Thanks For Visiting Cruise Law News

Cruise law News - CLN - Jim Walker LawyerThe month of November ended with a bang.  Readers of Cruise Law News (CLN) viewed over 68,000 pages of our blog in November alone, roughly three and one-half times the total population of my home town in Arkansas.  When I first started this blog a year ago, I barely had 5,000 pages readers a month.  Since then, our readership has exploded.  We have thousands of subscribers to our bog everyday, via RSS feed and email, and tens of thousands of regular readers. 

CLN reached two milestones this past month. One was reaching the top 10 most popular law blogs based on quantifiable criteria.   

The second milestone was being included in the Top 25 Cruise Vacation Influencers.  This is a ranking of websites and blogs which are considered "influential" in the world of cruising, again Cruise Law News - CLN - Jim Walker Blogbased on certain objective metrics.  CLN is currently no. 11, ahead of Princess Cruises, Holland America Lines and P & O Cruises.  The interesting thing about this list is that it primarily consists of cruise lines like Carnival (no. 1), Royal Caribbean (no. 5) and NCL (no. 10) or travel agents like CruiseBuzz (no. 2) or BuyCruises (no. 3). 

Being the only true cruise critic in the top 25 reflects that the public is interested in information other than the propaganda spoon fed by the cruise lines.  We have many readers who are cruise line employees and crew members on ships who contact us regularly about problems they encounter and think should be made public.  Passenger and crew member safety and shipboard working conditions are issues of particular interest to our readers.  

The cruise industry may not agree with much of what we publish, but  the cruise Cruise Law News - CLN - Cruise Law Bloglines read CLN on a daily basis.  When a passenger or crew member "disappears" or there is suspicious circumstances surrounding a death, they know that we will cover the story and provide a forum for passengers and crew to leave comments about what really happened.  

If you are a regular reader of CLN or have left a comment on our blog over the past year, thanks!   We need your input to be able to continue to provide a glimpse into what the cruise lines don't want the public to know. 

A Mysterious Passenger Death, Another Royal Caribbean Crew Death, Country Music in Mexico, and a Cruise Ship Named After an Ogress

The month of November ends with the mystery of a dead Carnival passenger, another dead Royal Caribbean crew member, a drunk HAL passenger, and the usual weird cruise news. 

Murder Cover Up on the Carnival Liberty?  According to Carnival's PR spokesperson Vance Gulliksen, the death of a passenger on the Carnival Liberty had nothing to so with a crime or FBI - Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship - Passenger Deathviolence, it was just "medical related."  But passengers who were aboard the cruise ship commented on our blog articles Passenger Death On Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship and Death on a Fun Ship: What Really Happened on the Carnival Liberty? that the 36 years old female passenger met a violent if not gruesome death.  We posted a video (left) from one of the passengers showing the FBI leaving the cruise ship with what appears to be bags of evidence.  Is Carnival trying to hide the truth?  It would not be the first time.  We have made a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request and will stay on top of the story.   

Why Did a 33 Year Old RCCL Cook from Jamaica Die on the Oasis of the Seas?  Following the death of a young Jamaican cook on the mega ship Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean took a different PR approach than Carnival and simply said that it is standard protocol to call the FBI following a crew member death.  Actually, there is no protocol to notify the FBI every time a crew employee or passenger dies during a cruise.  The FBI suggests that they be notified when there are suspicious circumstances surrounding a shipboard death.  Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival do a notoriously terrible job handling crime cases and are about the least transparent corporations in revealing information when things go wrong at seas.      

How Could A Single Drunk Passenger Almost "Destroy, Disable, or Wreck" a HAL Cruise Tatlor Swift - Kanye West - Allure of the SeasShip?  An intoxicated passenger dropped an anchor early one morning while cruising on the Holland America Line Ryndam cruise ship.  The FBI arrested the drunk passenger with great fanfare.  The media followed up with the usual throw-the-stupid-drunk overboard stories.  But if there really is a criminal case to be made against the passenger for attempting to “damage, destroy, disable, or wreck a vessel” (a felony pursuant to the United States Code), then what does that say about this cruise line's security protocols?  If a stupid, drunk can single handedly wreck a cruise ship, what do you think a group of smart determined terrorists can do? 

Lesson learned?  There is way too much alcohol and far too few experienced security personnel on these foreign flagged cruise ships.    

Aqua Concert in Cozumel:  On the bright side, country artist Taylor Swift will be singing her hits to a captive audience aboard Royal Caribbean's newest monster cruise ship, Allure of the Seas.  On January 21, 2011, as the cruise ship docks in Cozumel, Mexico, Ms. Swift will perform in the cruise Princess Fiona - Royal Caribbean - Godmother - Allure of the Seas - Fain - Goldsteinship’s AquaTheater, providing an open-air / ocean view concert.  Let's hope that a brandy-sipping Kanye West (above right) doesn't show up on stage and take her microphone away, babbling that Beyoncé should be singing instead.  OK.  I'll admit it.  I prefer Beyoncé rather than the skinny country chick.  But that's not the point. 

Ogress Fiona and the Nation of Why Not?  Royal Caribbean announced that the Godmother of its monstrous Allure of the Seas cruise ship is no other than Shrek's Princess Fiona.  I'm not sure of the thought process behind naming a cruise ship after a cursed by-day princess who becomes an ogress at sunset.  But anything goes at the Nation of Why Not.  Sounds like the results of a deal with DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg to market his movie creatures, and RCCL is pleased to cram the movie marketing down their passengers' throats.  Ogress Fiona, President Goldstein,CEO Fain and the Allure's Captain certainly make for a handsome PR photo.  Yikes. 

Drunk Passenger Drops Cruise Ship Anchor

Rick Ehlert - Drunk Passenger - Arrested - AnchorThe Smoking Gun reports that a drunk passenger aboard the Ryndam cruise ship, operated by Holland America Line (HAL), released the vessel's anchor as the cruise ship was returning to Tampa from Costa Maya, Mexico.

Under the category "drunk, stupid, crime," the article identifies the intoxicated passenger as Rick Ehlert, age 44, from Thousand Oaks, California. 

The Smoking Gun website contains an affidavit from a FBI agent who noted that a subsequent review of the ship's surveillance video showed cruise passenger Ehlert  releasing the anchor around 5:30 in the morning while wearing the same clothing he was photographed in Friday while attending the ship’s formal night. 

Ehlert was arrested on felony charges of attempting to “damage, destroy, disable, or wreck a vessel.”

Its a pity that cruise ships have such poor security with so much alcohol aboard the ships.  How can a single and very drunk passenger release a anchor without anyone noticing?  Doesn't the security personnel monitor the surveillance cameras?  Shouldn't the anchor be locked?  I would love to take a look at this passenger's bar bill and see how much money HAL collected serving Mr. Ehlert booze on the night in question. 

Rick Ehlert - Drunk Passenger Drops Anchor

 

Article credit:  Smoking Gun

Photo credit:  Gawker

Map credit:  Mail OnLine

AOL News: New Law Targets Dangers Aboard Cruise Ships

AOL News has an interesting article about cruise ship dangers.  Written by Tori Richards, the article is entitled "New Law Targets Dangers Aboard Cruise Ships."  It features Ken Carver, the President of the International Cruise Victims organization.

Here is the article reprinted from AOL News:

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 28) -- Missing persons. Assault. Child molestation. Rape. Death. Those are some of the extras the cruise ship lines don't tell you about.

The industry suffered a black eye for the recent nightmare cruise aboard the Mexico-bound Carnival Splendor, but that's just a small sampling of the safety issues plaguing one of America's favorite vacation modes, victim advocates say.

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety ActAll sorts of dangerous incidents happen on ocean liners. But beginning next year, portions of a new federal law will give the FBI authority over crimes that occur on ships that have docked at U.S. ports.

"It's like a town serving unlimited drinks with no police," Kendall Carver said of the cruise industry. His 40-year-old daughter disappeared from a Celebrity cruise ship in 2004.

"Every two weeks someone goes missing from a cruise ship somewhere in the world – and those are only the ones we know about," Carver said.

Last year, the FBI received reports of 349 incidents on cruise ships. It opened investigations into 32 cases involving "serious crimes" -- including one death, three missing people, 20 sexual assaults and six assaults with great bodily injury. The names of the cruise lines involved were not available, nor were statistics from this year, an FBI official told AOL News.

A database of FBI reports from December 2007 to October 2008, available on the Sun-Sentinel website, shows 363 incidents. The vast majority were on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises.

None of this surprises Carver, who hears of incidents like this frequently as the founder of the non-profit International Cruise Victims which represents hundreds of people and is now in 20 countries.

Carver told AOL News he started the organization after spending years trying to find his daughter, Merrian Carver. During that time, he said, he ran into a cover-up by the cruise line, missing evidence and employees who were ordered not to talk.

The case has since been settled for an undisclosed sum, but Carver is still waiting for the answers he was looking for.

Merrian lived in Massachusetts and her father found an ally in the state's U.S. senator, John Kerry. They discovered that there were no laws pertaining to crimes aboard ships at sea. Soon they began to lay groundwork to change that.

"My daughter was the subject of five Senate hearings," Carver said. "The cruise lines spent $11 million in lobbyists to defeat this, but we still won even though we are just a group of regular citizens."

President Barack Obama signed the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act of 2010 on July 27.

"This law will finally do away with the murky lines of jurisdiction that have put American cruise ship passengers at risk in the past," Kerry said in a statement. He also noted Carver's help in getting the legislation passed.

It will be 18 months from the date of signing before the law is fully implemented. However, parts of it will be enforced in stages. Beginning early next year, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation must have guidelines to carry out enforcement. By summer, training standards must exist for ship personnel.

The law requires:  

  • Peep holes and security latches on all passenger and crew doors
  • Electronic video surveillance that documents crimes to be made available to law enforcement
  • Passenger security guides with information on reporting crimes to U.S. law enforcement
  • Limits on crew access to passenger cabins
  • Staff with knowledge and equipment to perform rape exams
  • Free and immediate access to law enforcement
  • Prompt reporting of crimes, which must be contained in a log

"It's too soon to tell if it will matter," said Mike Ehline, a Los Angeles attorney who handles lawsuits against cruise lines. "I'm still getting the same types of issues with the cruise lines refusing to hand things over. They always have some excuse – like the video was out that day, it got lost, or it was erased on accident."

A Carnival spokesman did not want to comment on the new law. However, noting the high number of incidents reported on the Sun-Sentinel website, he said that Carnival carries more guests than any other cruise line with an estimated 3.9 million passengers this year.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for crime and any and all allegations reported to us by guests or made known to us via any other channel are reported to the FBI," Carnival's Vance Gulliksen said.

No one from Royal Caribbean was available for comment Friday.

According to language in the new law, "It is not known precisely how often crimes occur on cruise vessels or exactly how many people have disappeared during ocean voyages because cruise line companies do not make comprehensive, crime-related data readily available to the public."

It states sexual assault and physical assault as the leading crimes investigated by the FBI on cruise ships and it's difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence and conduct an investigation.

"Before, cruise lines would just say 'We are registered in this island or that, and we don't have to do this,'" Carver said. "Now, they will be banned from coming into our ports if they don't."

 

Story credit:  Tori Richards, AOL News

Photo credit:   Denis Poroy, AP (via AOL News) 

Royal Caribbean Crew Member Found Dead on Oasis of the Seas

A Royal Caribbean crew member was found dead in his cabin on the mega-ship Oasis of the Seas on November 26th.  A local television station in Miami, CBS-4, identifies the crew member as a cook.

 According to a statement from the cruise line, the crew member is a 33-year old Jamaican man. 

"As is our standard procedure, both the FBI and local law enforcement were notified and responding to the ship on Saturday when it arrived at Port Everglades."

Oasis of the seas - Death - Crew member - Royal CaribbeanThis is the second death of a crew member aboard the Oasis of the Seas this year.   In May, 45 year old Dillon Roache, of St. Vincent, jumped overboard in an apparent suicide. 

Royal Caribbean has experienced a high number of crew members deaths this year. In May we reported on Royal Caribbean crew member Satianand (Satyanand) Buddaru who disappeared from the Explorer of the Seas -  Crew Member Overboard from Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas.  In March a crew member employed by Park West Gallery jumped overboard from the Radiance of the Seas.  Our stories about the incident are available here: "Man Overboard" Reported on Radiance of the Seas and here Master of Radiance of the Seas Praised for Rapid Response to Crew Overboard.   On New Year's Eve Royal Caribbean crew member Neha Chhikara jumped from the Monarch of the Seas

It is currently unknown whether this incident involved a death by natural causes (highly unusual with a 33 year old man), a suicide or foul play.

If you have information about this incident, please leave a comment below.  

Happy Thanksgiving from Cruise Law News

This Thanksgiving, my family is back in my hometown of El Dorado Arkansas visiting my parents and our cousins.  Thanksgiving at the family homestead in Arkansas is the perfect place to be this time of year.

My family has a lot to be thankful for this year.  My Dad, age 81, made it to another Thanksgiving despite a series of heart attacks dating back to 1981 when I was in law school.   My Dad is a tough nut  with a heart of gold which unfortunately is failing him.  I am thankful that my family can spend time with Dad and Mom, soulmates for the past 56 years.  

I am thankful for my beautiful wife and healthy kids, my younger brother and his family who traveled from Texas and my older sister and her family who made the journey from Utah and California.  Mom and dad - El Dorado ArkansasI am thankful for my cousins here in Arkansas and my family's friends and church members who have supported my parents during this year. 

I am thankful for my clients, passengers and crew members alike, who have entrusted us with their cases and causes. 

I am thankful for my friend Jonathan Aronson and his wife Ilene who have helped us defeat the cruise line felons and are helping our law firm grow and prosper this year.  

I am thankful for the people who are readers of Cruise Law News and who have supported me.  Thanks a million for your positive (and negative) comments on this blog, on Twitter and Facebook.  I appreciate your encouragement.   

Take a moment on this day of Thanksgiving and be thankful for your family and friends.  Count your blessings as you sit around the table eating turkey and watching the ball games this afternoon. 

Happy Thanksgiving my friends. 

Death on a Fun Ship: What Really Happened on the Carnival Liberty?

Inconsistent information is emerging regarding the death of a passenger aboard the Liberty cruise ship operated by Carnival cruise line.

On  November 20th we wrote about the Passenger Death On Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship based on information from a local news station in Miami - WSVN -7.  After posting our article, we received a number of comments from passengers on the cruise indicating that the FBI treated the cabin as a crime scene.  Some passengers conveyed disturbing information, suggesting that the passenger may have been beaten and murdered.

No one other than the Miami Herald initially covered the story.  Unfortunately, the Miami Herald, a friend of the cruise industry, is known for looking the other way when things go wrong on Miami-based cruise Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship - Death - Murder - Fun Shipsships. Its skimpy article regarding the death involves little more than a quote from Carnival's PR department:  Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said in a statement that "evidence suggests [the death] was medical related. In respect to the privacy of our guests, we are not able to release specifics on the nature of the medical condition.''

Some of the passengers are critical of the lack of basic information released by Carnival.  Its official statement that the death was "medical related" (aren't all deaths medically related?) raises more questions than provides answers. There are plenty of ways a cruise line can release information about shipboard incidents without violating an individual's privacy rights. 

The issue of the cruise industry's lack of transparency has been a topic of Congressional inquiry over the last five years, and cases like this one make it look like the cruise line has something to hide.  One of the readers of our blog, "Tomm," left the following comment:

".  .  .  do Carnival spokespeople think that we are ignorant? The FBI does not show up to medical crime scenes and stay there ALL day and then take bags of evidence with them as they leave. I have video of it that I will download Tuesday for others to see. I know things will happen when thousands of people are gathered but let's get some regulations passed so Marshalls are on board and people can have access to information.

Was this a violent crime, or a death due to a medical condition as Carnival wants everyone to believe?  Home of the "fun ships," Canival does not like publicity like this and wants everyone to forget about it.

Let's hope that other passengers and crew member on the cruise can provide additional information regarding this incident. 

If you have information, please leave a comment below.

November 24 Update:

A reader of Cruise Law News, Tomm, posted his video of what looks like eight FBI agents leaving the cruise ship in St. Thomas, taking with them bags of evidence.  The video is below. 

 

 

Photo credit:  Fodors

Video credit:  PTOMM100  Youtube

Cruise Law News Now Top Ten Law Blog

For the past six months, I have been tracking the popularity of my blog Cruise Law News (CLN) on Avvo / Alexa Top Legal Blogs.  When I first started looking at the rankings, CLN was the 55th most popular law blog. Today, CLN cracked Avvo's list of the top ten (10) most popular law blogs. 

I started blogging in mid-September last year after joining the LexBlog family.  LexBlog's CEO and blog guru Kevin O'Keefe counseled me not to be narcissist and get caught up in popularity contests like this.  Cruise Law - Law - Miami - LA - Seattle

Instead, O'Keefe told me that the mark of an effective blog is not rankings, but the influence the blog has on key players in your area of the law - like the media, top bloggers, and strategic decision makers. 

In the last ten days, CLN has been cited in the national and international media, both old school media and hip bloggers, like the LA Times, the U.K's MirrorWall Street Journal Blog, National Public Radio (NPR), USA Today, Gadling, FOX Business, Slate Magazine, the Courier Post, South Florida Business Journal, and the ABA Journal.  

O'Keefe was right of course about the importance of being a connected influencer, but I can't help being narcissist enough to enjoy being on someone's top 10 list.

 

If you like this, read about Cruise Law News and LexBlog: CruiseLaw Meets LexBlog

Passenger Death On Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship

Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship - Passenger DeathWSVN -7 NEWS (Miami) is reporting that a cruise ship returned to South Florida after a tragedy at sea.

A 36 year old passenger aboard the Carnival Liberty cruise ship sailing to St. Thomas was discovered by another passenger unconscious in her cabin. WSVN reports that the passenger received medical attention on the cruise ship, but she was pronounced dead two hours later.

The FBI is investigating the passenger's death and is awaiting the autopsy report. "It could be a possible homicide. It could be some other factor in the death of this individual, but we're still investigating this case at this time," said Harry Rodriguez of the FBI in San Juan.

There have been a number of passenger deaths on Carnival cruise ships in the last year.  We previously reported on the death of a Carnival passenger last July aboard Carnival's Elation cruise ship.  Robert John McGill was charged with the first-degree murder and kidnapping of his wife, Shirley, who was beaten and strangled in their cabin.  Our article is entitled " Prosecutors May Seek Death Penalty In Carnival Cruise Murder Case."  In February, a 32 year old female passenger, Kipi Holcomb, was found dead in her cabin aboard Carnival's Ecstasy.  The FBI indicated that there was no evidence of foul play and a toxicology report revealed that the pasenger's blood-alcohol level was .27 and she had cocaine in her system.

Were you a passenger on this cruise?  Do you have information to share?  Please leave a comment below.

November 22 Update:

Passengers are leaving some gruesome comments (below) suggesting that the death involved a homicide.  However, the Miami Herald states today: 

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said in a statement that "evidence suggests [the death] was medical related. In respect to the privacy of our guests, we are not able to release specifics on the nature of the medical condition."

November 23 Update:

For additional info, please go to: Death on a Fun Ship: What Really Happened on the Carnival Liberty?

Cruise Law RoundUp - Cruise Fire Fallout, Business as Usual in St. Kitts, Spy Cruise Spooks, and Oprah Loses Her Allure

Another strange week in the world of cruising, with multiple stories about the cruise industry appearing in the main stream newspapers and on the major television networks.

Cruise Fire Fallout:  The Splendor cruise ship will be out of service until January 2011, meaning Carnival will lose revenue from over 20,000 passengers.  A Time Magazine blog blasted a harsh headline about the predicament with "Worst Cruise Ship Ever: Disabled Splendor To Ruin 20,000 More Vacations."  By my calculations, Carnival is facing around $50 million dollars in lost revenue over the next two months.  But stockholders don't worry.  The cruise line will eventually get every penny back from the Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Cruise from Hell?manufacturers and designers of the Splendor's engine system.

Cruise Was No Nightmare:  Even though hundreds of local television stations and newspapers covered the "cruise from hell" angle of the Splendor fire, some optimistic passengers (with a sense of humor and a keen perspective) still had a decent time. Colorado residents Maggie and Ken Wildenstein commented "I think Carnival treated us very well" in a nice story in their local newspaper, The Fort Morgan Times, entitled "Cruise  Was No Nightmare."     

Cruise Ship Design Flaw?:  The Splendor was towed to a facility near 10th Avenue in San Diego for repairs to the engine room (article by KUSI News-San Diego).  The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be participating in the investigation into the fire, which is being conducted by the Panama Maritime Authority because, like all of Carnival's ships, the Splendor is registered in Panama to avoid U.S. regulations and taxes.  The local news station in San Diego questions how a single generator failure could cause a catastrophe with the vessel losing all of its power. Does the vessel have a design flaw?  The cruise ship's entire electrical systems should not have been damaged to such a degree.

Business as Usual in St. Kitts:  Two days ago, the tourism board in St. Kitts announced that the "cruise industry" would be sending "security consultants" to the island to investigate whether it was safe for cruise passengers to tour St. Kitts.  Today, a local newspaper announced that the cruise line Oprah Give Away - Free Cruise - Allure of the Seasexecutives pledged to return to the island - "No More Cruise Ship Cancellation to St. Kitts."  Well, that was a fast investigation by the cruise lines.  Although the local newspapers initially chose not to publish the name of the cruise ship involved in the robbery, they were quick to broadcast the names of the five banditos who allegedly robbed the passengers: Elroy "Stanny" Williams (age 29), Devon "‘X Man" Hodge (28), Grenville "Rogie" Rogers (20), Junior "Q" Sabratie (24), and Admenston Lewis (27) all local residents of Sandy Point in St. Kitts.  It's amazing how fast the local police can arrest suspects when an entire country's economy is based on the cruise industry.    

Oprah Loses Her Allure:  The week ended strangely with another Oprah give away, this time a "7-day cruise on the new largest ship in the world," Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.  OK.  I admit it.  I am not a fan of Oprah, who seems rather duplicitous to me.  And Royal Caribbean has a well documented history of exploiting its crew members and the Caribbean islands for decades.  So they team up to give some free cruises for PR purposes to promote Royal Caribbean's newest Monstrosity of the Seas.  Sustainability anyone?   Two thumbs down.       

Spy Cruise Spooks (Kooks?):  Talking about strange, last month, I commented on a rather bizarre event scheduled for this week called the Spy Cruise where certain passengers on the Holland America Spy Cruise - Michael Hayden - Peter GossLine's Eurodam cruise ship can attend lectures and talks on espionage, spies, intelligence, and counterterrorism by speakers who are "intelligence experts, leaders, officers, operatives, analysts, authors and historians, many of whom served in the US Intelligence Community."  Well, a "National Security Reporter" for the Toronto Star, Michelle Shephard, sailed on the cruise this week. 

Ms. Shephard interviewed some of the top former spooks, like Michael Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and CIA (photo left - is he showing how you waterboard a terrorist suspect?), and former CIA director Porter Goss (photo middle) about some serious subjects like "terrorism, tourism and torture."   By the way, nice cufflinks gentlemen!

Hayden, a supporter of waterboarding, dismissed criticism of the interrogation technique, saying "I don’t care . . .  This is a war . . . It’s about defense. It’s not about going through a judicial process.”  The Canadian reporter, Ms. Shephard, points out the incongruity of discussing ". . . waterboarding when seniors graze on buffets and younger, scantily clad passengers gyrate to a Cher tune nearby." 

Weird. 

 

Credits:

Wildenstein photo:   The Fort Morgan Times, Dan Barker, Times Staff Writer

Oprah and the biggest cruise cruise ship in the world:   Huffington Post

Spy Cruise photo:    Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star 

Indomitable Spirit of New Yorkers Following Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire

NBC New York has a nice video of the spirited reaction of passengers, who were aboard the disabled Carnival Splendor cruise ship, after returning home. The video is from NBC New York's "The Show Must Go On, Even if the Ship Couldn't" by Tim Minton. 
 

Does the Cruise Industry Monitor Crime in the Caribbean Ports of Call?

The latest crime against cruise passengers in the Caribbean occurred this week in the lovely island of St. Kitts when a busload of tourists from Celebrity Cruises' Mercury cruise ship were jacked up at gun point by masked robbers during an excursion.  The passengers on the Celebrity cruise ship had sailed down from Baltimore thinking that they were going to an idyllic island paradise.

In the last year, we have seen cruise passengers robbed or killed in Antigua, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, and St. Thomas.   I have written articles about the high crime rates in many St. Kitts - Crime in the Caribbeanof the Caribbean islands frequented by cruise lines - Crime in Caribbean Ports of Call Against Cruise Passengers

The events which follow crimes like this unfold like clockwork.  The local tourism board proclaims that the crime is isolated.  The cruise lines pull out of the Caribbean port, at least temporarily, and divert their ships to other Caribbean ports which inevitably have experienced similar crimes against U.S. passengers.  The local police quickly make an arrest, even thought they probably wouldn't arrest anyone if the victim was a local resident as opposed to an American tourist.  And then the cruise lines return and off-load another 500,000 passengers a year with the hopeful don't-worry-be-happy assurances from the local Caribbean government officials and tourism members that everyone will be safe.

This script has been followed in this case, with Carnival and its subsidiary, Princess Cruises, temporarily pulling out of St. Kitts.  Princess is now calling on Antigua which has an even higher crime rate which includes a young American woman who was murdered ashore during a cruise on Star Clippers in January.  This is not lost on the tourism board of Antigua, as reflected in this article in a newspaper in Antigua - "Antigua to Benefit From Crime In St Kitts."   

But is anyone actually investigating the crime rates in these ports, rather than just flip-flopping from one dangerous port to another?  An interesting article from St. Kitts caught my eye early this morning - "Cruise Industry Security Consultants for St. Kitts to Check Safety of Passengers."  The article contains a quote from St. Kitts' Minister of Tourism:

"The Cruise Industry will be sending in two security consultants to do their own verification of what we have been telling them and to do their own assessments of certain areas. They will be hosted by the Security Forces and will meet with the relevant people to find out for themselves what the situation on the ground is and whether or not their guests are likely to be under attack constantly.”

So who are these mysterious cruise industry "security consultants?"  Unfortunately, the governments and local press in the Caribbean bend over backwards not to identify the specific cruise lines when passengers are victims of crimes.  We know that Carnival and Princess have pulled out, for a while, from St. Kitts.  Are these "security consultants" retained by Carnival?  The passengers who were robbed came from a Celebrity Cruises' ship.  Did Royal Caribbean, the parent company for Celebrity (which is still calling in St. Kitts), hire the consultants?   And exactly what are these security experts going to do?

One of the obligations cruise lines have toward passengers is to investigate the excursions and make certain that there are policies and procedures in place to protect the passengers.  Most of the time, the cruise lines do not vet the excursions or they conduct only a cursory investigation at best.  If the cruise industry is going to investigate St. Kitts, how about the Bahamas, Jamaica or Antigua which have a much higher crime rate and pose a greater danger to cruise passengers?

Is this really a legitimate security investigation by the "cruise industry?"  Or is this just a PR ploy designed to assuage the cruise passenger's fears about crime on this this impoverished Caribbean island and to keep U.S. dollars flowing to the billion dollar foreign flagged cruise industry? 

Cruise Law RoundUp - Cruise Fire, Ambulance Chasers, and More Caribbean Crime

This has been an exciting week in the crazy world of cruising. 

The Allure of the Seas Arrives in South Florida, But No One Noticed:  Last Thursday Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the world's biggest cruise ship, arrived in its home port of Port Everglades after sailing across the Atlantic from the shipyard.  The Allure joins its sister ship in the Genesis class, the Oasis of the Seas, in Fort Lauderdale. Unlike the great fanfare surrounding the Oasis' arrival last December, the Allure's debut in South Florida was largely a non-event.  The little publicity Allure of the Seassurrounding the mega cruise ship's arrival was overshadowed by the spectacle taking place on the west coast of the U.S., as tugs towed the disabled Splendor to San Diego following an engine room fire which left the Carnival cruise ship dead in the water off of the coast of Mexico.  

Bigger But Not Better:  The arrival of the Allure juxtaposed with the wounded Splendor re-ignited the debate whether this new breed of big ships, which many call floating malls - and which the cruise lines market as supposedly incorporating the cruise industry's newest technologies - is really a big step backwards.  The LA Times interviewed me and members of the International Cruise Victims in "Stranded Cruise Ship Offers Lesson in Huge Vessels' Vulnerabilities."

How could a super sized new ship like the Splendor be rendered a powerless tub by a single fire to only one of its six diesel engines?   What about the redundant safety systems which have existed in cruise ships for fifty years?   And aren't these beasts of a cruise ship the embodiment of everything non-sustainable about the cruise industry?   The Huffington Post addressed the surreal nature of the cruise industry and its huge ships in an "age of dwindling energy reserves and burgeoning population" in an excellent article "Cruising for a Bruising."   

Carnival Splendor Cruise FireTo Sue or Not to Sue?  The issue of cruise disasters and ambulance chasing lawyers reached an regional, national and international audience following the fire aboard the Splendorr.  On Monday, I wrote an article criticizing lawyers who are trolling for passengers to sue Carnival for the ship fire.  I pointed out three reasons why a lawsuit against the cruise line is ill advised.  

My article reached a regional audience when Kevin Gale at the South Florida Business Journal touched on the subject in an article "Carnival Splendor: To Sue or Not to Sue."  Gene Sloan of USA Today's Cruise Log took the issue to U.S.readers when he wrote "Sue Carnival over Splendor Incident? Don't Bother, Says Top Cruise Lawyer," Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog chimed in with "Plaintiffs’ Lawyer to Splendor Passengers: Don’t Bother Suing," and Debra Cassens Weiss of the ABA Journal covered the issue with "Cruise Ship Lawyer: Smelly Toilets and Cold Showers Won’t Support a Lawsuit."   John Honeywell (@CaptainGreyBeard) of the U.K.'s Mirror took the story overseas with "Splendor Passengers Back Carnival." 

Carnival v. Wartsila?  Although I expect few passengers to file suit against Carnival, there is no question that Carnival will make a claim against the diesel engine manufacturer, Wartsila.  The Splendor is only 2 years old.  Diesel engines are not suppose to crack a crankshaft, burn the engine room, and shut down a $700 million cruise ship like this.  The Splendor is expected to be out of service for two months.  By my calculations, that means Carnival will lose the fare and onboard purchases of 3,000 passengers for 8 weeks or so.  That sounds like a loss of tens of millions of dollars which Carnival will be expecting Wartsila to pay.

Celebrity Passengers Robbed in St. Kitts:  Four banditos robbed 17 cruise passengers from the Mercury cruise ship on a bus during a cruise excursion in St. Kitts.   As usual the local tourism board St. Kitts - Crimeproclaimed that such crime is rare.  But the truth is that robbery and murder of cruise passengers are regular occurrences in the Caribbean.  Its unheard of sailing from Vancouver to Alaska, but its business as usual in the Caribbean islands.  Its a function of poverty and drugs.  A couple of cruise lines are now skipping St. Kitts.  One line is now calling on Antigua where a young woman sailing on a Star Clippers cruise ship was murdered ashore in January.  You can't find a Caribbean island where cruise passengers have not been a victim of a violent crime.  Beautiful, but dangerous.  

Cruise Law News (CLN) Moves Up:  The popularity contest and my unabashed self promotion of CLN continue.  CLN is the no. 12 most popular law blog per the Avvo-Alexa rankings.  Expect a top 10 announcement by Thanksgiving.  Many thanks to our readers and those of you who support our blog by leaving comments.  We appreciate your comments, pro or con.    

 

Credits:  Bottom photo: "Destination360 St. Kitts and Nevis"

Will Cruise Ships Use Water Guns Against Pirates?

Pirate attacks against cruise ships have occurred and will continue to occur in the future.  It's a subject we have written about:  Cruise Line Liability for Injuries to Passengers and Crew Members Caused by Pirate AttacksAre Cruise Lines Taking Adequate Steps to Protect Passengers from Pirate Attacks?, and Somali Pirates - A Threat To Cruise Ships? 

A marine expert warned that the successful capture of a cruise ship with thousands of passengers on board would provide Somali pirates with “the mother of all ransoms.”

Cruise ships have used a wide variety of measures against pirates, including Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) which emit powerful sound waves. 

A  company Security Alliance For Effective Solutions, LLC (SAFE) has designed a new device designed to prevent pirates from boarding ships. Called the "Nemesis 5000," the revolving water gun shoots an 80mph “360-degree curtain of water” to blast the pirates and keep them from using harpoon ladders to scale the side of vessels. The water blast is twice the blast as a high pressure fire hose.

The Express newspaper in the U.K. reports that at least 28 vessels and more than 500 hostages are currently being held by Somali pirates who netted more than $120 million in ransom payments last year. 
 

 

 

More Cruise Tourists Robbed, This Time In St. Kitts

The Observer in St. Kitts-Nevis is reporting that cruise passengers on a tour bus were robbed this morning, apparently during an excursion from a cruise ship  - "Busload of Tourists Robbed at Gunpoint." 

The robbery reportedly occurred in the Sandy Point area on the island.  A "local tour bus of cruise passengers had been robbed at gunpoint along the island’s main road as the bus made its way to Brimestone Hill."

St. Kitts - Cruise Tour Bus RobberyThe tour bus is identified as the "Caribbean Journey Masters tour bus," which was being driven by owner Urban Herbert at the time of the incident.  While the tour bus was heading towards a historic site, rocks and branches were strewn across the bus' path.  Mr. Herbert exited the bus to investigate, and the robbers threw a rock into the windshield of the bus. Two armed, masked men rushed from the bushes and entered the bus.

The newspaper reported that seventeen (17) passengers including an infant were aboard the bus at the time of the robbery.  The cruise passengers were robbed of their money, cell phones, jewelry and other personal items.  The police  released a statement that no one was physically injured.

As is often the case, the police did not release the name of the cruise line or cruise ship.  Local police and tourism bureaus in the Caribbean are very sensitive to bad press and avoid embarrassing the cruise lines on which they rely for the U.S. tourist dollar.   

It turns out that the passengers were from the Celebrity Cruises' Mercury cruise ship. 

The St. Kitts police / tourism people claim that crime like this is unheard of; however, another local newspaper SKNVibes reports in an article - "Tourists Robbed at Gunpoint Near Brimstone Hill" - that local taxi drivers state that this is nothing new and security needs to be improved, particularly when cruise ships arrive. 

I have written many articles about the high crime rates in many of the Caribbean islands frequented by cruise lines - Crime in Caribbean Ports of Call Against Cruise Passengers.  Consider the following articles in the last year alone: 

Antigua - Cruise Passengers Attacked & Robbed in Antigua While Cruise and Tourism Officials Meet and Passenger From Star Clippers Murdered in Antigua

Bahamas 18 Passengers From Royal Caribbean & Disney Cruise Ships Robbed By Shotgun in the BahamasEleven Cruise Passengers Robbed in Nassau, and Cruising To The Bahamas - Is It Safe?

Guatemala - Norwegian Cruise Line Passenger Murdered in Guatemala  

Mexico -  Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines Pull Ships From L.A. Due To Crime In Mexico

St. Lucia - Norwegian Cruise Line Drops St. Lucia and 14 Cruise Passengers Robbed at Anse-La-Raye Waterfall in St. Lucia

St. Thomas - More Caribbean Crime - Carnival Passenger Killed In St. Thomas

 

Additional information: Tourism and Crime in the Caribbean  

December 3, 2010 Update:

"Visitors Warned About Safety in St. Kitts After Tourist Robbery"

The Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Three Reasons Why You Will Lose If You Sue Carnival

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Lawsuit?Now that the disabled Carnival Splendor is back in a U.S. port, some lawyers are advertising that the passengers should consider filing a lawsuit.  One cruise site, offering "cruise insider expert advice," is shilling for a Miami lawyer: "Now is the time to join the November 7, 2010 passengers in a joint effort for compensation. Contact us if you were on this cruise."

Such desperate solicitation like this never ceases to amaze me. 

Any time there is a cruise disaster, the issue of lawsuits arises.  Sometimes there is a basis to file a lawsuit, and sometimes - like this time - there is clearly not.  Many passengers from the Carnival Splendor have contacted our office seeking a maritime lawyer to sue the cruise line for damages.  We have told them that there is no basis to consider suing Carnival under these circumstances.  They are wasting their time and money if they file a lawsuit, for these three reasons:

  • In order to have a legitimate case for compensation, a cruise passenger has to suffer a personal injury.  Experiencing inconvenience and unpleasant circumstances does not constitute a personal injury unless there is a physical injury.  If you fall down a flight of stairs in the dark and break your hip, that's a personal injury.  But taking cold showers, smelling toilets that can't be flushed, eating Spam sandwiches in the dark or other similar "cruise from hell" stories are not compensable. 
  • The cruise ticket drafted by Carnival protects the cruise line:  “If the performance of the proposed voyage is hindered or prevented by . . . breakdown of the vessel . . . Carnival may cancel the proposed voyage without liability to refund passage money or fares paid in advance.”  The passenger ticket also requires passengers to file suit in Miami, which the United States Supreme Court has upheld.      
  • Carnival has already offered to refund the passengers' fare and travel expenses and a free cruise of equal value in the future.  So if you are foolish enough to file suit (in Miami), you simply will not do any better than what is already being offered now.  Plus you will incur legal expenses and travel expenses pursuing a case in Miami which you are certain to lose.

Carnival's offer after this fire should be compared to its response to the fire aboard the Carnival Tropicale cruise ship in 1999.  Like the Splendor, the Tropicale was disabled by an engine room fire and the cruise ship bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico.  Carnival offered the passengers only a 25% discount - which the passengers felt was a slap in the face and created a public relations nightmare.   

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Lawsuit?Carnival has handled this fire knowing that its response will be scrutinized in the court of public opinion.  Its CEO traveled from Miami to San Diego and held a press conference where he apologized and offered a full refund, reimbursement of travel expenses and a free future cruise. 

Most Americans think that Carnival's offer is fair.  MSNBC ran a story yesterday "Free Cruise Should Be Enough for Splendor Passengers."  In a poll of over 10,000 readers, MSNBC asked should the passengers stuck on the Carnival Splendor consider legal action?  88% said: "No - Carnival's compensation package is more than generous."  Only 8% said: "Yes - Days at sea in miserable conditions is worth more than money back and a future cruise."  (The remaining 4% said: "Unsure - Passengers may have a tough time since they signed an air-tight contract.") 

Although the passengers on the Splendor were inconvenienced by the fire and the elderly undoubtedly suffered the most, sometimes a cruise line will step up to the plate and make a fair offer.  But if you decide to reject it, please don't call us.  Most jurors will not have much patience for vacationers complaining about eating Pop Tarts on a cruise ship, when some of the jurors cannot afford a cruise in the first place and our U.S. troops have been eating MRE meals in the middle of the desert in Iraq and Afghanistan.    

November 14, 2010 Update:

A reader of Senior Cruise Director John Heald's blog sums up Canival's compensations as follows: 

  • Full refund
  • Future credit equal to total of what was paid to be applied to a future cruise and must be used within 2 years.
  • Refund of transportation costs to the pier and from San Diego back home. One person said they took a bus from Las Vegas to the pier and Carnival (besides putting them up in San Diego is flying them home.)
  • Overnight stay in San Diego for those who requested it AND a daily stipend.
  • For those who had flights Carnival made the changes for them.
  • Any charges made on Sunday on the guests “Sign and Sail card were forgiven!!!  (This included spa treatments, alcohol, purchases in the gift shop AND even gambling losses in the casino slots!!!)
  • All photos taken by Carnival of the guests were put out in the photo shop and guests were invited to come get their pictures at no charge!
  • On Tuesday and Wednesday Carnival opened some bars. Alcohol, wine and beer was given to the guests.
  • Carnival advised the guests that everything in their mini bars was free! (My minibar had 6 sodas, 6 beers, and 10 or 12 shot bottles of alcohol.)
     

Update:

This blog article went  viral and was discussed by:

The Wall Street Journal Blog: "Plaintiffs’ Lawyer to Splendor Passengers: Don’t Bother Suing."

USA Today: "Sue Carnival over Splendor incident? Don't bother, says top cruise lawyer."

Fox News: "Cruise Line Crisis and Compensation."

American Bar Association Journal: "Cruise Ship Lawyer: Smelly Toilets and Cold Showers Won’t Support a Lawsuit."

Gadling: "Should Splendor Passengers Sue Carnival after their Ship Broke Down?"

U.K. Mirror: "Splendor Passengers Back Carnival."

 

Slate Magazine: "Lawyers to Carnival Passengers: Don't Come Crying to Me."

Photo credit:

Top - CBS News video

Bottom - Washington Post video

U.S. Coast Guard Medevacs Another Passenger From Holland America Cruise Ship

Last night, the U.S. Coast Guard performed a medical evacuation of a 75-year-old passenger who became sick while cruising on the Holland America cruise ship, Oosterdam, about 180 miles southwest of San Diego.

A HC-130 Hercules aircraft from the Coast Guard station in Sacramento located the HAL ship ship.  A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter dispatched from the Coast Guard's San Diego station then medevaced the passenger to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

The medevac came just 2 days after the Coast Guard assisted the disabled cruise ship Carnival Splendor into San Diego.

In October, the Coast Guard conducted essentially an identical rescue.   A 74-year-old passenger with pancreatis was rescued from HAL's Oosterdam 36 miles from San Diego and sent via helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital. 

The U.S. Coast Guard spends millions of dollars a year assisting passengers who are sick or injured on foreign flagged cruise ships.

Coast Guard Medevac - Cruise Ship - Medical Rescue

Photo credit:

U.S. Coast Guard via Cruise Critic member Copper10-8 (depicting medevac from HAL Noordam)

Video of Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire

This week ends with tugs finally towing the Carnival Splendor cruise ship back to port in San Diego, following a fire in the engine room early Monday morning.

The video below from ABC News 10 contains interviews with passengers, images of passengers finally disembarking, and a brief animation of the fire breaking out in the engine room. 

For additional information, read:

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Disabled After Engine Room Fire

International Cruise Victims Discuss Latest Cruise Ship Fire

Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything? 

 

 

Do you have video or photographs of the cruise ship fire to share?  Contact us!

Carnival Kept Passengers In The Dark After Fire

As I watched CNN and MSNBC interview passengers disembarking from the ill fated cruise aboard the Splendor, passenger after passenger stated that no one explained to them that the cruise ship had been disabled due to a fire.  Several passengers said only that thee was "some smoke."  One of the reporters on CNN responded "that's incredible!" upon learning that the cruise line had kept the passengers in the dark, literally and figuratively, following the fire which left the cruise ship dead in the water.

Keeping passengers in the dark is nothing new for Carnival and other cruise lines following disasters like this. Carnival has the worst history of fires than any other cruise line over the past ten to fifteen years.  In 1995, the Carnival Celebration caught fire.  In 1998, the Carnival Ecstasy burned shortly after leaving the port of Miami.  A year later, the Carnival Tropicale was disabled following a fire in the engine room, and the cruise ship bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days.  These two Carnival Carnival Splendor - Cruise Fire - Passengers in the Dark?ships had suffered previous fires as well.  In 2006, a large fire broke out on the Star Princess operated by a subsidiary of Carnival, Princess Cruises, in the middle of the night resulting in a death and multiple injuries.  Last year, a fire in the engine room disabled the Royal Princess operated by Princess Cruises, which had to be towed back to an Egyptian port.

In all of these incidents, passengers learned the true facts only after leaving the cruise ship.  Following the Tropicale fire, passengers complained that some crew members did not speak English well enough to provide safety instructions.  The New York Times reported on the debacle in an article "Language Barrier Cited In Inquiry Into Ship Fire."

During the ensuing NTSB investigation, the Master of the Tropicale testified that he was concerned that the engine room would explode. He kept information about the raging fire from passengers because he worried they might panic and jump overboard, according to the St. Pete Times article "Cruise Captain Feared Panic." 

Some of the passengers interviewed yesterday by CNN did not seem to mind the limited information.  One passenger commented that she understood why Carnival withheld information from them, reasoning that it was a prudent decision to avoid panic among the passengers.

I'm not too sure about that.  We have an obligation to our children to screen information to keep them from being unduly frightened.  But treating adult passengers like children is not the cruise line's prerogative.  Passengers should not learn the basic fact that their ship was disabled by an engine room fire only after walking down the gangway.    

November 13, 2010 Update:  The New York Daily News published an article: "Smoke Screen: Carnival Passengers Say Crew Lied About Extent of Fire" reporting that passengers were told by the crew that the blaze that knocked out power on the ship wasn't a fire at all.

"Even as thick black smoke was seen billowing from the rear of the 1,000-ft. ship, 'They tried to calm us by saying it was ‘flameless fire . . . '"

"They … didn't tell us the truth, that's what I found out when my cell phone started working," echoed passenger Marquis Horace. "They told us it was a flameless fire." 

 

Related story: International Cruise Victims Discuss Latest Cruise Ship Fire

 

Photo credit:  Jae C. Hong | The Associated Press

International Cruise Victims Discuss Latest Cruise Ship Fire

A number of news sources covering the stranded Carnival Splendor cruise ship have featured members of the International Cruise Victims organization (ICV).  
 
Public Radio:  Today, KPCC South California Public Radio interviewed the Chairman of the ICV, Kendall Carver (photo below), and me regarding the issue of cruise passenger safety issues. Listen here  Here is the text from the public radio station:
 
"Two tug boats are slowly towing the Carnival Splendor cruise ship and her 4,500 passengers towards San Diego today. The 952-foot ship, which left Long Beach on Sunday for the Mexican Riviera, has been adrift since an engine room fire early Monday. Rather than lavish meals, passengers are surviving on Carnival Splendor - Cruise FireSpam, Pop Tarts and canned crabmeat flown in by helicopter. Friends and families of stranded passengers are concerned because communication with their loved ones has been severely limited. It’s expected that the Splendor will arrive in port in San Diego late Thursday. Critics say there are serious safety lapses throughout the cruise industry and this accident was waiting to happen. What’s being done to protect passengers?"

 

Guests:

Kendall Carver, Chairman, International Cruise Victims

Jim Walker, Maritime attorney based in Miami and editor of “Cruise Law News”

Photo credit:  Kevin Gray/U.S. Navy via Getty Images (via KPCC South California Public Radio)


L.A. Times:  The L.A. Times also featured ICV members Ken Carver, my client Lynnette Hudson (photo bottom) whose father Richard Liffridge was killed due to a fire on a cruise ship operated by a Carnival subsidiary Princess Cruises, cruise safety expert Mark Gaouette and me in an article "Stranded Cruise Ship Offers Lesson in Huge Vessels' Vulnerabilities."   Here is the text:

"They're called "floating cities," massive cruise ships that resemble skyscrapers and offer all the amenities of high-end resorts — spas and casinos, Broadway shows and amusement parks, fine dining and luxury shopping.

But the Carnival Splendor also offers a cautionary tale about just how vulnerable these mega-ships can Ken Carver - International Cruise Victims be. Left powerless by an engine fire shortly after embarking on a seven-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera, the Splendor is expected to be towed into port in San Diego late Thursday. If the ship cannot make sufficient speed under tow, it is possible it will be taken to Ensenada, company officials said.

An early morning fire in the generator compartment Monday knocked out several of the ship's operating systems and left the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew members without air conditioning, hot food and telephone service. Even the flush toilets were down for a while.

With communications largely cut off, it's unclear what kind of hardship passengers have had to endure. But Carnival Chief Executive Gerry Cahill acknowledged in a statement that passengers were dealing with an "extremely trying situation."

"Conditions on board the ship are very challenging, and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring," he said.

The "gourmet delicacies" of the " Manhattan chic" Pinnacle Steakhouse were replaced by 70,000 pounds of bread, canned milk and other emergency supplies, which were flown from the North Island Naval Air Station at Coronado to the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and then helicoptered out to the Splendor, stranded 160 miles southwest of San Diego. The company is paying the military for the food and supplies, officials said.

"There are significant risks as these ships get bigger and bigger," said Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims. "This one held over 4,000 people. The new ones owned by Royal Caribbean hold over 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members, over 8,000 people. A fire on a ship like that would be disastrous."

The Carnival Splendor experienced its problems relatively close to several major ports, making rescue possible in only a few days.

"If it was hundreds of miles out, and you had a fire that wasn't suppressed, and you had rough weather, you'd have a complete disaster," said Jim Walker, a Miami-based attorney who specializes in cruise line litigation.

Although the $40-billion cruise ship industry — and its vessels — has been growing, it has been dogged in the last decade with controversies over passenger health and safety. Carver helped start International Cruise Victims after his daughter, Merrian, disappeared while on an Alaskan cruise in 2004.

The organization has pushed for stiffer laws regulating the cruise ship industry; just four months ago, President Obama signed into law tougher new rules for reporting crimes at sea, improving ship safety and training staff to collect evidence of crimes. The changes will go into effect in 2012.

But the new law makes only passing mention of fire safety issues, even though "the most serious event that can happen on a cruise ship is a main space fire, which is what happened on the Splendor," said Mark Gaouette, former director of security for Princess Cruises and author of the recently released "Cruising for Trouble."

On a Navy ship, Gaouette notes, every person has a fire-fighting role, and the crew is trained constantly in how to respond to a fire. On a cruise ship, "two-thirds to three-quarters of the population are passengers. They become problems and liabilities in a major fire. They have to be shepherded to safe areas."

Statistics are hard to come by for incidents on cruise ships, but Gaouette said the website cruisebruise.com lists eight major fires on cruise ships in the last five years, compared with just three in the previous seven years.

"As cruise ships become larger and their number increases on the high seas," he said, "the threat of fire and other risks to passengers will increase proportionally."

On the Splendor at 6:30 a.m. Monday, the 3,299 passengers were evacuated from their cabins and told to go to the ship's upper deck. They were later allowed to return. By afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters and an HC-130 Hercules helicopter to the ship's aid. The Mexican navy sent aircraft and a 140-foot patrol boat.

The Coast Guard has remained in contact with the ship throughout the ordeal, officials said. Whether the ship goes to San Diego or Ensenada, the company has promised to transport passengers back to Long Beach.

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines has promised a full refund for passengers and a complimentary future cruise equal to the amount paid for this voyage, which was scheduled to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. The company announced that the Nov. 14 seven-day cruise from Long Beach to the same ports has been canceled.

"The safety of our passengers and crew is our top priority, and we are working to get our guests home Lynnette Hudson - Richard Liffridge - Cruise Ship Fire  as quickly as possible," said Cahill of Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival Corp., which also includes such lines as Princess Cruises and Holland America and has 98 ships worldwide, reported revenues of $13.2 billion in 2009.

A spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Assn. did not respond to requests for comment. The organization's website says the U.S. Coast Guard calls cruising "one of the safest modes of transportation, and the industry is constantly striving to improve its safety procedures. Over the past two decades, an estimated 90 million passengers safely enjoyed a cruise vacation."

But that is little comfort to Lynnette Hudson, whose father died of smoke inhalation during a fire on the Star Princess, which is operated by Carnival, in 2006. It was his first cruise, she testified to Congress, and he was celebrating his 72nd birthday.

Hudson pushed for the more stringent standards that were signed into law this summer and is still fighting for stiffer laws. "I think if there's a major fire on a cruise ship, they're not prepared," she said in an interview. "They don't have sufficient training."

 

For additional information, consider reading: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

 

Photo credits: 

Ken Carver   KPHO Channel 5 Phoenix

Carnival Splendor U.S. Navy via L.A. Times

Lynnette Liffridge (pointing to sprinkler installed after her father's death)  Jim Walker

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Disabled After Engine Room Fire

A fire broke out this morning in the engine room on the Carnival Splendor during a cruise to the Mexican Riviera (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.)  Passengers were told to move from their cabins to the Lido Deck on the upper level. 

The fire burned from around 6:00 a.m. until it was extinguished around 9 a.m. according to several news sources.  However, the fire erupted again according to U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Kevin Metcalf. 

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire The Press-Telegram reports that two guests and a crew member suffered panic attacks, but no one was physically injured. 

The cruise ship had left the Port of Long Beach on Sunday with 3,299 guests and 1,167 crew members.

The cruise ship is dead in the water.  There are reports that there is only an emergency generator running, which means no air conditioning or working toilets. 

The cruise ship is approximately 55 miles west of Punta San Jacinto, which is about 150 miles south of San Diego, and will have to be towed back to a port by tugs. 

We have written about cruise ship fires many times.  Carnival and its subsidiary Princess Cruises have a long history of cruise ship fires   Consider reading  Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

The Splendor is the Carnival cruise ship which Senior Cruise Director John Heald is currently on.  Cruise Director Heald writes an excellent blog called the John Heald Blog.  He wrote a timely and sensitive blog last month when a Carnival crew member tragically committed suicide.  Will he write an informative blog about this latest incident on the Splendor?  

The official statement from Carnival is pretty skimpy, as usual. 

The engines were manufactured by Wartsila.  The Splendor is diesel-electric powered using six Wartsila diesel engines and has a power output of 63,400kW.  I have made an inquiry to Wartsila but I have not received a response.

Were you a passenger or crew member on the cruise ship?  Do you have photos or video to share?  Please leave a comment below.

 

 

Articles of interest:

Disabled Carnival Ship Shows How Vulnerable Mega-Vessels Can Be

Carnival Cruise Ship Still Out At Sea, Conditions Onboard 'Challenging'

Royal Caribbean: In A Better Place?

CCN Travel has an interesting article this morning "Cruise Line Chief:  We're in a Better Place."  The cruise line's President Adam Goldstein talks about the "enormous excitement" generated by its two new mega cruise ships, the Oasis of the Seas which debuted last December and the Allure of the Seas which is now sailing from Europe to Fort Lauderdale and will arrive in South Florida later this week.

Royal Caribbean's Goldstein claims that the cruising experience on Oasis of the Seas has been so "universally positive" that he no longer hears criticism that the ship is "ugly," "obnoxious" and a "monstrosity."   But it is always interesting to contrast happy talk like this to the comments from Allure of the Seas - Adam Goldsteinreaders who complained about the mega ship as a "giant floating shopping mall with a captive audience," as well as "long lines, rude employees, and indifferent customer service." 

Although Royal Caribbean experienced a strong third quarter, its financial improvement came at a price to its own employees and crew members.  Over the past two years, the cruise line slashed employees from the company's payroll and terminated medical benefits for hundreds of injured and ill crew members. Royal Caribbean has also reduced the daily stipend for most ill and injured crew members from $25 a day to $12 - an amount that no one in the world can live on.  

In the process, the company's stock rose from a low of just under $6 a share to around $40. 

Not coincidentally, last week President Goldstein unloaded 30,899 shares of RCL stock for $1,200,000.  Not to be outdone, the cruise line's CEO, Richard Fain, pocketed $6,000,000 by selling 150,000 shares. 

Yes, Royal Caribbean's President Goldstein and CEO Fain are in a "better place." 

But their crew members certainly are not.  

 

Photo credit:   nationofwhynot? blog

Cruise Law Sneaks Ahead of China Law Blog in Avvo Top Legal Blogs

The fun thing about writing your own blog, or running your own law firm, or having your own donut shop for that matter, is that it provides you with an opportunity to be competitive with other blogs, law firms and donut shops.  

One of my goals this year was for Cruise Law News (CLN) to become a top 25 blog on the popularity chart of Avvo"s Top Legal Blogs (which is based on the Alexa tracking system).  I am ahead of schedule. Today, CLN was the 14th most popular law blog - just barely nosing out Dan Harris' China Law Blog, which is undoubtedly one of the best legal blogs around.    

There are now just four blogs ahead of CLN for a place in the top ten law blogs.  So I will make another prediction.  CLN will be the 10th most popular law blog by the end of this year.  

There are simply far too many crazy things that happen on a regular basis in the world of cruising not to write about. 

CLN addresses cruise stories that the mainstream newspapers are afraid to touch.

So sign up to read CLN via email or RSS feed to stay on top of breaking news stories about the cruise industry.  On December 31st of this year, expect to receive an update celebrating CLN becoming the 10th most popular law blog around .  .  .   

Big Cruise Ships, Rich Cruise Executives & Pandering Cruise Writers

I am fascinated regarding what travel writers and cruise experts write about these days.

Gene Sloan's blog on USA Today called CruiseLog features a debate on which Royal Caribbean cruise ship is bigger, the new Allure of the Seas or the Oasis of the Seas.  I suppose comparing the gargantuan Excess of the Seas with the monstrous Indulgence of the Seas (with over 12,000 passengers and around 500,000 tons between the two of them) is a fair enough topic.  It is perfectly emblematic of the cruise industry's grotesque view of environmental consciousness and sustainability.   

And a cruise blog in a U.K. newspaper, Captain Greybeard, by John Honeywell, focuses admiringly on the CEO of Royal Caribbean, Richard Fain, pocketing $6,000,000 after selling a small portion of his large Travel Writer - Cruise Writercruise stock portfolio. 

Neither of these popular travel blogs contain any insight into these stories.  For example, CEO Fain profited millions of dollars by slashing employees from the company's payroll and terminating medical benefits for hundreds of injured and ill crew members.

Unfortunately, pandering to the cruise lines is a full time job for some travel writers and cruise bloggers. They do not want to offend their friends at the cruise lines who invite them on cruises for free.  Well, it is not really free, if you consider the is a quid pro quo - free cruises for free publicity.  

This is a subject I have touched upon before: 

Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News

Cruise Crime and the Indifference of Travel Writers

There are plenty of interesting issues affecting cruise passengers that these type of writers avoid at all costs.  For example, on Monday I wrote about a British passenger who became stuck in a Mexican hospital with a $125,000 bill after suffering a heart attack during a cruise on a Princess cruise ship.  Cruise lines like Princess have contractual arrangements with the local port agents and hospitals to take care of their crew members when they are ill.  If one of the Princess crew members had a heart attack, the cruise line would pay only a fraction of what the British passenger is facing.  Cruise lines and port hospitals look at sick passengers as profit centers. 

You will not see cruise writers cover a story like this or anything controversial.  They will write happy stories about big cruise ships and millionaire cruise executives.  But they will look the other way when a sick cruise passenger is saddled in debt and stuck in a Mexican hospital.  

Cruise Critic - The Most Popular Cruise Community in the World

This week I have been visiting my parents in El Dorado, Arkansas.  It is always great to get back to my roots in my home town in Southern Arkansas - which has about the nicest and friendliest people in the country.

Yesterday I ran out to a local thrift store to look at vintage books and records (I found a 1958 Elvis Presley LP - G.I. Blues - for 75 cents!)  When I was looking through a rack of $2 shirts, I ran across a shirt that made me stop in my tracks: "Cruise Critic Member - www.cruisecritic.com"   There it was, emblazened on a nice blue shirt, hanging on the rack in a store in my land-locked southern town in Arkansas.

Yes, Cruise Criticsomeone in my hometown in El Dorado was not only a member of Cruise Critic, but had thought enough of the on-line cruise community to own a shirt bearing the Cruise Critic name. 

I could not resist and took a photo of the shirt (photo left) with my Blackberry. 

Cruise Critic is the most popular cruise community in the world.  There are some 50,000 reviews of cruises and tens of thousands of community members who rate cruises, comment on which cruises are the best and the worst, and often are the first to report on cruise ship collisions and fires, passenger over boards and shipboard crimes.

In the short one year period my Cruise Law News (CLN) blog has been on-line, I have received more visitors from Cruise Critic members than any other site in the internet.

The Cruise Critic site has an enormous potential to effectuate positive change for cruise passengers and crew members.  The fact that there are good people in my little home town in Arkansas who are Cruise Critic members bears that out.  

British Passenger Stuck In Mexican Hospital Following Heart Attack on Princess Cruise Ship

Most cruise passengers who sail on luxury cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico or Europe have a false sense of security.  They think that if anything goes wrong during the cruise, the cruise line will take care of them.  But when passengers get sick, the reality is that the cruise line will dump them off of the cruise ship as soon as possible, and the passengers will be left to fend for themselves in foreign ports. 

So it is heartbreaking to read of a healthy 67 year old passenger from the United Kingdom who suffered a heart attack while cruising on the Sea Princess cruise ship.  The cruise line disembarked her ashore in Mexico where a hospital charged her over $125,000 in medical expenses so far.

Heart Attack - Cruise Ship - Valerie KingThis story involves Ms. Valerie King who was sailing with her husband, Tony King, on the Princess cruise ship from San Fransisco to Barbados after leaving on October 9th.  Ms. King suffered a heart attack while on board the cruise ship.  The ship doctor informed her that she had to disembark at the next port which was Cabo San Lucas in Mexico on October 12th.

A newspaper in the U.K., the Warrington Guardian, reports that after being sent from the cruise ship, Ms. King has been stuck in the hospital and has incurred over $125,000 in medical expenses.  Ms. King's daughter, Anita, flew from England to Cabo San Lucas to try and support her father as her mother's stay in the intensive care unit is now approaching three weeks. 

The newspaper quotes daughter Anita as stating that the hospital is "pressing for payment and the account manager followed us into a cafe after we had visited my mother to ask about settling the bill."

This case reveals a problem that many passenger do not understand when considering a cruise.  We have been contacted by many cruise passengers who end up in hospitals in Mexico and the Caribbean ports of call.  The hospitals in Mexico are the worst when it comes to running up medical expenses on cruise passengers. The first thing these hospitals want to know is your Visa card numbers and the expiration date.  This is in stark contrast to healthcare providers in some European ports, such as Sweden or Norway, where the medical treatment is outstanding and the passengers are not charged for anything.

When reading about this case, I thought of my own family experiences.  My father had a heart attack in London. He received good medical care in the British health care system and was charged nothing.  I can not imagine having to experience a nightmare like the Knight family where your parent is essentially a hostage in a sub-standard medical facility with the hospital administrator following you around like a over-zealous bill collector trying to collect over $125,000.     

Mexican Hospital - Cruise Ship - Heart AttackCruise lines need to warn passengers that if they become ill while sailing into Mexico, the local medical system is designed to suck the patients like a lime at a tequila party. 

In addition to the big bill from the Mexican doctors, the cruise line handed Mr. Knight with a bill for his wife's overnight stay in the cruise ship's sick bay of around $5,000 dollars. This took his credit card just about to the limit and left him with no funds to give a deposit to the hospital.  

Cruise lines should not use their limited medical facilities as a profit center to gouge passengers in distress.

What a predicament.  Vacationing passengers spend thousands of dollars for a cruise only to be charged $5,000 by the cruise line and dumped in a Mexican hospital which charges over $125,000!  The Knight's travel insurance in the U.K. also denied coverage citing exclusions for pre-existing conditions. 

Please take a minute and help the Knight family.  Please e-mail anita@andalan.plus.com and consider sending her a donation of $100 to help the family with this plight.

 

Photo credits:  Knight family via Warrington Guardian

No Cruises In Placencia: Royal Caribbean Refuses to Discuss its Environmental Record

Last month I ran across an interesting blog called No Cruises In Placencia which focuses  on the plight of the tranquil fishing village of Placencia, Belize which Royal Caribbean has targeted as a future site for a new port for its cruise ships.

Placencia is located in southern Belize, and is described as one of the most beautiful locations in Central America where it is known for its beaches and first rate diving and fishing.

No Cruises In PlacenciaBut a portion of the tranquil town may be transformed into a private "tourist village" if the Miami-based cruise line giant Royal Caribbean Cruises has its way.   The cruise line and a group of secret investors already purchased land in the little fishing town with big plans to build a port and a cruise tourist village.

Royal Caribbean has been working behind the scenes for a long time to establish a foot-hole in Placencia.  Most citizens of Placencia did not know that the cruise line had already bought land in the town and was moving forward with their plans to build a port to accommodate their cruise ships.

When word got out the majority of the residents in Placencia were upset that a behind the scene deal deal seemed to be struck.  The No Cruises website explains the issues in a rather straight forward manner - the downside of mass tourism via cruise ship are real and substantial - crime, social and cultural disruption, the loss of character of the town, and the loss of control of your John Tercek - Royal Caribbean Cruises Commercial Developmenthomeland to a multi-national corporation with a felony record of widespread pollution. 

The locals in Placencia raised their legitimate concerns of what a Royal Caribbean designed tourist village would do to their town and lifestyle. 

If history is any lesson, one has to look no further than Royal Caribbean's track record in places like Labadee, Haiti and Falmouth, Jamaica to see what's in store for the people of Placencia.      

The Belize Tourism Board ("BTB") scheduled a public forum where several hundred local citizens spoke out about the project, but they first had to endure a 45 minute lecture by a vice president of Royal Caribbean, John Tercek, who oversees the cruise line's commercial development plans.   

A local newspaper in Belize, the Reporter, wrote about the meeting in an appropriately entitled article "Placencia, A Done Deal?" by Niall Gillett. 

Mr. Gillett commented on some interesting developments at the meeting. Many people questioned the fact that the CEO of the BTB, Mike Singh, had previously worked at Century 21 which brokered the land deal with the cruise line, thus raising the uncomfortable issue of whether individuals on No Cruise In Placencia Belizethe local tourism board profited from the sale of the cruise ship village land. 

The newspaper also wrote that the crowd at the meeting asked Royal Caribbean representative Tercek about issues of pollution, a key concern given this cruise line's deplorable environmental crimes:

“Can you comment on your company’s environmental record?”  VP Tercek refused the microphone.  No comment."

Royal Caribbean is one of the least  transparent corporations in the world, and the worst environmental cruise polluter in the history of the cruise industry.  Its interests are its own corporate bottom line profits - not the welfare, environment or culture of a special place like Placencia.

My Opinion?   Something smells very fishy about these behind the scene deals which are now coming to light.  But the smell is not from the beautiful fishing village of Placencia   .  .  its coming from the corporate office of Royal Caribbean in Miami.

 

Join the Facebook Group:  Keep Cruise Ships Away from Placencia

 

 

Credits:

Top photo:   nocruises.org

Middle photo:  FCCA website

Bottom photo:  Keep Cruise Ships Away from Placencia facebook page  

Video: YouTube via LeslieTech  Placencia, Paradise At The Crossroads- Cruise Tourism Problems & Possibilities (via Marty)