmers and surfers die in the ocean every year when they’re swept under water by strong waves, even when lifeguards are on duty. How will cruise lines respond to these real risks when it comes to wave pools?
Though cruise lines must abide by strict maritime safety standards, as we have seen from several prior cruise ship near-drowning and drowning accidents, there has yet to be an industry-wide mandate requiring cruise lines to hire trained lifeguards. The 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas was completed in 2009 at a cost of $1.5 billion. At that point, it was the largest in the world, boasting seven distinct “neighborhoods”, 25 dining options, a theater, an ice rink, and a myriad other entertainment features. If Royal Caribbean was willing to spend that much money, why couldn’t it spend a fraction of that amount on hiring experienced lifeguards?
Unfortunately, until cruise lines take better measures to keep their patrons safe, these wave pools will continue to be a tragedy waiting to happen.
If a tragedy or near-tragedy does occur, it’s important for cruisers to understand they have a right to seek legal counsel. An experienced maritime lawyer can evaluate the situation to determine if cruise line negligence was a factor in the incident, and if so, can help victims and their loved ones obtain justice.