Viking Cruise Ship Collides with Small Passenger Boat; Who’s to Blame?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

questionA boat and a cruise ship went out to sea…sounds like the beginning of a silly joke, but we assure you, humorous is far from how we would describe a recent accident involving a boat and a cruise ship.  According to reports, three sailors were out at sea in Swedish waters last week when their boat collided with a Viking Line cruise ship. Tiny boat versus 1,800 plus passenger ship? This has disaster written all over it.   But while this maritime accident could have turned out much worse, miraculously, no serious injuries were reported.

News sources say the mariners were sailing in the Stockholm archipelago around midday on Saturday when their boat collided with the Viking ship, which was en route to Finland. Though the boat sunk after crashing with the Viking ship, the sailors were lucky to escape this perilous accident relatively unscathed – and even luckier to have been rescued right away. Locals from the island of Marö, just 200 meters away from the accident scene, witnessed the collision and immediately sailed out to assist the victims. Emergency crews were also quick to respond.

The trio, two men and a woman, were rescued from the frigid waters and brought back to the island, where they were given dry clothes and treated for shock. They were then transported to a local hospital for further treatment, but from what our firm has heard, no one sustained any serious injuries. For that matter, we don’t know if the victims even suffered any injuries at all. This is an extremely rare occurrence, especially considering the fact that even what would appear to be minor boating accidents often result in debilitating – if not fatal – injuries.  Perhaps even more remarkably,  the boaters didn’t even appear to have been wearing life jackets.

It’s also rare that an accident of this magnitude happened so close to shore that people were able to actually witness what happened and rescue the victims right away. The vast majority of boaters who are involved in an accident at sea (in frigid waters no less) often  succumb to hypothermia.

So what exactly caused this strange accident in the first place? Investigators are blaming it on the weather. Foggy conditions were reported by eyewitnesses, but is there more to the collision than meets the eye?

Could negligence have played a role in the accident? Absolutely. The accident is only in the preliminary stages of investigation right now, but it is quite possible the boaters may have been engaging in a number of reckless actions, including boating while under the influence (BUI), speeding or boating while distracted. And conversely, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the cruise ship was at fault.

We’re also not entirely convinced that the fog was the key contributing factor in the accident. Yes, there are times when fog does seem to roll out of nowhere, but for the most part, unfavorable weather conditions can – and are – predicted. Anyone who is considering heading out to sea, whether aboard a pleasure boat, fishing boat, or 100-foot yacht should always check local weather reports to ensure conditions are clear and safe. We cannot stress this point enough. Far too many boaters have suffered debilitating injuries or have died as a result of bad weather because they failed to check weather reports – tragedies that could have likely been prevented.

Good news though; for once, it doesn’t appear as though the cruise ship was to blame. With the alarming number of accidents and crimes involving cruise ships this year – a figure that has been growing steadily over the past five years – we have to admit, we’re a bit shocked that the cruise ship didn’t play at least some role in the incident. Let’s put it this way, there have been so many accidents involving the cruise industry in the past few years that many have actually come to expect cruise ships to be at the root of any new incident that unfolds.

The mere fact that a cruise ship was involved in this particular accident, even though it was the small boat that was responsible for the crash, raises red flags. Surely, there’s someone out there right now who read about the accident and has formulated their own opinion of how the Viking ship must have done something wrong. Unfortunately, that’s just the bad rap the cruise industry has these days. And it’s not something that can be easily changed. Far too many heinous crimes and accidents stemming from negligence have marred the cruise industry’s reputation to the point that people are expecting cruise operators to keep messing up. And these sentiments are not going to change anytime soon, unless the cruise industry as a whole comes together and spends some serious time improving its safety policies and procedures to at least show the world that it has taken all feasible steps to provide the safest onboard environment possible.

Had tables been turned, and the cruise ship found to have committed some sort of negligent act, whether in failing to see the boaters, failing to evade the boaters, or even failing to stop to assist the victims, the sailors would probably be speaking with an admiralty attorney right now and working toward filing a lawsuit.