After tragedy, family pushes for lifeguards on cruise ships


by: Sorboni Banerjee

– Destination, amenities, price — all considerations you ask about when you book a cruise.  But there’s a different question you should be asking, especially if you’re cruising with kids: “Is there a lifeguard?”

Just ask the Hunter family from Orlando.

“He loved everybody,” Tashara Hunter says of her 6-year-old son, a little boy who loved to make people laugh.

“He was a jokester,” agreed his father, Caselle.

“He liked to wiggle his ears,” Tashara added. “That was his trademark.”

Now, that big heart and those big ears are the trademarks for a charity in 6-year-old Quentyn Hunter’s memory.  He drowned in a Carnival cruise ship pool that had no lifeguards.

Four years later, Quentyn’s parents are still fighting to change that, and the law.

“Maritime law…” Tashara started to say, before getting choked up.  “The law that gives the cruise lines permission to write our children off, that says, ‘Oh sorry, we put a sign so they’re protected.’”

Consumers might not realize it’s been “swim at your own risk” on most cruises until very recently.  Disney was first to add lifeguards when a 4-year-old was left with brain damage in a near-drowning in 2013. Since then, there have been at least eight lawsuits where kids drowned in cruise ship pools and three more near-drownings.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian just decided to add guards this past spring. But Carnival cruise line is still pulling out of port right here in Tampa with no lifeguards on duty — and no plans to change that anytime soon.

“The signage on Carnival cruise ships is the same as it’s been for years on all cruise ships and it’s this tiny, tiny fine print,” stated Michael Winkleman, the maritime attorney representing the Hunters.  “Unless you were actively searching it out, you’d never know there weren’t lifeguards on.”

Even with the launch of a brand new Dr. Seuss-themed water park on board their latest ship, Carnival won’t have any lifeguards. We asked them why. Does it have to do with liability? Overhead costs?

Carnival Cruise Lines gave a written statement saying they’ve invested a lot of money to ensure personnel trained in water safety are positioned by their pools and waterslides, saying, “How we address water safety is based upon our belief in the importance of parental supervision and responsibility and not on any other factors.”

The Hunters feel that responsibility every day.

“It was; it was.  I will never ever forget,” Caselle’s voice trailed away and he just shook his head and looked down.

Both parents say they know it ultimately falls on them for losing track of little Quentyn, but believe an extra set of trained eyes could have helped.

“If you can put one person keeping an eye on kids, how much could that possibly cost and how could you ever compare that to the life of a child?” Winkleman continued.

Quentyn had been playing near the pool with his big brother as an end-of-the-cruise party kicked up, Caselle recalled. “Next thing I know I heard the DJ yell, ‘Somebody get that kid!’”

A passenger dove in and pulled Quentyn out, but attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Tashara had been down in the family’s cabin and when she arrived on deck and saw what was unfolding she says she went into shock. “My eyes were stuck but I could not move.”

The Cruise Lines International Association points out the number of drownings on cruises are a  “tiny fraction” of those at similar venues on land, that on average there are two drownings out of 24 million passengers carried by cruise lines.

But there’s a big difference in your recourse if a loved one dies at sea. A 100-year-old federal law called “The Death on the High Seas Act” keeps cruise ships from being liable for the big-money lawsuits that can be filed against a resort or a hotel. The cruise is only responsible for actual expenses and any dependent beneficiaries.

A child Quentyn’s age clearly has no dependents, so that means the cruise is only on the hook for the cost of his funeral.

“Cruise lines are spending literally millions of dollars a year to keep it, on lobbyists to fight to keep alive for them. It’s a gigantic cost-saving for them,” continued Winkleman.

The Hunters urge consumers to consider whether there are lifeguards when choosing their cruise, and hope Carnival will be pressured into adding them — and change the ‘Carnival Victory’ to ‘Quentyn’s Victory’ when they do.

“His mission here on Earth was over.  It was time for him to go and be the angel to go guard over us. And now the rest is up to us,” his mother sighed.

To that end, the Hunters say many families just don’t have the money to spare for swim lessons. That’s why they’ve dedicated the Quentyn Hunter Luv Foundation to helping find sponsors willing to donate time to teach, or cover the cost of swim lessons for underprivileged kids.

If you’re interested in helping, visit

Full statement from Carnival:

We are investing a significant amount of money in ensuring we have personnel across our entire fleet who are positioned at our pool and waterslide areas and are trained in water safety.   How we address water safety is based upon our belief in the importance of parental supervision and responsibility and not on any other factors.

Carnival Cruise Line is committed to providing a safe and enjoyable environment for all of our guests in all aspects of their cruise experience. This includes pool safety, which we have always taken very seriously.

Vigilance and awareness is clearly proven to be the best means for ensuring safety when using water facilities such as pools and waterparks and everyone, including parents and employees, share in that responsibility.  To that end, we have made and will continue to make significant investments in training our employees through highly respected water safety training organizations on water safety, CPR and first aid as well as being prepared to initiate proactive intervention if necessary. We have also established two dedicated water safety management roles in the fleet – one shoreside position and one traveling position – to maintain a close audit on our continuing operations.

Currently, all ships in the Carnival fleet provide complimentary life vests for use in ships’ pools. Upgraded safety nets, which are used when pools are closed, along with pool safety language in safety briefings and information cards on pool safety provided to parents of children under 12 are part of our ongoing initiatives.

Full statement from The Cruise Lines International Association

Cruise lines manage swimming pools with a continual focus on the safety of guests and crew. The industry’s goal is to ensure an exceptionally memorable and safe experience for all our guests. While swimming pool drownings are always tragic, incidents on cruise ships are a tiny fraction of corresponding rates at similar venues on land. Annually, data shows that on average there are two drownings out of 24 million passengers carried by cruise lines.

Cruise lines all have access to information from many authoritative experts on pool safety. Various approaches to pool safety can offer comparable effectiveness, including robust warnings to encourage individual responsibility and supervision, pool monitors, and the retention of formal lifeguards.  Cruise lines continually review the effectiveness of their pool safety programs along with the need for further action beyond their existing pool management practices. Further, each cruise line determines the approach that works best for its guests within their overall safety program to provide optimal effectiveness.

The Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) applies to all deaths arising outside of U.S. waters, including those of foreign nationals.  Courts have broadly applied DOHSA to a myriad of wrongful death claims where the initial neglect occurred on the high seas or in foreign territorial waters, regardless of when and where the death actually occurred and whether a maritime hazard was even involved.  For example, courts have applied DOHSA to claims involving: a cruise ship passenger who was found dead in her cabin shortly after examination by the ship’s physician where the examination took place on the high seas; a cruise ship passenger who cut his Achilles tendon while disembarking a vessel in Mexico and died ashore one year later from a blood clot; an individual who suffered a heart attack while on a shore excursion snorkeling in Mexico and subsequently drowned; an individual who was murdered by a terrorist in Guadeloupe because his agent allegedly recommended he visit Guadeloupe while on a ship on the high seas; and a Greek seaman who became ill and died ashore in Greece, but whose representatives alleged the death was related to a visit to the ship’s doctor seven months earlier while the vessel was at sea.

DOHSA, as presently written, is consistent with the laws of other nations that permit recovery of pecuniary loss only and/or do not have juries decide claims.  Some nations even impose arbitrary limits on the amount of recovery whereas DOHSA has no such limit on economic loss (which are not insignificant and can include loss of support or contributions, funeral expenses, loss of nurture, guidance, and training for children; loss of services, inheritance and/or the value of future support from minors).  Since the high seas are, to some degree, under every nation’s jurisdiction, U.S. law governing deaths on the high seas should reflect international norms.  DOHSA, as presently written, is appropriately reflective of these norms in light of the remedies available in other jurisdictions.

DOHSA applies regardless of the means of transportation.  DOHSA consequently affects various industries operating in or over the high seas including airlines, sport fishing and recreational boating, commercial ships, fishing vessels, cruise lines and ferries, and offshore drilling.  Recreational vessels, sport fishers and yachts do much more than provide transportation and, like cruise ships, would also be exposed to a flood of litigation for intangible losses in death cases related to ancillary, non-maritime hazards.

DOHSA was amended in 2000 in reaction to the KAL 007 and TWA 800 airline disasters where hundreds of lives were lost over the high seas.  As a result of the 2000 amendment, airlines are the only industry liable for loss of care, comfort and companionship under DOHSA.  Notably, Congress chose not to pass a similar reform for the maritime industry, partly because the maritime industry has a superior safety record and maritime deaths, as noted in the examples above, primarily involve an individual who perishes from a vast array of natural causes, non-catastrophic circumstances, and/or non-maritime hazards.  The potential windfall in damages created by allowing recovery of non-pecuniary damages and jury trials in all of these types of fringe cases was not likely what Congress intended when DOHSA was drafted or amended.  DOHSA is no more in need of revision in the maritime sector now than it was in 2000.

Amending DOHSA to allow for non-pecuniary losses will result in:

– The prospect of a greater recovery than available in any other jurisdiction will make the U.S. the “courthouse of the world” for foreign litigants in all over-seas industries, unnecessarily burdening an already crowded U.S. judicial system;

– Dramatically increased Insurance rates to cover the cost of litigation and the risk of intangible and unquantifiable damages.  The myriad possible circumstances that could give rise to an unfortunate death cannot effectively be insured against if every death at sea results in a jury trial in the U.S. for non-pecuniary loss; and

– Increased costs of all related products and services will be less affordable to consumers.