Many cruise passengers began asking us when the Insignia will sail again, even before the ship's burned-out engine room stopped smoldering.
Of course we don't know. The investigation into the fire is just beginning. Investigators from the Marshall Islands (the flag of the Oceania cruise ship) has just started. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) flew from Miami to St. Lucia to accompany the Marshall Islands investigators.
The ship will undoubtedly sail long before the official investigations are concluded. I doubt that the official reports will be ready for publication by the end of next year. It remains to be seen whether the Marshall Islands will release the reports to the U.S. public, notwithstanding the involvement of the USCG and the NTSB. Pursuant to the flags-of-convenience scheme, the Marshall Islands has jurisdiction over the investigation and decides if the reports are published. This means that the reports won't be published if the owners and operators of the Insignia (Oceania, Prestige and now new parent company Norwegian Cruise Line) don't want the information released. Trust me, the Miami-based Oceania/Prestige/ NCL people will keep the accident info secret.
This morning, I read a few articles about the aftermath of the fire.
The first article was in the St. Lucia News Online, which first covered the story, explaining that the last passengers out of St. Lucia spent "12 hours in the port terminal with very little food or water," and then another couple of hours in a bus and five and one-half hours stuck on an airplane before they finally headed to Miami without their luggage.
Another newspaper reported that a Canadian complained that the passengers were herded through the ship during the fire and into a warehouse at the port where they remained without water for nine hours in high heat and without any information about the fire. The passenger first learned of the plans to send them to Miami and the crew/contractor deaths via Google. All of this belied Oceania's press statement that "our top priority is ensuring all 656 guests return home as quickly and comfortably as possible."
A third news station interviewed a couple from Long island who said that the fire fighters didn't seem trained regarding what to do nor did the cruise line keep the guests informed.
Amongst the death and destruction, the cruise line quickly announced that it will give the passengers their cruise fares back and a 50% credit toward a future cruise - a calculated and inexpensive way to hook them into another cruise.
But no one is saying anything about the crew members who just lost their jobs and won't be able to support their families in the foreseeable future. No, the cruise line doesn't pay salaries to the crew who are considered to be expendable. Many crew member work primarily on tips and without paying passengers there are no tips. Yes, some of the lucky ones will be shuffled to other Oceania ships, but the majority will return to the Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc., unemployed and with no benefits and certainly no Christmas bonus. A bleak Holiday Season no doubt.
But nowhere as bleak as what the families of the dead crew and contractors will face.
Maritime wrongful death claims are subject to the archaic Death on the High Seas Act (1920). "DOHSA" excludes emotional distress, sadness, bereavement, pain & suffering and other emotional damages suffering by the widows and children of the dead. Plus, Oceania will move to dismiss any claims asserted by the family members and seek to send them to "arbitration" in London, subject to the laws of the Marshall Islands. This is a strategy to make the crew claims more difficult and expensive to pursue while limiting the available damages to the suffering families.
But no one seems to thinking about the crew members or their families. They just want to know when their cruise ship is ready to sail for their vacation.
December 15, 014 Update: We have been contacted by cruise passengers who dispute that the passengers were kept in the dark, or denied water, etc. One passenger videotaped the cruise line's interaction with the passengers in the port terminal and posted the videos on You Tube:
Photo Credit: St Lucia News 4
Video Credit: C. Andrews You Tube Page
Don't forget to read an article I wrote nearly five years ago (before the Splendor, Triumph, Insignia, etc. cruise ship fires: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?
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