Charles R. Lipcon Discusses “Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights” in The Miami Herald

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

After several months of cruise ship accidents, passenger injuries, deaths, sexual assaults, and hundreds of Norovirus outbreaks, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has adopted a much anticipated “Passenger Bill of Rights” which addresses key issues in the cruise industry regarding safety and emergency protocols and our maritime lawyer Charles R. Lipcon was on-hand to give his expert legal opinion in an interview with The Miami Herald.

The bill follows attempts by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to push for a fleet-wide comprehensive safety plan that would “guarantee sanitary conditions, backup power and medical staff in case of emergencies.” Sen. Schumer called for the plan after a Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire accident in February knocked out power on the vessel, leaving over 4,000 travelers stranded in the Gulf of Mexico amidst some of the most deplorable conditions ever reported on a cruise ship. Passengers were forced to defecate in plastic bags after toilets stopped working on the vessel, were subjected to countless life-threatening illnesses after sewage and waste began to overflow from deck to deck, and were barely nourished because the ship did failed to provide sufficient provisions for everyone onboard.

As if that wasn’t enough of a tragedy, several other Carnival ships suffered mechanical malfunctions in the weeks following the Triumph debacle and competing lines were also criticized for their general lack of safety, which contributed to dozens of other cruise ship accidents and passenger crimes.

With Schumer’s push and the support of cruise line accident victims across the nation, CLIA, with input from member lines, released the 10-item list Wednesday afternoon, addressing issues that might arise if a cruise ship were to suffer an emergency, such as a collision or mechanical failure.

All 26 North American member cruise lines have officially adopted the bill, and members outside North America are expected to do so as well. The Passenger Bill of Rights is set to become part of the cruise passenger contract and be legally enforceable, holding cruise lines accountable for any violations and helping victims obtain the compensation and justice they deserve after suffering a cruise ship accident or crime.

Among the provisions of the bill, passengers will have the right to disembark a docked ship if essential needs are not able to be addressed onboard as well as the right to a full refund if a trip is cancelled due to mechanical problems or a partial refund if the itinerary is cut short. The bill also calls for guaranteed emergency and evacuation training for crew members and emergency power options if the vessel’s generator fails – which is what happened on the Triumph.

In the interview with The Miami Herald, Attorney Lipcon offered his legal expertise on the probability of the bill’s success and the likelihood cruise lines will abide by the new regulations in light of the recent string of cruise line mishaps.

“No question about it, the cruise lines have recently dropped the ball I think in a very, very large way,” said Attorney Lipcon, referring to the increasing number of accidents and injuries at sea. “And if they carry through on this, I think it’s very good.”

However, Attorney Lipcon noted that while the Passenger Bill of Rights is “a step in the right direction” for improved cruise ship safety, it still doesn’t encompass the full spectrum of issues in the industry in that it fails to offer protection from accidents, crimes and other injustices for crew members.

“The missing element here, the really important thing that’s not really being discussed, is a crew member bill of rights,” explained Attorney Lipcon.

Our maritime law firm represents all victims of cruise line, cargo vessel and pleasure craft negligence and wrongdoing, including crew members, whose right to a safe and fair working environment is often compromised by cruise companies who subject seafarers to extended working hours with less pay and foreign arbitration clauses in their contracts, which deny crew members the ability to have their cases tried in U.S. courts, where their rights would be more effectively protected.

Hopefully CLIA and the cruise line industry in general will consider our maritime lawyer’s advice and include a Crew Member Bill of Rights in their seafarer employment contracts.  In the meantime, at least passengers will have more of a fighting chance to obtain justice against acts of negligence by cruise lines.

The list of Passenger Rights will be included on each cruise line’s website and will also feature toll-free number for cruise guests who have any questions regarding their rights.