In a court filing yesterday, Princess Cruises moved to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the 18 year old survivor, Adrian Vasquez, following the infamous "sail by" incident. You will recall that the Star Princess cruise ship failed to assist Vasquez and two other young Panamanian men (who perished) in a small disabled fishing boat drifting 100 miles out at sea.
In a motion to dismiss filed in Federal District Court on Miami, Princess argues that it has no legal duty to assist mariners in distress on the high seas. It cites the Brussels Convention (also known as the "Salvage Treaty") for the proposition that although the captain of a ship has the duty to provide assistance to disabled vessels at sea, the cruise line itself has no legal obligation whatsoever. It argues that it cannot be held liable for the captain's refusal to assist mariners in distress.
This argument defies common sense and basic legal concepts. The captain was an employee of Princess Cruises. Why shouldn't the cruise be vicariously liable when its captain and crew act irresponsibly?
The cruise line's legal argument is also at odds with PR statements it made after it can under international public condemnation for refusing to divert the Star Princess to assist the three men, ages 16, 18 and 22, who were adrift at sea after their boat lost its engine power. Princess released a very public statement on April 19, 2012 stating:
"Princess Cruises is dedicated to the highest standards of seamanship wherever our ships sail, and it is our duty to assist any vessel in distress. We have come to the aid of many people at sea, and we will continue to do so."
But in its motion to dismiss filed yesterday, Princess is now singing a different tune:
"Simply put, the law does not impose a duty on ships to investigate whether every passing vessel may need assistance nor does it impose civil liability on the owner of a vessel if the ship's crew fails to recognize that another vessel passing miles away needs help."
Ah, a cruise line telling the public one thing but instructing its lawyers to say just the opposite behind the doors of the courthouse. A cruise line best known for "The Love Boat" showing very little love at all.
Princess Cruises' argument, if accepted by the court, will establish a dangerous precedent.
Captains of 99% of foreign flagged cruise ships live outside of the U.S. The captain of the Star Princess cruise ship resides in England and is probably not subject to jurisdiction in the U.S. or Panama (where the families of the men reside). Captains of cruise ships are under pressure from cruise lines to strictly maintain schedules for economic reasons. If cruise lines like Princess can escape civil and criminal consequences when their ships abandon people at sea, there will be no incentive for the cruise industry to act responsibly.
Princess has the ability to easily compensate the families for their suffering. It is just one of many cruise lines under the umbrella of Carnival, which collects tens and tens of billions of dollars from tax paying U.S. citizens but pays virtually no U.S. corporate taxes itself.
Princess should not use the U.S. legal system to abandon the families of these three young men after abandoning their children to die an excruciating death at sea.
Should a cruise line be permitted to tell the U.S. public that "it is our duty to assist any vessel in distress . . . and we will continue to do so," and then try to kick a young man's case out of court by arguing it had no legal duty to assist him when he was dying 100 miles out at sea?
Read our prior articles about the case:
Photo credit: AP / Daily Mail