This past Friday, LM&W maritime attorney Michael Winkleman appeared on the Today show to discuss the recent near-drowning of our client, a 4-year-old boy from Italy on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas ship, along with another controversial issue regarding the cruise industry as a whole: the fact that the majority of cruise lines don’t hire trained lifeguards.
Although the cruise industry markets itself as a family-friendly, promising guests the time of their lives, the truth is that cruise vacations can often be far from fun – or safe.
What not many people may be aware of is the fact that the three largest cruise line operators – Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line – do not currently have lifeguards on their ships. In fact, the only major cruise line that has lifeguards on board is Disney Cruise Line, which began staffing ships with trained lifeguards back in 2013 after the near-drowning of another 4-year-old boy aboard the Disney Fantasy ship.
Though the boy miraculously survived, he suffered severe brain damage. Sadly, others aren’t as lucky. Many other children do not survive these types of cruise ship accidents, like 6-year-old Qwentyn Hunter. Qwentyn’s parents also appeared on Today to discuss the tragic death of their son, who drowned while playing in the Carnival Victory ship’s main pool in October, 2013.
With over 1.5 million kids cruising each year, and the fact that half a dozen children have been involved in near-drowning and fatal drowning accidents, we have to wonder why cruise lines STILL do not employ lifeguards.
On nearly every cruise ship, you’ll find kid pools. And if you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you’ll see that there is always a lot of activity in these pools. Cruise lines claim they abide by the highest standards in safety, yet, very few ships have trained lifeguards on board monitoring pools and Jacuzzis. Why is that?
Attorney Winkleman explained on Today that it all boils down to one thing: MONEY.
“Because there’s such a small amount of space [on a ship], [cruise lines] can either have a crew member or passenger on board,” explained Winkleman on Today. “[Cruise lines] always want the passengers, because the passengers are always spending money.”
Yet, if you’re on a cruise ship and happen to find yourself in the pool areas, you’ll see that there’s no scarcity in crew members walking around serving drinks. Still, none of these crew members are trained lifeguards or even trained in life-saving protocols.
In fact, it was a fellow passenger that pulled the 4-year-old boy from the Oasis of the Seas pool and fellow passengers who helped Qwentyn when he suffered his tragic accident. Qwentyn’s accident happened nearly two years ago. Still, there is no maritime law in place requiring cruise lines to hire lifeguards. Despite this, if cruise lines are honestly making an effort to keep passengers safe, it shouldn’t take an industry-wide mandate to make this happen.
Remarkably, these terrible drowning incidents onboard cruise ships are not limited to children. Drowning accidents can happen in a split second, whether you are a child or an adult. The 2013 drowning death of 1985 MOVE bombing survivor Michael Ward, aka Birdie Africa, proves this.
So what’s really going on at sea? In our opinion, the problem is multi-faceted, but when people are on vacation, they let their guard down, combine that with the dramatic over service of alcohol and you have a dangerous situation at sea. For certain, personal responsibility and parental responsibility plays a role in these tragedies, but when multi-billion dollar cruise corporations are profiting so handsomely from the pockets of their passengers, there must be steps taken to protect all passengers at sea.
Yes, Cruise lines will usually put up signs around pool areas warning passengers to swim at their own risk and pointing out the fact that there are no lifeguards monitoring the areas. But, this isn’t enough. Qwentyn’s parents agree.
“[Cruise lines] aren’t looking out for us, they are looking out for themselves,” said Qwentyn’s mother on Today.
Allegedly, cruise lines are in the process of reviewing ways to provide greater supervision to passengers in pool areas, but when exactly can we expect this to happen? Children – and adults – continue to suffer drowning accidents. How many more cruise passengers will become victims of drowning accidents before all cruises decide enough is enough and FINALLY employ lifeguards on ALL their ships? That’s a question our maritime firm is still waiting on an answer for.
Watch the story including Mr. Winkleman’s interview on The Today Show here.