There has been a lot of talk regarding cruise passenger accidents among maritime authorities and attorneys, especially here at our maritime law firm Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. However, it’s important to remember that accidents on the high seas happen even more often to crew members.
Crew members, especially cruise ship crews, have been getting hurt in industry-related accidents since the first cruise ship was launched, and if the veil of secrecy that cruise companies attempt to put in place regarding information about serious injuries or crimes passengers, when it comes to a crew member getting hurt, the veil is more akin to a shroud.
The recent deaths of two crew members in Turkey is shining a light on exactly how lacking on safety equipment and protocols a vessel can be and just how difficult it is for victims and their surviving loved ones to obtain the justice they deserve when accidents occur.
No matter where in the world a ship may be, all vessel owners have a responsibility to provide the vessels crew a reasonably safe work place and a seaworthy vessel at all times.
Crew members are afforded several benefits under maritime law and the Jones Act, a federal legislation that allows injured seafarers to sue their employers if their injuries were the result of their employer’s negligence. In the United States, seafarers have certain rights while in the service of their vessel, including the right to receive free medical care, food and shelter, as well as to work in an environment that is reasonably safe and a vessel that is seaworthy. Although other nations have similar seafarer rights in place to protect crew members from harm, those in the U.S. are among the strictest, and historically have favored the injured crew member. However, recently with the onset of Arbitration clauses and bogus Unions, cruise lines are being given loopholes around the Jones Act and almost all other maritime laws and in their place the lines are being permitted to right their own rules and regulations resulting in, no surprise, much less favorable terms and conditions to the crew members and almost non-existent review of the fairness and justness of the process and the resulting compensations awarded.
Foreign arbitration clauses in crew member’s contracts deprives them from being able to enforce their rights in a U.S. court. Instead, their cases are heard by Arbiters paid by the parties to the Arbitration, and are governed by whatever laws the crew member’s employer decided was most beneficial to them. Needless to say, when the foreign arbitration clause comes into play, injured crew members seldom obtain the compensation they would have obtained in a just and fair civil trial be it a jury trial or a bench trial.
Given the deaths of the two crew members in Turkey, our cruise lawyers are left to wonder if their surviving loved ones will be able to obtain any compensation for the deaths of their family members.
The accident occurred on Aug. 10, when the two crew members were working onboard the historical MS Pacific, the famous cruise ship that was used in the popular 1970s T.V. show “The Love Boat.”
The vessel had previously been sold to Izmir Ship Recycling Company to be scraped. It sailed from Genoa to Turkey amidst unfavorable weather conditions and in route suffered damage and water leaked into the engine room. Once at its destination and in order to fix the damage suffered by the vessel, ten dock workers went on board and into the engine room, but were subjected to poisonous gases emanating from an exhaust pipe they were using to drain water out of the room.
The workers all inhaled the fumes and were rushed to area hospitals, but two of them, Doğan Balcı, 37, and Davut Özdemir, 40, died as a result of the smoke poisoning. The other workers were released from hospital care last weekend. Officials are waiting the removal of the still present toxic gases from the ship to begin an investigation into the cause of the workers deaths.
The family of one of the deceased, Balcı, said this wasn’t the first time the victim had inhaled toxic smoke onboard the vessel. On Aug. 8, a similar incident occurred but the victim was only given outpatient treatment.
Although the victims are not cruise ship crew members, the vessels owners could still be held responsible for their deaths for failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment. If the victims were from the U.S. or if the vessel’s owners were based in the U.S., then the victims’ loved ones and the victims that survived might have been able to file a lawsuit against the ship’s owners. However, the victims and or their family members may still be able to recover compensation for their injuries and losses under international maritime laws.
It’s important for any crew member or shipyard worker to understand that they have a right to seek legal help in the event that they suffer an injury or sickness while in the service of their employer. Even incidents that may seem relatively mild may be a violation of their rights, which an experienced maritime attorney can help uncover.