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Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents

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.

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.

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.

The media has been abuzz the last several weeks with stories about the Costa Concordia accident. From stories about the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, allegedly being hired to work with a coalition of salvage crews in Italy to articles speculating on what the fall out will be for Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Costa Crociere and other cruise lines, the accident has everyone talking about cruise ship safety. All that talk, however, is likely to be of little consolation to the passengers and crew members on the Concordia and their families, since the odds of them being able to litigate their cases in the United States are extremely remote. In the case of the crew members, their employment contracts typically require them to arbitrate any claims they have arising out of their employment, including claims for injuries, in their home country or the country where the cruise line is based (in Costa’s case, Genoa). In the case of injured passengers, they, too will likely be precluded from filing suit in the United States for the injuries they sustained because of the fine print contained in the tickets they purchased before they boarded the ship.

While most of the major cruise lines require passengers who are injured on cruises touching in a United States port to file suit in the jurisdiction where they are headquartered – Miami, in the case of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and NCL, Seattle, in the case of Holland America- no such protection is afforded passengers on cruises that do not call or touch a US port. In the case of Costa Crociere, the terms of the ticket for cruises outside the United States requires passengers to file suit in Genoa, Italy, which makes it extremely difficult for them to pursue their claims.

The big question going forward, though, is not whether the passengers and crew members injured or killed as a result of the Concordia disaster will be compensated in some fashion – Costa Crociere has reportedly offered to pay $14,000 to passengers who sustained no physical injuries – but whether they will be compensated fairly. Most maritime personal injury attorneys, including myself, believe the answer is no, given the legal hurdles both passengers and crew members face as a result of where they will be required to litigate. This is not to say that both Costa Crociere and Carnival do not have an interest from a public relations standpoint in settling cases involving the Concordia for a fair amount, since their image is critical to attracting new passengers and retaining old ones. However, given the magnitude of the catastrophe and the apparent recklessness of the captain, it seems unlikely that Costa will pay anything close to full value on any of these cases.

For one thing, based on the evidence that has come out so far, attorneys for injured passengers and crew members would almost certainly have a basis to seek punitive damages against Costa. However, such damages are likely unavailable under Italian law, which a court in Italy would probably apply if the cases were tried there. For another, general maritime law in the United States would permit passengers and crew members to seek emotional distress damages, which given the circumstances of this case, would almost certainly be substantial. (It is hard to imagine anyone not being justifiably traumatized by being on board a sinking cruise ship. Think Titanic). It is unclear whether courts in Italy would allow recovery for these damages, but the consensus among maritime attorneys is that even if plaintiffs could bring their cases in Italy – a questionable proposition, since Italian law does not allow for contingent fee representation – the damage awards are likely to be smaller than in the United States.
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With 11 confirmed deaths and at least 20 people still missing, the Concordia cruiseship disaster continues to garner attention from the international press and public. In the immediate aftermath of the Costa Cruise disaster, images of the listing cruise ship are everywhere you look. The media continues to present up-to-the minute details of the search and rescue efforts. It seems with each passing day, more controversy comes to light and new investigations and lawsuits are opened.

And although the impact on Carnival Corporation, the owner of Costa, is uncertain, the future of the cruise industry does not appear to be a mystery to many cruise industry experts.

According to The New York Times, January is the beginning of the cruise industry’s peak season, as it is the time when the cruise lines typically book a third to half of their reservations for the entire year.

Despite the tragedy, most predictions about the future of the cruise industry are optimistic. According to The New York Times, experts say the Costa tragedy has not caused an increase in passenger fear and that the Costa tragedy will have no long-term impact on the cruise industry. According to The Huffington Post, other experts doubt there will be any impact on demand, while others still predict a blitz of price slashing by Carnival followed by an uptick in sales.

By most accounts, it seems likely that the cruising public will continue to fill the ships in spite of the Costa tragedy. The Costa tragedy has, however, underscored just how important it is that passengers know their legal rights in the event that tragedy should strike.

Most cruise ship passengers are unaware of the restrictions placed on their right to sue when they are injured on a cruise ship. The majority of cruise lines, including Costa Crociere, have clauses in their tickets which specify where and when injured passengers can file suit. These clauses typically provide for a shorter statute of limitations (usually one year), and require passengers to file suit in a particular court or jurisdiction. In the case of passengers who were injured or died on the Concordia, they are unlikely to be able to file suit in the United States because the terms of their passenger ticket reportedly require them to file suit in Italy. Although there has been some discussion in the maritime legal community as to whether the forum selection clause would be enforceable against United States citizens because the accident appears to have resulted from reckless, rather than negligent conduct, on the part of the ship, this argument has yet to be tested, and if successful, would be the exception to the rule. In all likelihood, passengers who were injured or died on the Concordia will likely be forced to file suit in Italy, rather than in the United States, which will significantly impair their ability to recover money (although given the evidence that has come out so far about the accident, Costa may well want to settle these cases to avoid any additional negative publicity).
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