NBC Los Angeles reports today that Royal Caribbean Cruises demonstrated "a gross indifference to the life and health" of passengers by continuing to cruise with a ship that "that allowed poison gas exposure to its passengers," according to Miami Dade County Judge Marc Schumacher.
The ruling today involved a leak of hydrogen sulfide that killed three Royal Caribbean crew members and injured 19 others in September 2005.
Over the 2005 Labor Day weekend, the Royal Caribbean Monarch of the Seas cruise ship had just returned to San Pedro, California after a cruise to Mexico.
More than three thousand, four hundred people were on board the cruise ship.
Crewmembers were attempting to replace a leaking section of pipe connected to the ship's food waste system. The pipe burst and hydrogen sulfide gas escaped into the engine room. The poisonous gas killed three crewmembers. Nineteen other crewmembers were rushed to the hospital.
Passengers on the cruise ships complained at the beginning of the cruise that they smelled the noxious gas the first night of the cruise, raising the issue whether the cruise should have been canceled.
Staff Captain Bjørn Eidissen was injured when he responded to the crisis.
He alleges that Royal Caribbean provided inadequate and delayed medical treatment and then terminated his employment.
According to the news report, when county health investigators measured the levels of hydrogen sulfide gas in the engine room five hours after the incident the levels were at 100 parts per million -well above OSHA’s limit of 20 ppm.
Photos taken during a Coast Guard investigation of the incident document the "extensive corrosion" they say they found in engine room pipes where the leak originated. The Coast Guard report concludes: "early signs… of hazardous H2S gas …were missed."
Staff Captain Eidissen reportedly observed the holes in the engine room pipes. Despite patches that were applied over the holes, he felt the ship was unsafe and warned his superiors. "It was totally crazy," Eidiseen said in an interview from his home in Norway. "We should never have sailed . . . the cruise line knew about it and they ignored the danger."
Judge Schumacher's order states: "Royal Caribbean’s actions demonstrated a gross indifference to the life and health of not only the plaintiff but other passengers onboard the Monarch of the Seas when it continued to cruise with measures that allowed poison gas exposure to its passengers."
In addition to compensatory damages, the Court held that Eidissen could seek punitive damages for the cruise lines' egregious conduct.
A copy of the order can be viewed here. The order indicates that there was a prior gas leak on the Monarch in March 2005, which the cruise line was aware of yet it failed to take reasonable steps to fix the problem and protect the crew and passengers.
The case is handled by our friend, Miami lawyer Jack Hickey. He issued a press release last year, stating in part that when the cruise ship was drifting, at anchor, or at dock, the noxious gas was sucked back into the vessel and into the passenger areas including cabins, through the air conditioning intakes. This reportedly allowed the methane and hydrogen sulfide gas to leak into habitable areas on the ship including the areas in which Mr. Eidissen worked. The Monarch of the Seas received numerous passenger complaints about a foul smelling gas, in addition to several complaints from a stevedore company, dockside businesses, and the workers who eventually fixed the pipe while the ship was in dry dock.
Although the cruise line initially denied liability, it subsequently filed a stipulation that it is legally responsible for releasing the gas.
Royal Caribbean is being defended by Curtis Mase.
We have found over the last 10 years, Royal Caribbean has consistently exhibited the worst corporate malfeasance of any of the Miami based cruise lines. Last year, we reported on an incident when 6 crew members were taken to the hospital in Baltimore for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a welding operation in the engine room as the Celebrity / Royal Caribbean cruise ship was returning to port. Read: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Reported Aboard Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship
Top: Bjørn Eidissen (via facebook)
Bottom: NBC Los Angeles