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Effective last week, Disney Cruise Line has imposed a fleet-wide smoking ban on all cruise ship passenger balconies. This new policy is in accordance with the non-smoking trend seen aboard the majority of cruise lines, as passengers are demanding a reduction in smoking areas. These demands, which have been largely communicated through letters of complaint, are affecting both public spaces and guest balconies on ships.

Described as “simply evolutionary” by Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2014 author Douglas Ward, the new smoking bans are seen by many as long-awaited and overdue. Public spaces throughout the country have been implementing similar rules over the past several years. Because of this, commentators are far from surprised to see new policies instated. Although cruise ships have traditionally included both smoking and non-smoking areas, the ban on smoking aboard guest balconies is new – and certainly a result of complaints from passengers experiencing the secondhand smoke from balconies near their own. Despite these bans, Disney is still designating open-air smoking areas in order to accommodate all of its guests.

Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn, and Cunard Line are among the other cruise lines hardening their stance against smoking, particularly on passenger balconies. To toughen the stance against smoking, Royal Caribbean is fining violators of these new rules up to $250. However, not all cruise lines are taking as stringent of measures to prevent smoking. Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, still permits smoking on all balconies except those of the spa cabins. Please click here to learn more about these new smoking policies aboard cruise ships, or contact individual cruise lines to learn of their smoking developments.

The numbers are out on the public’s view of the cruise line industry, and they aren’t what many in the industry would have hoped for. A new Harris poll on public trust and perception of the cruise industry indicates that the industry’s damaged public image has continued to plummet since the fire aboard the Carnival Triumph in February, 2013. That incident, which was heavily publicized by the media, left passengers and crew stranded onboard for four days without propulsion or power until they were towed to port at Mobile, Alabama. After the fire on the Carnival Triumph, public trust in cruising hit a historic low and has continued to decline. Since the fire, the public’s faith in the cruise ship industry is down 12%.

The public’s perception of the quality of the cruise ship experience has also declined since February. Potential first time cruisers are much more reluctant to splurge on a vacation aboard a cruise than they were a year ago, with 56% who have never taken a cruise saying that they are less likely now to book a cruise than they were a year ago. It should be noted that this poll, which was conducted from May 14-16 of this year, occurred before a fire broke out aboard the Grandeur of the Seas on the less than two weeks later. Although it did not cause as much damage as the fire on the Triumph did, and seems to have been handled in a much better fashion, it seems likely that the latest incident will only further damage the industry’s image among the traveling public.
The cruise line industry has taken several measures over the last several months to help minimize the damage done to their public image. (A summary of those steps, along with news of the fire on the Grandeur fire, was the subject of a prior entry on this blog). The result of these efforts is difficult to ascertain, but one thing the survey makes clear is that the cruise line that has suffered the most damage to its reputation is Carnival. While trust in the industry as a whole has dropped 12 percent since the fire onboard the Triumph, trust in Carnival has decreased by 26%. And when it comes to the public’s perception of the quality of the cruising experience, satisfaction with Carnival has decreased by 28%. (Carnival Cruise Lines is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, which owns several other lines including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, and Costa Cruises. Costa was in the news last year when one of its ships crashed into a reef off the shores of Tuscany because the captain veered off course and ventured too close to shore. Thirty-two people lost their lives, and legal battles over compensation from this accident are still ongoing). For more information about cruise ship accidents, or to see if you have a case, contact The Law Office of David H. Pollack at 305-372-5900 for a free consultation or visit our website at www.davidpollacklaw.com.

On May 22, 2013, the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) adopted a formal Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights designed to protect the rights of cruise line passengers in the event of mechanical failures and other emergencies. Less than a week later, on the morning of May 28, the Bill of Rights was put to the test when a large fire broke out on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. The ship was headed south after departing Baltimore when it became engulfed in flames. According to a detailed account of the incident written by a passenger and published in the Baltimore Sun, the ship’s crew acted quickly to put out the fire and insure that all passengers were safe.

The new Bill of Rights was adopted at the CLIA Convention to alleviate passengers’ concerns about cruise ship safety in the face of a number of accidents and mechanical failures that have occurred in the last year and to counter the negative publicity generated by them. Among the most notable incidents were the sinking of the Costa Concordia, which resulted in the deaths of a number of passengers, and the engine failure which left passengers onboard the Carnival Triumph stranded without power for several days. (For more information on recent cruise accidents, see the blog post below from March 18, 2013).

While the Bill of Rights has been called a step in the right direction by maritime lawyers representing both passengers and the industry, it also has been criticized for not going far enough in addressing a number of recurring problems. And while the Bill of Rights does lay out specific rights passengers traveling onboard member cruise lines have in the event of emergencies , and what kind of service they can expect while cruising, it does not provide for the adoption of any new regulations. A memo released by the CLIA to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) does make clear, however, that the Bill of Rights will apply to all United States passengers who purchase their tickets in North America, regardless of their itinerary.

Last year, the cruise industry’s biggest story was the Costa Concordia’s grounding in Tuscany after it struck a rock in the seabed, which caused the ship to partially sink. This year the cruise industry has already experienced another unfortunate disaster with the engine room fire aboard the Carnival Triumph. Thousands of passengers and crewmembers were left stranded without power for four days, in conditions many described as unlivable. This week, at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM) conference, executives from the major cruise lines met to discuss the state of the cruise industry in general, and the effects of these incidents in particular. Despite a weak year relative to historical averages, executives said that 2012 was on par with industry expectations for most cruise lines, and many of the larger cruise lines expressed excitement about the new opportunities for expansion that are opening up in emerging markets such as East Asia and Brazil. (The European market struggled more than others due to the Concordia incident as well as the European sovereign-debt crisis).

The cruise line industry has maintained its stance that cruising is still one of the safest ways to vacation, and in an effort to reassure passengers unnerved by recent events, Carnival announced that it would be performing a thorough review of its entire fleet to help prevent any similar accidents or incidents in the future. Nevertheless, the Triumph fiasco has prompted many, both in and outside the industry, to demand greater safety regulation of the cruise ship industry. (Cruise line executives, of course, insist that the cruise ship industry is adequately regulated)

Horror stories of accidents, crimes, disappearances, and illnesses occurring on cruise ships are admittedly nothing new, dating back to the infamous maiden-voyage of the Titanic. And while it is true that the percentage of passengers who experience a serious injury or fatality is comparatively small relative to the total number of those who cruise, the frequency and severity of these episodes appears to be increasing. If you or any of your loved ones have suffered an accident or become ill aboard a cruise ship, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free consultation, contact the Law Office of David H. Pollack at 305-372-5900 or visit our website at www.davidpollacklaw.com.

The Supreme Court last week held that a Riviera Beach, FL resident’s floating home was a house, not a ‘vessel’, and therefore the marina where he had docked it could not seize his home under federal maritime law. The owner of the home, Fane Lozman, is a self-made millionaire who had been residing in the City of Riviera Beach Marina where he had indefinitely moored his 60-by-12 foot houseboat. The houseboat had been towed from another marina following Hurricane Wilma’s passing in the summer of 2005. Lozman had resided in Riviera Beach for a little more than a year before his relationship with city became rocky. The city had plans for a luxury development in the marina, but Lozman fought against it and ultimately succeeded in halting the plans. The city council wanted to clear the path for their development, and in 2007 passed new regulations for the marina, which required proof of insurance and registration, as well as new docking fees for the marina. In March, 2008, Lozman received a letter from the city advising him he would be evicted unless he brought his home in compliance with the new regulations and paid outstanding fees to the Marina also from the new regulations. In April 2009 the city arrested the houseboat and filed a claim in admiralty on his home, the boat was subsequently auctioned off and demolished. Lozman dismissed the admiralty claim, but the district court ruled in favor of the city, declaring that his home was indeed a ‘vessel’ and could be arrested under federal maritime law.

On appeal, the case finally reached the Supreme Court in 2012. The Supreme Court announced its ruling on January 15 ending the lengthy legal battle. The central question in the case was whether Lozman’s house could be considered a’vessel’ under federal maritime jurisdiction. Lozman argued that the house, which had no self-propulsion, energy production/storage, or rudder, was not a ‘vessel’ because it’s purpose and was not to transport goods or people. The City argued that the houseboat was indeed a vessel because it was capable of moving on water. The Supreme Court sided with Lozman

Lozman was seeking compensation for his house, which he valued at around $50,000, as well as reimbursement for legal and other related fees that totaled up to nearly $300,000. The ruling is expected to have significant legal ramifications for boat owners and others in the maritime. Across the country marinas, vessel owners, marine bankers, and other marine affiliated businesses have been reviewing their operations in light of the ruling. Among the issues the ruling is likely to affect are:

The world’s last active ocean liner, Cunard Line’s RMS Queen Mary 2, made headlines last week when it was reported that as many as 201 of its passengers and crew members reported suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses and 19 showed active symptoms of norovirus. It was the second cruise ship that week that had reported an outbreak of the dangerous virus. However, a follow up report released by Cunard Line on Wednesday, January 2, states that only two passengers and 16 crew members had suspected cases of norovirus.

Norovirus is an easily transmissible virus that poses great risk for young children and the elderly. It causes vomiting and diarrhea, and in healthy individuals usually resolves in one or two days. The isolated nature of cruise ships creates an environment where viruses such as these can spread quickly and cause harm to those on board. Cunard Line claims that they took steps to help deter and prevent the spread of the virus by encouraging all passengers who showed symptoms to present themselves to the medical staff on board, quarantining the sick, and dispatching extra crew members to clean and disinfect public areas.

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program has been investigating the situation on the Queen Mary 2, and on Thursday, sent two environmental health officers and an epidemiologist on board to assess the situation. They have released their investigation on their website. To view the full report, click here.

Francesco Schettino, the Costa Concordia ship captain accused of causing the accident on January 13, 2012 was released from house arrest yesterday. Click here for MSNBC news article.

He is charged with multiple counts of manslaughter, causing the accident and abandoning ship prematurely. A strict component of his house arrest prevented Schettino from communicating with anyone besides his lawyer and close friends. Now that the house arrest has been lifted, however, the AFP reported that Schettino made a statement to the media claiming that a “divine hand” guided him and saved lives.

“A divine hand surely touched my head . . . If I had continued on that path the ship’s prow would have hit the rock. It would have been carnage.”

On June 26, the Norwegian Star cruise ship diverted its course to rescue six sailors aboard the Avenir, a yacht associated with the Newport Bermuda Yacht Race. In a distress signal sent to the U.S. Coast Guard at approximately 1:00 p.m., the vessel was still adrift, though the sailors reported irreparable damage to the rudder, resulting in an inability to steer the yacht. Click here to Read more about the distress signal.

The Norwegian Star, en route from New York City to Bermuda, was just 54 nautical miles from the distressed vessel in the Atlantic Ocean when the U.S. Coast Guard notified it of the emergency. Norwegian captain, Kenneth Harstrom, expeditiously diverted the ship’s course and safely transferred the three men and three women from the Avenir onto the Star. The yachtsmen departed Bermuda to deliver the Avenir to Bristol, Rhode Island two days before the rescue.

The Star wasn’t the only ship to effectuate a rescue during the 2012 Newport Yacht Race. Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas brought Nathan C. Owen on board on June 18th when he began to suffer from dehydration. Reports of Owen’s condition were relayed to the primary physician for the race, who ultimately directed that he be evacuated from his yacht, the 46-foot sloop Seabiscuit. About 200 miles northwest of Bermuda, Enchantment of the Seas intercepted racer and brought him onboard where he was treated for his condition.

237487_grandeur_docked.jpgSchool is out, temperatures are soaring, and conditions are prime for water sports fanatics and families eager to spend some downtime on the high seas during the upcoming summer months. With the variety of onboard activities on the rise, it’s no surprise that the number of reported injuries is, too.

Whether passengers are testing their dexterity on the rock-climbing wall, perfecting their serve on the volleyball court, practicing their putt during a round of mini golf, or even learning to surf, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that an “Onboard Activity Waiver” is invalid and unenforceable against passengers who sustain injuries while engaging in activities on the ship.

In Johnson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD, a passenger brought a personal injury action against the cruise line when she severely injured her ankle on a simulated surfing activity called “The FlowRider” aboard the Oasis of the Seas.

Fundamental U.S. Maritime law imposes a duty to rescue at sea. In Caminiti v. Tomlinson Fleet Corp., 1981 A.M.C. 201 (E.D. Ohio), two men went overboard from their vessel and two passing commercial ships didn’t stop, despite seeing the passengers struggling in the water. The men drowned and the shipping companies denied that a duty to rescue the men existed. The court disagreed, finding that “the law of the sea has always demanded a higher degree of care, vigilance and diligence,” and that the duty to rescue “strangers in peril” exists even if the ships were not the cause of the peril.

On February 24, 2012, a commercial fishing boat crewed by three young, Panamanian men was heading home to Rio Hato, Panama after a fishing excursion. The engine on the small vessel failed and was adrift without power for nearly 15 days before it was spotted by three passengers aboard the Star Princess. The cruise ship passengers allegedly spotted the distressed vessel through a pair of high-powered binoculars and immediately alerted the ship’s crewmembers that the fishermen were signaling for help, waving their arms and a red piece of cloth tied to a pole. Unfortunately, the Star Princess continued on its course and failed to effectuate a rescue.

The fishing boat was later discovered by the Ecuadorean Coast Guard on March 24th near the Galapagos Islands, with only one survivor onboard, 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez. Oropeces Betancourt, 24, died of dehydration on March 11 and Fernando Osorio, 16, died four days later from dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke.