U.S. Coast Guard Works to Improve and Promote Cruise Ship Safety

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

The cruise line industry has been rocked for quite some time now after a string of accidents, crimes and equipment mishaps have circulated the news. The industry’s has become painfully apparent, especially in the past month, after four Carnival Cruise Line ships became disabled at sea.

Beginning with the Carnival Triumph, which experienced a cruise ship fire in the engine room, proponents of maritime safety have come forward to stress the importance of improving the industry’s protocols and policies. After the Carnival Elation, Dream and Legend also experienced equipment malfunctions, and shortly thereafter setting sail again without addressing the mechanical issues properly, the need for an industry-wide revision of safety protocols is imperative.

Despite other cruise companies reporting incidents of cruise ship sexual assault, theft and injuries, Carnival Corp. has been at the forefront of debate regarding lax cruise ship safety for quite some time. Just a little over a year ago, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., Costa Cruises was reprimanded for the tragic capsizing of the Costa Concordia, which claimed the lives of 32 people. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, and several crewmembers have been accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship, after the captain ordered a change of course to perform a “salute” while approaching the Italian island of Giglio.

This caused the Concordia to come too close to shore, and the vessel struck a massive rock and partially sank near Giglio’s coast. Although the incident occurred on Jan. 13, 2012, the Concordia remains stuck in the ocean to this day, waiting for the day when it will finally be extricated, which goes to show the company’s lack of prioritizing safety measures.

Knowing well that change doesn’t happen without making an active effort, the U.S. Coast Guard has taken it upon themselves to help promote and improve cruise ship safety. The Costa Concordia cruise ship accident caught the Coast Guard’s attention last year, and now that several more incidents have occurred across the Carnival fleet, the need for a safety makeover in the industry can no longer wait.

Through the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise, a Coast Guard division that focuses solely on the cruise shipping industry, and other efforts, the U.S. Coast Guard has been overseeing the industry in order to ensure the safety of passengers aboard U.S. flagged ships or foreign ships that operate out of American ports.

The center is located right here in South Florida, the heart of the cruise ship industry, and is one of seven unique organizations around the country comprised of highly trained and experienced teams of marine inspectors and investigators committed to protecting the welfare of all cruise passengers.

“Each center is unique but they all have foundations that are common,” said Capt. Gordon Loebl, chief of Travel Inspectors and Centers of Expertise for the Coast Guard. “It’s about setting up a crossroads between Coast Guard inspectors and investigators and the industries they regulate.”

Members of the Coast Guard who are assigned to the center serve as in-house consultants to trainees who will later become cruise ship inspectors and investigators responsible for ensuring cruise ships operate safely.

Working with the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships and other safety measures, the Coast Guard has been working to enforce safety laws and help the reduce the rate of accidents and injuries occurring onboard cruise ships.

“The mission of the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise is to promote safety aboard cruise ships by serving as the liaison between the cruise ship industry and the Coast Guard,” said Lt. j.g. Michael Metz, a Coast Guard marine inspector stationed at the Center of Expertise.

As cruise ships continue to become larger, allowing for a greater number of passengers and crewmembers to sail onboard a vessel, safety policies should also expand, but given the slew of accidents occurring in the industry as of late, no such improvements have been made.

Organizations such as the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise help oversee the industry in order to make it safer for cruise ship travelers and seafarers to sail the high seas. The center examinations foreign cruise ships that operate in the U.S., hosts training courses for Coast Guard students who inspect cruise ships nationwide as well as develops practices for industry safety standards.

Center trainees obtain a unique first-hand look into every facet of the cruise industry, spending several months working with a cruise line and learning the intricate details involved in operating a cruise ship. With the knowledge gained from these trainings, the inspectors will then determine the best practices to follow regarding safety and relay their knowledge to the Coast Guard so the agency can improve its own practices.

However, despite the active role the Coast Guard is playing to help improve safety in the cruise industry, accident continue to happen, and will likely keep happening as long as cruise ships are able to set sail. Although accidents are rarely ever foreseen, there is something victims and their loved ones can do in the aftermath of a tragedy, which is to seek legal counsel as quickly as possible to protect their rights.

Obtaining a cruise ship lawyer is critical to protecting victims’ rights and fighting for the compensation victims deserve, as well as making sure negligent cruise lines are brought to justice.

Photo Credits: www.uscg.mil