In his new book, Unsafe on the High Seas: Your Guide to a Safer Cruise, veteran maritime lawyer Charles Lipcon exposes the seamy underbelly of the cruise industry, calling attention to the litany of potential problems that may ruin the vacation of a lifetime— sexual assaults, shipboard disappearances, unaccredited doctors, inadequate security and noroviruses, among them.
“There are hazards when taking a cruise,” the Key Biscayne resident says, “but what it boils down to is people not using commons sense. For some reason when people get on a ship they feel like they’re totally protected, like they’re in a totally safe cocoon, but that’s not always the case.”
Based on his 35 years of experience, Lipcon’s book bristles with shocking true stories of cruise-ship passengers who have been injured, victimized or harmed while at sea.
“It’s sort of premised on problem areas I’ve seen,” says Lipcon, who is affiliated with the law firm Lipcon, Margulies and Alsina P.A., located near the Port of Miami.
The son of a U.S. Naval officer, Lipcon traveled extensively when he was a youth. He attended the University of Miami and received his bachelors degree with a dual major in political science and philosophy. He subsequently attended UM’s School of Law and received his Juris Doctor degree.
Lipcon began to practice law in Miami, just as the cruise industry as we know it today was forming. His first case, involving a crewman who’d had an accident aboard a ship, initiated the young attorney into the intricacies of the industry. He learned that a ship may be built in Italy, based in the U.S. and fly a Liberian flag. That led the young lawyer to wonder: “So whose jurisdiction is it under? Whose laws apply?”
In order to sue for reparations for the crewman, Lipcon had to slog through “layers of laws” and international treaties to discover who was responsible and who to file suit against. He won his case for the crewman, and in the more than three decades since, he’s won awards on behalf of both crewmen and passengers while setting precedents in maritime law.
“What I found so interesting about that case is that most of these ships are part of a corporate maze— the employer of the crew is one company, the owner of the ship is a different company, the operator is another company and the shareholders are from another county. So there a lot of overlapping jurisdictions to got through. As a lawyer, you have to work your way through that maze of international laws— it’s like handling a very complex puzzle.”
Unsafe on the High Seas is the result of Lipcon’s 35 years of first-hand experience in maritime law. It is an offshoot of his dedicated quest and subsequent success in exposing the secrets the cruise industry does not want passengers to know.
The book’s dedication reads: “For the victims of accidents and crimes on board cruise ships. It is my hope that this book will assist future cruise line passengers from becoming victims. If only one person is helped by this book, I will feel that it has been worth the effort.”
In a chapter titled “A Pattern of Cover-ups,” Lipcon showcases the variety of tricks the cruise industry uses to smooth over problems and avoid lawsuits and damaging publicity.
“They know how to take advantage of every wrinkle in the law and they are behind a very powerful lobbying group,” says Lipcon.
Another chapter in Lipcon’s cruise-ship survival guide details problems involving unaccredited ship physicians. To illustrate the extent of the problem, Lipcon mentions a woman who needed medical attention after injuring her head in a fall. Due to substandard medical equipment and an erroneous diagnosis by the ship doctor, the woman wound up becoming a paraplegic.
“My advice is that if you have a serious medical problem, get off the ship as quickly as possible and get advice from your personal physician,” says Lipcon.
Most disturbingly, “the cruise lines disavow any liability for the ship doctor, which I personally think is outrageous,” adds Lipcon.
From easy-to-follow rules for staying safe in a cruise ship environment to sensible talk about health and sanitation issues, Lipcon’s brisk 116-page book contains helpful advice for future cruise ship passengers to avoid the risks and hazards that can spoil their experience.
“When people are in a big city, their antennas go up and they’re alert, but when they’re on a cruise ship, they let their guard down,” says Lipcon. “The purpose of my book is to make people aware that there are hazards on cruise ships, just like anywhere else.”
Lipcon says his book offers sensible advice to guide a passenger from the purchase of the ticket (which is a binding contract) until the end of the voyage.
“My hope is that people will leaf through this book before boarding a cruise ship,” says Lipcon, “because I believe many of the horrific things that have happened on ships could’ve been avoided had people read my book.”
Unsafe on the High Seas: Your Guide to a Safer Cruise is available on Amazon.com and other online book retailers.