Use common sense precautions aboard

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

By Jay Clarke
McClatchy Newspapers

You’re off on a long-dreamed-of vacation, a cruise to the sunny Caribbean. You’re on a big cruise liner with a couple thousand other passengers. There are doctors and nurses on board, locks on your stateroom door, lots of public spaces, and ship personnel at your beck and call.

Safety isn’t something to worry about.

Not so, says Miami maritime lawyer Charles R. Lipcon in a new book, “Unsafe on the High Seas” (I. Adels, $14.95).

Most important, he says, don’t leave common sense behind. “Getting on a cruise ship is like traveling to a strange city. Take some precautions,” Lipcon said.

You wouldn’t walk alone at night in a strange city; don’t do it on a cruise ship. You wouldn’t go to a stranger’s room ashore; don’t go to a crew member’s room on board.

“That’s the reason I wrote the book — to tell passengers how to avoid problems,” said the Miami attorney, who has filed lawsuits on behalf of clients who experienced problems aboard ship.

“When you get on a cruise ship, you’re not in the United States anymore,” he warned. The laws of the ship’s country of registry aren’t the same as those in America, and you may not get the same protections. Medical care is limited and may not be up to U.S. standards.

Passengers having too good a time at a ship bar also may be at risk, Lipcon writes. “Fueled by firewater, people do crazy things.” Young women in particular can fall prey to the date rape drug. His advice: Only drink beverages you have witnessed being prepared, and ask that bottled drinks come unopened. “That’s a must.”

That said, the vast majority of passengers never experience any problems aboard, except perhaps for spending more than they intended.

Michael Crye, executive vice president of the Cruise Line Industry Association, said that of the 4.4 million passengers who sailed from April to Aug. 24 in 2007, only .01% were involved in reported incidents.