Cruise Ship Accidents, Cruise Ship Law, Maritime Matter of the Week

Vanuatu’s Port Vila to Open Again After Cyclone Pam: But is it Safe for Cruisers?


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Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

Cyclone Pam, Port Vila, Vanuatu, cruise passenger safety, cruise ship accident lawyers Cyclone Pam caused serious damage to Vanuatu’s Port Vila in Mid-March. Yet, thanks to the efforts of donors, Port Vila will re-open to tourists this week. Since the hurricane, cruise ships that have been visiting the island nation have not allowed passengers to disembark, but rather, have used the opportunity to ship much needed supplies to the people of Port Vila. Starting this week, tourists will be able to disembark.

Yet, our cruise ship accident lawyers here at LMAW can’t help but wonder if the port is really safe for tourists, especially cruisers.

Carnival Cruise Line representatives claim to have performed an assessment of the conditions in Port Vila. The cruise line, in conjunction with local authorities, have both decided to allow passengers to disembark.Yet, there haven’t been clear reports released about how secure the area is following the damage the storm has caused. And, both Vanuatu and Carnival are relying on continued tourism for revenue. If there’s a rush to get cruising operations resumed in Port Vila, it may compromise the safety of passengers and crew members.

Vanuatu relies on cruise ship travel to support its tourist industry and Carnival serves to benefit from opening another port of call. According to a Carnival Cruise Lines representative, two-thirds of Vanuatu’s international visitors arrive on cruise ships. While Carnival and the Vanuatu government seem to think that the port is safe, passengers cruising on ships that call on Port Vila may need to ask themselves whether it they should disembark.

To make matters more perplexing, warnings have been issued urging passengers to remain in the downtown areas and to avoid travel into local communities. The hope is that downtown areas are, in fact, secure, but if surrounding communities have not fully recovered, how likely is it that the downtown area is fully prepared to handle an influx of cruise passengers?

That being said, passengers who decide to venture into the port exercise caution. There still might be some risk to passenger safety. Seeing as how Cyclone Pam caused serious damage to the area just last month, it’s unrealistic to think that all the debris, rubble, and safety hazards have been completely cleared away.

One big risk travelers may still face is flooding. While the chance of a sudden flash flood after a hurricane has struck is low, there are other key risks cruisers should keep in mind. For one, downed live wires can land in standing water, posing a serious electrocution hazard to individuals who come in contact with the water. Individuals should use caution if they encounter any standing water on sidewalks or roadways and avoid these areas. Furthermore, standing water poses a disease hazard as well, as insects gather around this water, breed, and can fly into tourist areas where they can bite and sicken passengers.

In addition, areas undergoing power outages may also be unsafe and should be avoided. Also, hurricane winds can compromise a building’s integrity, and it is unclear how closely buildings in Port Vila’s downtown core have been inspected following the hurricane. Visitors should use caution when entering any building or when walking around any building with visible storm damage.

While one hopes that the port is safe for travelers, it is clear that Vanuatu is still recovering from the storm. We laud the cruise lines that have decided to pitch in and provide important and much-needed humanitarian aid to those in need. However, passengers shouldn’t let curiosity and adventure trump safety, and should use caution when disembarking at any port that has suffered recent storm damage.

The best way to stay safe is to stay informed. Passengers should speak to their cruise representatives about which areas are safe to visit if they still have questions, and, if possible, opt for guided tours as opposed to self-exploration. It’s crucial that cruise passengers use their best judgment when visiting areas that are still in recovery from natural disasters in order to prevent a serious accident.


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