Just this week, Carnival broke the news that it would be investing over $300 million in a fleet-wide upgrade project that will improve emergency backup power systems, fire safety, electrical components, and hotel services for guests to keep travelers as comfortable as possible in the event that a cruise ship accident were to take place.
The announcement follows worldwide criticism of the “Fun Ship” liner after the highly publicized engine fire aboard the Carnival Triumph in February left over 4,200 people stuck in the Gulf of Mexico amidst some of the most appalling and squalid shipboard conditions in recent maritime history.
With no working power, sewage or air conditioning, Triumph passengers reported having to use plastic bags to relieve themselves because toilets stopped working, had to sustain themselves with cucumber sandwiches, and were placed at risk of contracting serious illnesses after sewage and waste began to overflow from deck to deck.
For five long days Triumph cruise passengers had to suffer amidst these dire conditions until the vessel finally docked on U.S. soil. But the nightmare didn’t stop there; the disabled vessel was towed to the port of Mobile, Alabama, hundreds of miles from the Triumph’s homeport of Galveston, Texas. Passengers had to suffer even longer before getting home because of the cruise line’s failure to include emergency backup generators to maintain power onboard the vessel.
Now, two months after the Triumph disaster, Carnival is investing millions on improving safety features, but is this a genuine move to protect passengers from future maritime accidents or is it just a plan to divert attention from the line’s negligent actions and appease victims?
According to our firm’s maritime attorney Michael Winkleman, Carnival’s project in no way makes up for the suffering Triumph passengers have had to endure, nor for the string of other accidents that have taken place onboard Carnival ships in the months thereafter.
“I think you can see it as an implicit admission that their entire fleet needed upgrading,” said Mr. Winkleman on the Fox News show Varney & Company. “I can’t necessarily say it’s a victory [for Triumph victims]. It’s going to be a long battle for passengers.”
But while the upgrade effort clearly won’t do anything to directly help the victims of the Triumph, Carnival has yet to offer any help for current and future cruisers, who continue to be involved in accidents at the hands of Carnival Cruise Line’s negligence.
Just weeks after the Triumph cruise ship fire nightmare, three other Carnival ships were involved in maritime accidents: the Elation, Dream and Legend.
All of these vessels experienced some form of mechanical malfunction only days after Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill announced in during the Cruise Shipping Miami conference in March that the company had already begun a “comprehensive review” of the entire fleet to improve shipboard safety for both passengers and crew members.
Carnival Cruise Line, a division of Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, was once the most popular cruise line in the world, known for catering to families, single travelers and passengers of any age who were looking for an exciting and memorable vacation aboard the “Fun Ship.”
Unfortunately, as the slew of other cruise accidents have come to light, the carefree and family-oriented reputation Carnival once boasted appears to be slowly deteriorating.
After the Triumph debacle, a poll surveying 2,230 U.S. adults revealed that the nation’s trust in the cruise industry has declined. Trust in Carnival Cruise Line significantly diminished by 17%, but not only has America lost faith in the Fun Ship company, but the seemingly endless cruise ship accidents that have occurred on Carnival vessels have created a domino-like effect, reducing the public’s opinion of other cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
Carnival and other cruise lines have been known to avoid taking responsibility for accidents on their vessels and are able to do so because they register their ships in foreign ports to avoid U.S. maritime laws and corporate taxes. By leaving incidents in the hands of often unsympathetic foreign governments, accidents are rarely fully investigated or reported to the public, allowing the cruise line to save a lot of public embarrassment, liability and keep their reputation intact.
So where do we think this money for this fleet-wide upgrade is coming from? That’s easy, it’s right on the shoulders of its crewmembers. Beginning nearly a decade ago, the cruise lines began placing foreign arbitration provisions in the employment contracts with all crewmembers. These foreign arbitration provisions take crewmember’s injury claims out of U.S. courts and into foreign arbitrations where their rights are trampled on. As a result, the shipping industry has become more brazen in its treatment of crewmembers, including overworking them to the point that a serious safety issue is created. It’s our opinion that much of these recent safety related incidents are a direct bi-product of dramatically overworking crewmembers.
The mistreatment of crew members makes ships less safe because seafarers are being forced to work long hours, are not being given adequate medical care, and are also forced to go into foreign arbitration when things go wrong. This is one of the dirty little secrets of the cruise line industry. We are doing all we can to make it a secret no more.