Princess Tours Bus Accident in Alaska Kills Princess Cruises Employee

Princess Cruise Bus AccidentNews sources in Alaska are reporting that a Princess Cruises employee was killed when a Princess Tours excursion bus overturned on a rain slicked highway in Alaska.

The accident occurred at mile 173 on Parks Highway, approximately 200 miles south of Fairbanks.

The Frontiersman reports that this is the second serious incident involving a Princess-owned bus on a remote stretch of road in the past month. Here's a story about the prior accident involving a Princess bus.

The photograph of the crushed bus (left) was published by the Frontiersman via Tim Whitney.

The Cruise Fever websites says that "the bus was heading northbound along the Denali National Park from Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge to the Princess Wilderness Lodge" when the accident happened. 

KTUU states that three people, all Princess employees, were on board the bus when it crashed and the front end was crushed. 

The woman who died was from Malaysia and working in Alaska. A second Princess employee was seriously injured. The bus driver was not injured.  

State Troopers say that excessive speed was a factor in the accident.  

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Overworked & Underpaid on the High Seas

This weekend I read an interesting article in the Springfield Register-Guard about Royal Caribbean Cruises' plans to add employees at its call center in Oregon.

There are currently over 700 employees at the call center in Oregon, according to the newspaper. The cruise line is planning to add another 220 mostly full time employees.

What struck me about the article was the lucrative pay and benefits which the cruise line provides to its employees. The newspapers says "Royal Caribbean touts its modern facility, which includes a fitness center and cafeteria; base pay that starts at $8.85 to $10.50 an hour, not including incentive pay; Royal Caribbean Call Center Spinngfield Oregonhealth care insurance; a retirement plan; the chance to advance rapidly, and cruising privileges."

The cruise line also received lucrative incentives to open the call center back in 2006. The state of Oregon provided $1.3 million in incentives, including a $600,000 loan. The company was required to pay back only around $64,000. 

What a great employment package for the people in Oregon (especially compared to the Royal Caribbean operations in the U.K. which was out-sourced to Guatemala earlier this year). They can make over $400 working 40 hours a week, plus benefits, in a nice facility doing a cushy job. 

How does that compare to a cleaner from Jamaica who works on a Royal Caribbean ship 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off and no benefits?  A cleaner on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship makes around $550 a month performing strenuous work under difficult circumstances, far from the comforts of home. That turns out to around $1.75 an hour. They are tied to contracts lasting anywhere from 6 to 9 months without a single day off.

The cruise line pays no taxes on the billions of dollars paid each year by cruise passenger, because it is incorporated in Liberia and it registers its ship under flags of convenience (Bahamas and Liberia) on its cruise ships. It rakes in millions and millions each year in profits. Its cruise executives, Mr. Fain and Mr. Goldstein, are collectively worth well over $100,000,000 because of the hard working and minimally paid crew, mostly from the Caribbean islands, east Europe, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The U.S. executives are swimming in cash while paying the "foreign" crew peanuts. 

There is something wrong when a U.S. call center employee sitting in a cubicle answering the phone for the cruise line can work less than one-half of the hours of a shipboard employee yet earn three times more, plus benefits and perks.   

 

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page

Don't forget to read:  

Cruise Law Visits Royal Caribbean in Oregon

Globalization at Work? Royal Caribbean's U.K. Call Center Outsourced to Guatemala

Slave Ship? Brazilian Police Board MSC Magnifica after Crew Members Complain of Long Hours, Abuse, Intimidation & Sexual Harassment

The BBC reports that Brazilian police boarded a MSC cruise ship and rescued 11 crew members working in "slave-like conditions." 

Brazilian officials say that the 11 crew members were forced to work up to 16 hours a day on the MSC Magnifica. Some of the crew members were subjected to sexual harassment.

The Brazilian authorities have been investigating the labor abuses for the past month, following a tip-off MSC Magnifica - Slave Shipfrom MSC crew members. 

"The fact that they had signed a contract, even an international contract, does not mean that the basic human rights should not be respected," Labor Ministry director Alexandre Lyra said. 

A publication in Brazil contains additional details of the working conditions. The Blog Do Sakamoto talks of exhaustive work on the MSC cruise ship with stories of abuse, bullying and fraudulent time recording.

"We have no doubt that it is slave labor," said Alexandre Lyra, head of Brazil's Division of Surveillance for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

You can see two statements of the working conditions written by MSC crew members here.

Another newspaper in Brazil reported that crew members were subjected to racism and homophobic threats and taunts. 

MSC issued a statement denying everything.

In December and March, we posted videos and photos of MSC dumping garbage bags into the sea off the coast of Brazil from the MSC Magnifica.  If the recent allegations are true, it seems that MSC treats its employees worse than the sea it pollutes. 

 

Photo Credit: Reporter Brazil

Foreign Cruise Lines Propose Prohibiting Foreign Crew Members From Filing Suit in the U.S.

The cruise lines are at it again.  They are proposing a bill, HR 4005, which will prevent "foreign" cruise ship employees from filing suit in the U.S. for compensation for injuries sustained or bad medical care received on cruise ships.  The proposed legislation includes banning crew members who are injured on cruise ships owned and operated by companies with headquarters here in Miami, like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL. 

Who are these workers? They are the state room attendants, waiters, bartenders, and cooks who work 7 days a week for 12 hours a day, all month long. for many months at a time. They live and work on the cruise ships thousands of miles away from home for 6 to 10 months at a time. They are from India, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Croatia.  

Who are these cruise lines? They are multi-billion dollar corporations which are based in the U.S. and whose incomes are derived mostly from U.S. passengers. Over 13 million U.S. citizens take cruises Royal Caribbean Crew Memberevery year. Yet, these companies do not pay U.S. income tax and they do not follow U.S. wage & labor laws or U.S. safety laws.  

This proposal discriminates blatantly against crew members around the world. It is also a job killer for the American worker. This bill would guarantee that the cruise lines will never hire U.S. citizens to work onboard their vessels. If non U.S. citizens cannot recover anything in the United States under U.S. law even though the cruise line is negligent, the cruise lines will have a disincentive to hire American workers.

The concept of cutting off a seaman's right to file suit in the U.S. violates hundreds of years of maritime law.  "Foreign" crew members are the backbone of the cruise industry. This is a xenophobic effort to strike at the heart of the cruise industry by stripping the rights of the heart and soul of the employees who make the cruise ships work. It is unconscionable.  It is also a duplicitous effort, considering that all of the cruise lines are "foreign" corporations, incorporated in countries like Panama (Carnival) or Liberia (Royal Caribbean) and operating cruise ships registered in countries like the Bahamas or Bermuda.    

If the cruise lines are not held accountable in U.S. Courts, they will be free to abandon their employees back in countries like India, Jamaica and Honduras when they are injured and need medical care. 

There is a risk to the safety and security of cruising if cruise lines are permitted to overwork their crew members, including officers and staff, and not face any economic consequence. An overworked, exhausted and poorly treated crew is a danger to the cruise ship and all aboard.  

Cruise CEO's living here in Miami are making hundreds of millions of dollars over the years by operating businesses based in the U.S. which are "foreign" incorporated and registered. They should not be allowed to discriminate against the "foreign" men and women who sweat all day on cruise ships sailing in and out of U.S. ports and are injured.  

Royal Caribbean: The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Poorer

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line CEO Adam GoldsteinRoyal Caribbean Cruises President and CEO Adam Goldstein sold 44,256 shares of Royal Caribbean stock yesterday.  Zolimax News reports that Mr. Goldstein sold his stock at an average price of $52.96, for a total transaction of $2,343,797.76.

After the sale, Mr. Goldstein's stocks total 358,804 shares, valued at approximately $19,002,260.

Royal Caribbean (RCL) has a 52-week low of $31.35 and a 52-week high of $53.42. 

We last reported on the cruise president's stock sales in October of last year when he sold 7,855 shares of RCL stock at an average price of $43.22, for a total value of $339,493.10. At that time, he reportedly owned 335,654 shares of Royal Caribbean stock, valued at approximately $14,506,966. 

It looks like the cruise executive's net worth has increased by over $7,000,000.

Royal Caribbean pays a salary to its waiters and cabin attendants of only $50 a month; the cruise passengers pay tips to the waiters and stewards but Royal Caribbean is scooping up much of the tips to pay other crew member's salaries. Employees like utility cleaners earn a pittance of around $550 a month (with no tips) working around 11-12 hours a day, every day of the month during contracts that are 6-8 months long. 

In September of last year, Royal Caribbean fired over one-hundred employees in its corporate offices in order to increase profits. You can read about that here: Loyal to Royal? Royal Caribbean Axes 100 Jobs in Corporate Headquarters.

 

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Adam Goldstein - Cruise360 Vimeo

Crew Member From Bali Dies on Carnival Splendor

Wayan BarsianaThe Bali Discovery reports on the sad case of a young man who died at sea.

The 21-year-old Balinese man was working as a crew member on the Carnival Splendor and died shortly after joining the cruise ship.

Wayan Barsiana died on December 23, 2013 after joining the cruise ship on December 6, 2013.

The young man’s body was returned to his family in Bali three weeks later on January 13, 2014, after undergoing a post mortem examination. 

The Bali Discovery states that:

"The young man was said to be diligent in calling or texting his family and girlfriend on a daily basis, contact that suddenly stopped on December 21, 2013, when he told his family he had developed a cough. Two days later on December 23, 2104 a manager from Carnival Cruise Lines telephoned the mother to advise her son had died in his crew cabin."

The family reportedly received no further details regarding their son’s death. Wayan Barisana’s body was buried in his home village shortly after it was shipped back to Bali.

The Bali Seafarer's Centre Facebook page shows photographs of the return of the crew member's body home.

The KPI union and hiring agency in Indonesia contributed to the funeral expenses in respect for the family.

If you have a comment, please join the discussion about this article on our Facebook page.

Photo credits: Bali Discovery - top; Bali Seafarer's Centre - bottom. 

Death on Carnival Splendor

A Comment from a Former Crew Member: "So Many Injustices"

Cruise Law News from time to time will feature a comment to our articles by one of our readers.

Comments by crew members are often poignant. The cruise industry's current state of affairs places tremendous pressure on ship employees from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. Hours are longer notwithstanding the lofty goals of the MLC 2006, pay is lower, cruise lines are stealing tips intended for the crew, and recently Carnival Cruise Lines terminated the crew's retirement benefits claiming that the MLC forced it to do so.  

Cruise Ship Working ConditionsHere's a portion of a comment by a former crew member we received today, expressing some of the angst felt by cruise ship employees:

"You have no idea what is daily "MORAL HARASSMENT"!

During some meetings regarding how afraid the ship's managers and "the office" were . . . of USPH. The F&B supervisors used to call us "THALIBAN", just because we are from that side of the planet ... many times we were called like that.

Most of you have no idea how hard it is to wash 800 plates, clean floors, chemical machines without a single glove in a 14 hours shift . . .

Yes, you may say ... we signed for that. No, we signed for what a smiling recruiting agent showed us how life onboard would be like. And we own money to them.

I left Carnival Cruise Lines and continued my studies. I am free now.

P.S. I met all kind of guest too. The wonderful ones and their families are my good friends now. Many crewmenbers too. But the bad stuff ... it probably flows from the Miami office to the ships ... they don't care.

So many injustices."

 

Watch Video: Sweatships - Working Conditions on Cruise Ships

Carnival Cruises Lines Terminates Crew Member Retirement Benefits

Cruise Law News has received inquiries from several Carnival Cruise Lines crew members complaining that the cruise line recently terminated the retirement benefits for crew members.

Like many other cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Lines previously offered a small retirement benefit which crew members were eligible to receive for working a number of years of uninterrupted service to the company. Although the benefits were small, many crew members we spoke to considered the benefits to be an important reason why they worked long hours under difficult circumstances away from their loved ones. Some viewed the benefits as a means to make payments toward a house when they retire.

However, the crew members recently received a short memo from the cruise line telling them that their retirement benefits were suspended. Many of the crew members who contacted us felt betrayed that Carnival had promised them retirement benefits which they relied upon to continue working with the cruise line.

It is well known that Carnival Cruise Lines is under severe financial constraints following the Triumph "Poop Cruise" fiasco including other other engine room fires (such as the Splendor) and propulsion failures. And cruise fares are historically low following the public relations fall-out.   

Carnival Cruises Lines Retirement BenefitsThe question remains whether the termination of benefits applies to all crew members at Carnival Cruise Lines of all nationalities. As best as we can tell, it does not apply to the other Carnival Corporation brands, such as HAL, Princess Cruises, or other companies.    

We reached out to Carnival Cruise line for an explanation regarding the end of the retirement benefit program. Here were some of our questions:  

Does this apply to all Carnival Cruise Line crew/staff/officer positions?

Does this apply to all nationalities?


How many crew members are affected? What is the anticipated savings to the company?

How does the termination of benefits work? For example, if a Carnival ship employee worked 14 & ½ years, he or she will not be entitled to the 15-year retirement benefits upon reaching 15 years of service. Is this correct? Will that employee be entitled to the retirement benefits associated with 10 years because he or she have already worked over 10 years?

Below is the response from the cruise line late this afternoon. 

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC 2006), which came into effect on August 20, 2013, embodies up-to-date standards of international maritime labor laws and recommendations. As of August 20, 2013, MLC 2006 was ratified by 50 countries representing 75% of global shipping. The enactment of MLC 2006 resulted in several changes to our benefits and compensation plans for shipboard employees. One such example is that we will begin paying contributions to government mandated social security programs for applicable seafarers instead of providing a company-run retirement plan. As a result of MLC 2006, Carnival Cruise Lines’ total financial investment in benefits and compensation for shipboard employees has increased significantly.

Carnival does not explain which crew member nationalities are subject to "government mandated social programs." If the crew member is not part of such a governmental program, then it appears that the crew member is left without a retirement benefit of any type from this point forward.

Also the question arises whether the crew members themselves will have the amounts paid to the governmental programs deducted from their pay. 

Is the ending of the retirement benefits program really tied to the MLC as Carnival claims? Or is this an excuse and diversion to the fact that Carnival is simply slashing benefits of its ship employees to add to the company's profitability? 

If you are a crew member with Carnival Cruise Line and just had your retirements benefits terminated, please tell us what you think about the situation. Please leave a comment below.

Do you have to make payments for the social programs of your home countries? Do you know what, if anything, the government social programs provide to you for retirements benefits?

Please feel free to leave an anonymous comment or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

October 24 2013 Update: Here's what Carnival's website says about "The Fun Ship Retirement Plan:"

"To acknowledge and reward Team Carnival’s significant contributions to The Company's success, and to help team members plan and save for retirement, Carnival has developed 'The Fun Ship Retirement Plan.'

This plan provides a lump-sum benefit upon team members’ retirement from Carnival, provided they have at least 10 years of continuous service.

A prorated lump-sum benefit will be paid based on the individual's position within the company. The amount of the lump sum payment will be based on the last position held for the previous five years prior to the retirement date.

The longer a team member is employed beyond the initial 10-year period, the faster the benefits increase. Simply put, the longer you stay with Carnival, the larger your benefit payment will be upon your retirement."

A Comment from a Reader: Discrimination on the High Seas?

Cruise ShipLast week I wrote a short article about the difficult working condition on the Royal Princess: Extreme Work Load & Grueling Hours Exhaust Royal Princess Crew Members. It was a short article but it struck a nerve with crew members. Over 950 readers have liked, shared or tweeted the article so far.

Today we received an interesting comment to the article:

"I worked for Princess for 7 years and the worst part for me is the blatant discrimination against certain ethnic groups. Few people know that crew from countries like Philippines, India, Mexico receive significantly lower wages for doing exactly the same job and working exactly the same hours as crew from European countries.

My roommate was from the Philippines and we were both photographers on the same level with same job description. My salary was $2000 a month and his was $1200.

The company's defense: The cost of living is cheaper in their countries! This is so unfair in every way, even though things might be cheaper in their countries, they are still away from their countries for 8 months at a time where they have to pay the same normal western prices as us . . ." 

Have you faced discrimination while working on cruise ships operated by Carnival, Holland America Line, Princess, or Royal Caribbean?

Please leave a comment below below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Extreme Work Load & Grueling Hours Exhaust Royal Princess Crew Members

Royal Princess Cruise ShipA number of crew members have contacted us about the difficult work and long hours the crew are required to work aboard the Royal Princess cruise ship.

We are informed that 12 dishwashers signed off the Princess cruise ship in just the last 2 months because of what is being described as a heavy work load and extreme work hours, reportedly more than 14 hours work everyday.  Other crew members may be leaving as well before the cruise ship embarks on its transatlantic crossing to South Florida.

One of the problems which crew members face when a cruise ship repositions from Europe to the U.S. is that they have to work additional hours to prepare for inspections by the United States Public Health (USPH) inspectors. A failed USPH inspection is a kiss of death for a Food & Beverage supervisor or the senior managers of restaurant and galley operations. 

I'm sure that the guests aboard the newest Princess luxury cruise ship have no idea how hard and how long the crew members from Indonesian, Indian, and the Philippines work.

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

NCL Stewards Required to Make 70 Beds & Clean 35 Cabins in 4 Hours, But Appellate Court Rejects Penalty Wage Claims

"Freestyle cruising." Carefree and fun? Maybe for the NCL cruise passengers. But hardly for the crew.

After reading this decision, I'll never think of "Freestyle cruising" as anything less than an abusive work system for the stewards on NCL cruise ships.  

The case I am referring to is the opinion released yesterday by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal: Wallace et al. v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., Docket No. 1:09-CV-21814-FAM.

The case involves senior cabin stewards who worked aboard NCL cruise ships. They filed suit under the Seaman's Wage Act, 46 U.S.C. 10313, alleging that NCL did not pay them their full wages because their compensation did not take into account the money they were required to pay their helpers to NCL Freestyle Cruisingcomplete their work on embarkation days.

The federal district court found that additional wages were owed, but refused to award "penalty wages" under the Act. "Penalty wages" are owed in the amount of 2 days’ wages for each day payment is delayed. Once the delay or non-payment is proved by the seafarer, then the burden shifts to the cruise line to prove that the delay or non-payment was justified. On appeal, the federal appellate court affirmed the decision and concluded that there was no evidence of willful or arbitrary misconduct by NCL.

The appellate court's opinion, which is here, is worth reading.

In a nutshell, the appellate court affirmed the district court's conclusion that NCL didn't realize that a single senior cabin steward would be unable to clean 30 to 35 cabin and change and make 70 to 75 cabins in a few hours. It's hard to understand how a court could be so naive. Of course, cabin attendants need assistance in doing all of this work in just around 4 hours.  Although the courts rejected the penalty wage claims, it's still interesting to read the opinion to consider the difficulty and pressure of the work by stewards on NCL ships:     

"A passenger’s time spent on a cruise ship is typically very relaxing, at least until it is time to disembark. In this case, the defendant-appellee NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., (“NCL”) decided to make that last day of the voyage less stressful for its customers. To accomplish this goal, NCL implemented a new policy, called “Freestyle” cruising, which permits passengers to stay aboard for a longer time after the ship has docked on the last day of their voyage. Passengers, who would normally disembark very early, are allowed to stay on board until as late as 10:30 a.m. That is the good news.

The bad news, at least for the NCL employees who worked as senior stateroom stewards aboard the cruise ships, is that on that same day, while one group of passengers is leisurely disembarking, another group of passengers is eager to board and begin their cruise ship experience. Due to the arrival of these new passengers, NCL required the senior stateroom stewards to have all of the cabins cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This made it much more difficult for the senior stewards to timely complete their work. That is, although they began their work shifts at 7:00 a.m., for the most part, they were unable to begin cleaning the cabins until as late as 10:30 a.m. because the departing group of passengers was still enjoying their Freestyle cruise. This in turn allowed scant time to complete the assigned cleaning work by 2:00 p.m. In light of the substantial workload and the shortened time frame within which to complete it, most of the senior stewards adopted the practice of hiring helpers (out of their own pocket) to assist them in completing their work on embarkation day.

                                                       *                       *                     *

On embarkation day (the day a cruise ends, passengers disembark, and new passengers board), senior stewards had to clean between 30 and 35 cabins (although there was some dispute over how many beds 30 to 35 cabins contained, senior stewards had to strip and make at least 70 beds) before new passengers arrived. On these days, their responsibilities included: (1) stripping the beds of linens and sheets; (2) separating the linens and sheets; (3) making the beds; (4) dusting the cabins; (5) sanitizing the cabin’s handrails, door handles, closet doors, frequently touched areas, and telephones; (6) cleaning any used coffee pots and ice buckets; (7) separating the garbage into bottles, cans, paper, and plastic; (8) taking garbage to the incinerator; and (9) vacuuming the cabin and hallways. NCL had rigorous standards that required “immaculate” cabins and a quality control system to randomly check for cleanliness.

In 2000, NCL implemented its Freestyle cruising policy, which permitted passengers to stay on board later on embarkation day. This policy was designed to maximize relaxation for passengers. Prior to this time, NCL required passengers to disembark by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. With Freestyle cruising, passengers could stay as long (or almost as long) as they wished. The senior stewards technically started their work at 7:00 a.m. on embarkation day, but under the Freestyle cruise system, passengers would leave their cabins much later. Indeed, few passengers would leave before 8:30 a.m., and most passengers did not disembark until 9:30 or 10:30 a.m. Because new passengers would venture to their rooms soon after boarding, NCL required that all cabins be cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This caused problems for NCL senior stewards on embarkation day. One NCL supervisor noted that with the Freestyle “concept we also advertise relax[ing] debark[ation] which puts another stress” on embarkation day.

Although junior stewards worked alongside the senior stewards, they offered little or no help, and in fact had their own separate work responsibilities. The senior stewards therefore had to complete a substantial workload in a shortened timeframe. And, if they failed to finish their assignments or rushed their work, they faced a quality control process that could lead to verbal and written reprimands. Thus, the senior stewards had to hire helpers to complete their duties on embarkation day."

Cruise Passengers: Do You Really Complain About Your Cruise Vacations?

Crew Member Rights - Cruise ShipOur law firm receives anywhere from a dozen to several dozen e-mails a day from people complaining about every imaginable problem on the high seas. 

We divide the complaints into two general categories - complaints by passengers and complaints by crew members.

Cruise passengers complain about all types of things, like the food was bad, they missed a port of call because of bad weather, the cabins next to them were too loud, the service was bad, or they object to automatic gratuities being deducted from their accounts.  It drives me crazy. 

Yes, there are legitimate complaints too, like being seriously injured or being a victim of a crime during a cruise. But the petty "I-was-inconvenienced-and-I-want-a-free-cruise" complainers out number the legitimately injured by 10 to 1.

Crew members, on the other hand, are a different breed. They are inconvenienced every day. That goes without saying. Long hours, low pay, shrinking tips and having to deal with whiny guests are just a normal day at sea.  Who are they going to complain to anyway? There are no true unions. There are no legitimate maritime oversight bodies that can do anything. And if they complain about the hard work or excessive hours or minimal pay to their supervisors, they are likely to be fired.

And the true seafarers working on tankers, bulk carriers and large freighters?  They are the bravest of the brave. Subject to the hazards of the sea, the largely Indian and Filipino seafarers are the backbone of the maritime community.

So when you come home from a cruise vacation and are about to write a harsh review to Cruise Critic and bitch & whine about the crew members, keep in mind that your worst cruise is probably better than the best day a crew member may experience on the same ship.           

Video Credit: Seafarers Facebook page

  

Celebrity Cruises Hit with $2,500,000 Verdict

A blog discussing Goa India, and Miami's Daily Business Review, are reporting on a significant verdict that was recently reached against Miami-based Celebrity Cruises. 

The jury verdict involves a Celebrity crew member, Vincente Fernandes, from Goa, India. Back in September 2009, Mr. Fernandes was an assistant stateroom attendant on a Celebrity cruise ship. He alleges that there were shortages of sheets and towels for passenger cabins on the cruise ship. Cabin attendants had to compete to obtain them.

When Mr. Fernandes requested linens & towels to assist in preparing the passenger cabins, the linen keeper verbally abused him and then physically assaulted him. Fernandes was just 5 feet, 4 inches in height and weighed just 140 pounds. The linen manager who attacked him? He was twice Fernandes' size - 6 feet, 6 inches and weighed 280 pounds. Fernandes suffered a badly fractured leg which required surgery with the insertion of plates and screws.  

Celebrity flew Mr. Fernandes back home to Goa, India after the surgery. Celebrity paid no compensation to Fernandes and did not timely pay monies for the injured crew member's food and lodging, medical care, therapy or medication. Mr. Fernandes's lead trial lawyer, Ervin A. Gonzalez of the Colson Hicks law firm, assisted by Christopher Drury and Tonya Meister, argued that Fernandes suffered a deformed leg which will need several additional operations, including a knee replacement. 

The trial addressed only the issue of compensation. The trial court, the Honorable David Miller, struck the cruise line's defenses for pre-trial discovery violations. 

The cruise line was defended by David Horr and Eddie Hernandez of the Horr, Novak & Skipp law firm.

The jury awarded a total of slightly over $2,496,000 in damages, consisting of $1,750,000 in pain and suffering & mental anguish, $350,625 for medical expenses, and $395,400 for lost wages and loss of earning capacity.

Mr. Fernandes counsel, Ervin Gonzalez, summed the case up as follows: 

"Celebrity pounded Mr. Fernandes, a five foot four and 140 pound cabin steward, to a pulp, through its employee, a six foot six 280 pound assistant linen manager brute. As a result, Mr. Fernandez's leg was shattered. His knee was destroyed and will need to be replaced in ten years. The 2.5 million dollar verdict cannot replace his knee and make him healthy but it will at least help him find economic stability. Without the civil justice system, Mr. Fernandes would be broken, financially devastated and discarded."

Romanian Crew Member Seriously Injured on Carnival Dream

A newspaper in Romania reports on injuries suffered by a crew member from Romania who was seriously burned while working on the Carnival Dream cruise ship.    

The accident occurred on June 20th after the Dream departed from Port Canaveral in a 7 day cruise. The Romanian crew member is 35 years old.  

The crew member suffered severe burns to the face, hands, chest and legs and requires extensive medical care. These major burns were caused by a blast of steam from a hot water pipe that ruptured. Carnival Dream Cruise Ship The crew member's condition was so serious that the cruise ship diverted to San Juan in order to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. The victim was transported to the hospital in San Juan and, later, to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Jackson has one of the best trauma centers in the world.

The Romanian newspaper states that no one from Carnival came to see the burned crew member at the hospital in Miami, even though the cruise line is headquartered here, according to the injured crew member's girlfriend. 

Carnival Cruise Line requires most crew members to resolve their legal claims through an arbitration process outside of the U.S. and often applying laws from foreign countries, even thought Carnival is based in Miami and the cruise ship was based in a port in Florida. 

There are videos of the Coast Guard medevac on YouTube.  The video below explains that the incident happened while the Carnival cruise ship was heading back to the United States "from St. Maarten, St. Thomas and the Bahamas."

"A crew member was severely burned and in need of immediate medical care. The night before the hot water stopped working, about 3 hrs later the hot water was fixed, but the morning after they told everyone a crew member was in hurt and in need for a doctor. The captain of our ship made the decision to change our course and head to Puerto Rico to meet with a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter for a medical evacuation . . . Please pray for the injured man and his family as he goes through the painful and dangerous recovery from his burns . . ." 

 

 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Kuloskulos

Video Credit: YouTube / SuperDonovan911

Day of the Seafarer? Cruise Lines Increase Responsibilities & Hours of Officers But Decrease Pay

Day of the Seafarer 2013 - Royal Caribbean CruiseToday is the "Day of the Mariner."  According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), today is the day to recognize the dedication and hard work of seafarers in the shipping industry.  

Most of the focus of this blog over the years has been on the frequent abuse of the lower rank crew members, like the cruise ship cleaners, cabin attendants, and waiters. However, it's just not the crew who are being abused. There has been an increasing trend in the cruise industry to overwork and mistreat the professional mariners / deck officers who work aboard the major cruise lines.

Every single cruise ship relies on highly trained, professional and knowledgeable marine officers to safely run the ship's operations.  The safety of the passengers & and the security of the ship depend on the officers' flawless execution of navigation duties 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the cruise industry, safety can be achieved only by highly skilled officers who are well rested and physically and psychologically fit for duty.

But there has been a trend in the last few years to increase the work load of the ship's officers while substantially decreasing their pay. Some officers face a 50% reduction in their pay.  If they complain, the cruise lines are quick to terminate their employment and replace them with less qualified or experienced mariners.  

One cruise line for example, Royal Caribbean, has progressively deteriorated the working conditions, physical and mental fitness and morale of its marine officers in the last 5 years. The work load of the officers has risen to the point where officers work well in excess of the hour limitations recommended by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The officers are required to work up to and in excess of 14 hours per day every day, which is the standard 8 hours of watch that is expected for watch keepers and 6 hours of "overtime" work for "secondary" duties.

Would you fly in an airplane knowing that the pilots responsible for the flight had been working 14 hours or more a day for the past 8 weeks?

Royal Caribbean has progressively downsized its marine / deck departments over the years. The secondary work loads (deck maintenance, lifesaving, navigation) used to be spread out between multiple officers and a dedicated chief officer for maintenance and a dedicated safety officer for safety training. These roles have now been combined into fewer and fewer officers while the cruise ships get bigger and bigger.

Royal Caribbean has now increased contract lengths by an extra 4 weeks for these over-tired, over-worked, under-paid officers. The cruise line seems to consider the officers "disposable" if they try and bring up the topic of excessive work loads. The company can fire highly experienced and loyal officers with impunity. 

There are also rumblings in the ranks of Royal Caribbean that the cruise line has steadily focused on hiring officers of less professional competency. The replacements are increasingly coming from countries where you can buy a license. Some officers from these countries cannot speak English, and they do not fully understand and were never really trained on the proper operations of the complex bridge systems on today's modern ships,

Royal Caribbean - Money - ProfitThere is no question that the cruise lines are pushing their crew and their ships harder and harder.

The cruise industry is placing unreasonable demands on professional seafarers as well. At the same time, the cruise lines are inserting one-sided arbitration clauses in the seafarer's employment contracts which strip the officers of their rights under U.S. law and permit the cruise lines to get away with dangerous conditions and work practices. It is no coincidence that there are more and more cruise mishaps reported in the news.

If its really the "Day of the Seafarer," it's important for the world to understand that the cruise lines are raking in the cash at the expense of crew members and officers alike. Cruise executives are getting richer and richer while the seafarers we salute today are working increasingly longer hours for less pay with fewer rights. 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page

Legal Rights of Crew Members Injured on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships

Royal Caribbean Crew Member When injured Royal Caribbean crew members contact us, there are a few things that they usually say:

"The ship doctor would not take me seriously and just gave me Ibuprofen;"

"My supervisor told me that if I didn't want to work I would be sent home;"

"The company would not send me to a doctor in the Miami but sent me to Nassau instead;"

"The ship doctor would not authorize a MRI;"

"The company sent me home and I have no money;"

"The company sent me home and no medical treatment is arranged;" 

"I called my medical case manager and she didn't call me back;" and

"I emailed my medical case manager and she didn't email me back."

One of the problems which Royal Caribbean crew members face is that they are required to work excessive hours (12 hours or more) seven days a week all month long. Repetitive injuries to their back, neck and wrists are common. Complicating matters is that there is constant pressure to keep working. Stateroom attendants have to clean the 20 or so cabins assigned to them each and every day; a negative comment from a guest may be the kiss of death and result in a 10 year cabin attendant finding herself summarily dismissed from the cruise ship.  

The next problem is that there is very little actual diagnosis of crew members injuries taking place on cruise ships. Rather the focus is on giving pain relievers to the injured crew which just masks the problem and can result in the injury becoming worse.  Many crew members tell us that ship infirmaries Royal Caribbean Crew Member have baskets of Ibuprofen pills out at the nurse's station, not unlike a bowl of candy to eat.

And when the crew member can no longer work and gets sent home? In most cases, the cruise line has not scheduled any medical treatment. Nor has the company provided a check for the crew member's sick wages or living expenses.  

The crew medical personnel in the company's offices in Miami are understaffed. A single medical case manager may be required to handle over 150 crew member cases.  If you are a sick or injured Royal Caribbean crew member and feel that the company isn't paying attention to you, that's because it isn't.

Under the U.S. maritime law, cruise lines are required to provide you with prompt and adequate medical care on the cruise ship. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean also have to provide full and complete "maintenance and cure" when a crew member is home on medical leave.

Over the last decade we have represented RCCL crew members from around the world. We are currently representing cleaners, waiters, assistant waiters, cooks, and cabin attendants from Jamaica, India, Guyana, Nicaragua, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Canada, Mexico, Trinidad, St. Vincent, Peru and other countries.

If you were injured on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean (or sister company Celebrity Cruises) due to an accident, over-work or bad medical care, and are frustrated by the way the cruise line is treating you - don't suffer alone.  We will be pleased to help you.

We will explain your rights and answer any questions you have.

Email me at jim@cruiselaw.com or call our office at 305 995 5300.

 

Photo Credit - Jim Walker with clients:

Top: RCCL cabin attendant from St. Vincent in Miami for medical treatment

Bottom: RCCL cook injured in galley / photo taken in front of Allure of the Seas in Jamaica

Filipino Labor Board Punishes Burned Crew Member

Several years ago, U.S. based cruise lines began insisting that injured crew members seeking compensation for their injuries must pursue their claims through arbitration in foreign countries.

Companies like Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean started moving to dismiss lawsuits filed here in Miami, arguing that seriously injured crew members are not entitled to jury trials in the U.S. but must file arbitration claims in either their home countries or where the cruise ships are flagged.

The cruise industry's lawyers understood perfectly well that many of these foreign countries, like the Philippines, Bermuda or Panama, had virtually no laws that provided compensation to their employees NCL Norway Explosion or the existing compensation scheme was a pittance.          

In 2003, the NCL Norway blew up at the port of Miami (photo right).  Eight Filipinos were scalded to death. Many other crew members were seriously burned in the explosion.

NCL responded to lawsuits filed by the dead men's surviving wives and children by moving to dismiss the cases and arguing that the grieving family members could not file suit here in Miami, where the explosion took place and NCL was headquartered. Instead, the only claims permitted were in a non-jury arbitration process in Manila where the damages for wrongful death were limited to around $50,000.

NCL won its motions and paid very small amounts to the families, even though the 45-year-old Norway cruise ship was in deplorable condition. You can read our analysis here

Since then, most of the cruise lines have drafted onerous terms and conditions in the crew member's employment contracts which prohibit lawsuits to be filed in the U.S. and limit recovery to the smallest imaginable amounts for serious injuries even in cases where the cruise line is grossly negligent.    

A recent case illustrated just how unfair the arbitration process is.   

Filipino crew member Lito Asignacion worked as a senior engine fitter on board the vessel M/V Rickmers Dalian (flagged in the Marshall Islands) for Global Management Limited.

Rickmers Dalian AccidentIn October 2010, while the ship was in the port of New Orleans alongside of 7th Street Wharf, crew member Asignacion sustained serious burns of his abdomen and legs when scalding water overflowed a tank. The crew member underwent extensive and painful medical treatment in the burn units of West Jefferson Medical Center and Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Louisiana, U.S.A.

Asignacion was treated and underwent skin grafting burns of 35% of his body.

He thereafter was returned to the Philippines where he continued undergoing medical treatment at a number of hospitals and with a number of doctors who performed plastic surgery. He is now unemployed, disabled and scarred for life.

Asignacion filed suit in state court in Jefferson Parish where the accident occurred, but his case was dismissed and he was ordered to proceed with arbitration in the Philippines.

The shipping company argued that the case was controlled totally by Philippine law and Asignacion had no rights whatsoever under U.S. law.  The company argued that under the Philippines Overseas Employment agreement (POEA), the crew member suffered a grade 14 disability which would entitle him to only 3.74% of USD $50,000 or a total award of $1,870.00 (US).

The Filipino Labor Board agreed and awarded Asignacion just $1,870.

Crew Member BurnThe labor board made a point of stating that the shipping had offered the burned crew member $25,000 “out of compassion and generosity," implying that he had foolishly rejected the "generous" offer.  The opinion reads and sounds vindictive.

The labor board also cited language from a prior decision that compensation for serious injured Filipino seafarers is low because they ere perceived as crew members "who complain too much.”  

The award is a disgrace.  The process is the result of a kangaroo court.

This is how shipping companies and cruise lines doing business in the U.S. treat their crew members from the Philippines and other countries outside of the U.S.

 

The case name is Lito M. Asignacion, Complainant, vs Rickmers Marine Agency Philippine, Inc.,Global Management Limited, and Navis Maritime Services, Ind., Respondents. AC-305-NCMB-NCR-100-07-11-12.  If you would like a copy of the decision, please contact me: jim@cruiselaw.com. 

Republic of the Philippines, Department of Labor and Employment, National Conciliation and Mediation Board, National Capital Region, Intramuros Manila. The award was by: 

Jesus S. Silo - Chairman.

Leonardo B. Saulog - Member.

Gregorio C. Blares, Jr. - Member.

 

Photo Credit: Rickmers Dalian

The 6 A.M. Knock

Like any employee, crew members are not immune from being terminated. But termination on a cruise ship is a bit different from being fired at a regular job. It's like being fired and kicked out of your apartment all at once.

Better known as the "6 AM knock," crew members wake up to the ship’s security officers, banging at their cabin door, and delivering the news that the crew member must leave the vessel immediately.

Within about an hour, the terminated crew member must gather all of his or her personal belongings, hand in the ship cards, pay-off any shipboard debts, and walk off the gangway.  In most cases the crew Crew Member Rights - Cruise Shipsmember is are not given any explanation as to why she is being instructed to leave. A meeting is not set up with their superiors or the captain discussing the grounds for termination. Worst of all, the fired crew member doesn’t even know what legal rights she has in this kind of situation (that’s assuming there are any rights at all).

Typically once a crew member “rocks the boat," the cruise line finds a way to dispose of the problem immediately. All it really takes is aggravating the right people or protesting unfair treatment. Alcohol and drug tests are a good tool cruise lines use to make a case to fire a crew member. Most cruise lines have an alcohol and drug policy that allows them to conduct random tests. Security knocks on the crew member’s door, and hands the employee a little plastic bottle for urine testing.  

This is all done while the security officers wait outside the bathroom located in the crew member’s cabin. If this isn’t invasive enough, the bathroom door must remain open just a crack to ensure that the crew member doesn’t taint the sample. Can you feel the trust?

Interestingly, the results of these tests are never given to the crew member. It is not even clear where the sample goes once handed to the security officers. It is important to point out that I am writing from personal experience here. I have also spoken to several other crew members who were terminated and their stories are pretty much on par with my experience.

On any given night a hundred crew members could fail such a test, but the tests are often reserved for those who are vocal in criticizing procedures or who complain about sexual harassment or unlawful conduct.

What happens once the crew member walks off the gangway? Cruise lines tend to terminate a crew Crew Gangway - Cruise Shipsmember when the ship is docked in a non-U.S. port. Although the flight is arranged and paid for by the cruise line, the crew member is rushed off the ship and sometimes has to board the flight in less than 2 hours. Once the crew member is off the gangway, they are no longer the cruise line’s responsibility. If the crew member misses her flight, she has to pay out-of-pocket for a new ticket. 

Employment on cruise ships is considered "at will" employment, meaning at the will of the employer. There is a saying in the cruise industry that a crew member can be terminated for good cause, bad cause or no cause. Maritime legal rights are virtually non-existent when the crew member is terminated.

Cruise lines don’t like problems. They don’t want crew members who will “make waves.” As soon as a crew member is labeled as a “problem,” they can expect a knock on the door around 6:00 AM.    

 

Cruise Law Miami FloridaThis blog was written by Danielle Gauer who worked as a dancer for several years on cruise ships prior to embarking on her university studies. She is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and will be sitting for the Ontario, Canada Bar admission examinations this June. 

Prior to law school, Danielle (middle, with Jonathan Aronson left, and Jim Walker right) was the recipient of the Ryerson University Gold Medal and H.H. Kerr Memorial Scholarship for high academic standing.

You can read Danielle's prior guest blogs below:

So You Want to Dance on the High Seas?

Life Below Deck 4: What Passengers Don't Know & the Cruise Lines Won't Tell Them

Cruising, "Eh!" to Z! What Canadians Should Know Before Getting On-Board . . .
 

Royal Caribbean's New Tipping Policy: A Money Grab to Increase Profits?

Royal Caribbean Tipping PolicyRoyal Caribbean announced a new tipping policy.

Passengers will no longer be permitted to pay the "recommended gratuities" directly to the hard working stateroom attendants. Instead, the cruise line will automatically charge tips of $12 a day per person. The tips will be automatically added to the guest's account on a daily basis.

So who receives the tips?

The cruise line says that the tips will be shared by dining services staff, cabin attendants and other housekeeping personnel.  

But some crew members who have contacted our office say that this is a money grab by Royal Caribbean to pay them less. They earn only $50 a month from the cruise line. The rest comes from the guests. They believe that the cruise line is stealing their money. We have heard from many crew who have to clean over 20 cabins, bathrooms and balconies a day and see Royal Caribbean sending their tips back to the cruise line coffer's in Miami.

Two month sago, we asked whether this cruise line's tipping policy was just a scheme to steal the crew member's tips? Remember that this cruise line just suffered a $392,800,000 loss last quarter. It certainly has motivation to dip into the tip jar and steal money intended for its crew members.

Read: Are Crew Members Receiving the Tips You Pay? Watch Royal Caribbean's "Screw the Crew Scheme."Royal Caribbean Tipping Policy

February 20, 2013 Update: Royal Caribbean objected to the video, threatened the crew member who posted it, and was successful in taking the video down.  So much for freedom of speech.  Read our updated article "Screw the Crew" Video: Banned By Royal Caribbean & YouTube! 

  

So You Want to Dance on the High Seas?

We are happy to have Danielle Gauer here at our firm. Danielle has firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of the cruise industry performing as a dancer for several years prior to embarking on her university studies. She is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and will be sitting for the Ontario, Canada Bar admission examinations this June.

Prior to law school, Danielle was the recipient of the Ryerson University Gold Medal and H.H. Kerr Memorial Scholarship for high academic standing throughout her program of study (Criminal Justice and Criminology) and extensive participation in co-curricular activities. Danielle is very interested Danielle Gauerin pursuing a career in maritime law and is a strong advocate of crew member and cruise ship passenger rights!

It seems that things have really changed since my days of performing on the high seas. Yes, I was a dancer on board a number of different cruise lines prior to embarking on my current journey of becoming an attorney. Interning with Jim Walker and Lisa O’Neill I have made a number of interesting observations regarding working as a performer on board a cruise ship.

In general, getting a “land-based” gig as a dancer and/or singer in the US is a grueling process, and for a Canadian, being successful in the industry meant breaking into the U.S. market. The thought of being hired as a performer on a cruise ship was a way to work for a US company, with American performers, performing high quality shows. Back in 2002 when I was auditioning to work in the cruise industry, the majority of cruise ship production companies hired only American performers and it was very rare for them to stop in Canada on their audition tours. I remember calling one production company situated in California, asking them if they hired Canadians. Their response at the time, “we have never been asked that before!” When I was hired through PGT Entertainment, based out of Florida, to work on-board Radisson Seven Seas’ M/S Mariner, I was ecstatic. Arriving for rehearsals to find out I was the only Canadian in a cast that was 90% American was even more amazing. But it seems a lot has changed since then.

It seems from my observations and contacts with performers who are still sailing on the high seas that the number of American performers has declined significantly. Cruise ship entertainers are being recruited from countries from Eastern Europe and Russia. The question is, why such a drastic Danielle Gauerchange? The simple answer, high quality entertainment at a low cost!

Finding cheap labor has become more prevalent on cruise ships across most staff positions, and this includes on board performers. It has become an easy way for cruise companies to take advantage of foreign workers, who don’t expect the same salary or working conditions than a comparable performer from North America. This allows cruise ships to benefit from paying drastically reduced salaries, while also limiting liability and costs to maintain their overall workforce. And they do all of this while paying almost no taxes, by registering the company in foreign countries.

The issue goes much farther than simply salary. North American performers have a different expectation of what is acceptable practice and what is not. There is also usually no language barrier to overcome while working on a major cruise ship. But performers from Eastern Europe, for example, are less likely to know their rights, and also have the disadvantage of dealing with employers that operate in a different language.

Although the beautiful ports of call can be quite enticing, a declining quality in crew living arrangements, mandatory longer working hours, reduced benefits, and lower salaries, have enabled cruise companies to excel in taking advantage of recruiting non-American performers.

 

No Jury Trial For Seriously Injured Dancer Aboard HAL's Oosterdam

Courthouse News Service reports on a case involving a crew member from Canada who was employed aboard a Holland America Line (HAL) cruise ship.

The Canadian crew member, employed on the Oosterdam cruise ship as a dancer, suffered a serious career-ending injury, but is being denied the right to take his case before a jury.

Courthouse News states that the case involves Anthony Yuzwa who was a talented dancer. He graduated from the Canadian College of Performing Arts, worked for the Burlington School of Dance, Oosterdam Cruise Ship - Holland america Lineand appeared on Canadian television. While performing on the Oosterdam earlier this year, a stage lift collapsed and crushed Yuzwa's right foot, resulting in the amputation of two of his toes and parts of others.

He filed suit against HAL as well as a company which hired him to work aboard the cruise ship. Under the General Maritime Law of the U.S. and the Jones Act which was enacted in 1920, injured crew members - even if they are not U.S. citizens - are permitted to bring their legal disputes before U.S. juries and seek a wide range of remedies against their maritime employers and the owner and operator of the vessel. The cruise lines, however, have increasingly been inserting terms in the employment contracts requiring crew members to submit their claims to "arbitration."

Arbitration is a procedure which strips crew members of their right to trial by jury.  Cruise lines prefer arbitration because they believe that compensation awarded to injured crew members will be substantially less and the chances of defeating the crew member will be substantially greater. Arbitration also limits the ability of crew members to engage in discovery of the cruise line's wrongdoing.

The defendants in Yuzwa"s lawsuit responded by moving to dismiss his law suit, which you can read here, and compel him to arbitrate his case in Canada without a jury.  HAL subsequently stipulated that the arbitration could take place in Los Angeles with U.S. law applying but without a jury.

The U.S. federal judge agreed with HAL's argument and compelled Yuzwa to attend arbitration rather than a jury trial. You can read the judge's decision here.

Injured crew members should anticipate that most cruise lines will respond to lawsuits by arguing that the cases should be decided through arbitration.

Although the arbitration awards may generally be considered to be lower than what could be obtained during jury trials, it may be possible to obtain significant compensation for significant injuries. Our firm obtained the highest award in an arbitration case on behalf of an injured crew member.  Read: Walker & O'Neill Featured in Top Verdicts and Settlements" for $1,250,000 Verdict for Injured Crewmember Against Royal Caribbean

You can read about the issue of arbitration of crew member cases in these articles:

Arbitration of Cruise Line Crewmember Cases

Lindo v. NCL: Crewmembers Lose Rights As Harsh Cruise Arbitration Decisions Continue

 

Photo credit: Sebastian Wessels / Wikipedia

The Anonymous Client

Below is a photograph of a crew member client of the firm. We can't mention his name, or which country he lives in, or the cruise line that he worked for, or the cruise ship where he worked, or his job position, or whether he settled his case or, if so, the amount of the settlement, or anything else because the cruise line required him to sign a draconian confidential agreement which basically will result him in being banished to a gulag in Siberia if he talks about why he hired our firm and how things turned out.

Gag agreements are an unpleasant part of the law business.  Large corporations like cruise lines often insist on them.  We rarely agree to them because doing so would perpetuate the secrecy and cover ups that many of the cruise lines are known for.  But sometimes, our clients will agree to confidentiality to move on with their lives.

This was one of those cases. 

So all we can do at this point is just post a photo of him (in the middle) with our lawyers here in Miami.

The anonymous client we will call him.

Is that a smile on his face?

Anonymous Client - Cruise Ship Law

Assault With Knife Lands Royal Caribbean Crew Member in Jail

A Royal Caribbean galley worker who attacked a supervisor in May of this year on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge William Martini sentenced Donny Martin Crisanto, age 31, of Nicaragua, during a court appearance in Newark, New Jersey. 

Cristano had previously pleaded guilty to assaulting the supervisor on May 4 while working in the galley of Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas cruise ship which sails out of Bayonne, N.J. to Bermuda and the Bahamas. 

Donny Crisanto - Royal Caribbean Crew MemberThe U.S. Attorney's Office released the following statement:

A Nicaraguan national who admitted to stabbing his supervisor aboard a cruise ship in international waters was sentenced today to 12 months and one day in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Donny Martin Crisanto, 31, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini to an Information charging him with knowingly and intentionally assaulting another with a dangerous weapon, with intent to do bodily harm, within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Judge Martini imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements in court:

On May 4, 2012, Crisanto was working as a galley utility employee aboard the Royal Caribbean International, Explorer of the Seas cruise ship, which was operating within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Crisanto was inside the ship kitchen, when he assaulted his supervisor, identified only by the initials “M.S.,” the head kitchen steward, with a dangerous weapon. After an earlier work dispute Crisanto approached M.S. from behind and, not acting in self-defense, Crisanto struck M.S. in the forehead and shoulder with a knife.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Martini sentenced Crisanto to one year of supervised release.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, in Newark, and Royal Caribbean, Explorer of the Seas ship security officers, with the investigation that resulted in the sentence. 

Cruise Law to Visit Jamaica in December

Jamaica No Problem RoomThe lawyers here at Cruise Law are traveling again to Jamaica. We will be visiting our clients to see how they are doing. We will also make ourselves available to meet with any crew members (or their family members) who need to learn about the legal rights of cruise ship employees if they become ill or injured on cruise ships. 

Our team will be traveling to Montego Bay on Tuesday December 11, 2012 and will be available from December 11th through December 13th for consultation.  

On Wednesday December 12th from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, we will be hosting a conference at the "Jamaica No Problem Room" in the beautiful Hibiscus Lodge in Ocho Rio. If you live in Ocho Rios or the Montego Bay area you of course know where that is. But if you don't, the address is 83 Main Street in Ocho Rios.

My partner Lisa O'Neill and co-counsel Jonathan Aronson will be will me.

The photo above was from our last visit to the famous "No Problem Room." We met a number of cruise ship employees from Jamaica whose problems we helped solve this year.

In the last two years, we have obtained over $3,000,000 (US $) in compensation and medical benefits for injured and ill Jamaican crew members. 

If the company has been unfair to you after you were injured on the cruise ship, or if you have medical problems like hypertension, diabetes. cancer or other illnesses which require treatment, please don't hesitate to contact us.

The flyer below has been posted on our facebook page.  We hope to see you in the "No Problem Room" in two weeks.   

Jamaican Crew Members - Miami Lawyers

Guest Blog - "A Fresh Perspective"

The following is a guest blog by fellow lawyer Charles Gourlis who works on cases with us against the cruise lines. Charlie is a bright, hard working fellow. We are glad to have him on our side.

First of all, let me extend a heartfelt thank you to Jim Walker for allowing me to guest blog on Cruise Law News. CLN is such an important resource for cruisers, crew members, the media, and the general public because it disseminates important stories about the cruise industry that often fly under the radar.

I’ve worked alongside Jim and his partners, Lisa O’Neill and Jonathan Aronson, a year-and-a-half and it still amazes me that some crew members receive such horrible medical care from the cruise lines. Some crew members receive adequate treatment, but many do not despite the maritime Charles Gourlis law's requirement that cruise lines treat their employees as if they were their own children. 

What amazes me most is that in the great majority of cases, the cruise lines seem to lose track of their own employees. They simply let their injured crew members “fall through the cracks.” Regardless of whether the cruise line's medical departments are simply overwhelmed and need to hire more personnel to correct the problem, it is a fact that many injured crew members do not receive the prompt, adequate, and complete medical care that they need and are entitled to under the law.

It seems like the case that the cruise lines’ neglect of their injured crew members is rarely benign. I’ve witnessed crew member horror stories that are not reported on CLN which appear nothing less than malicious in nature.

Crew members from Jamaica, Honduras, India, and other nations sign on to work for the cruise lines because they hope for a better life. They sign up for the chance to better their lives, travel the world, and expand their horizons. None of them expect to get injured. I would venture to say that none of them expect to be abandoned back at home if and when they do become injured.

Crew members place their trust in unseen corporate suits half a world away and hope for the best. When they arrive in our offices with broken backs or out-of-control hypertensive, they all say the same thing: How can the "Company" abandon me after I have worked so hard and for so long? Doesn't the Company care?

This reaction is understandable given the backgrounds of most crew members we represent. Most come from societies where a person’s word is their bond.  Most injured crew members don’t want to sue their employers; they just want to get healthy again.

Crew members generally idolize the “Company” in a way that most Americans can’t relate to. They sue only as a last resort. Which begs the question: given the reserve of goodwill built up in most crew members, why is it so difficult for the cruise lines to provide crew members with prompt, adequate, and complete medical care?

I would not have a job if the cruise lines treated their employees in the same way that they want to be treated. From what I have seen so far, it looks like I will be handling cases against cruise lines for a long time.

I'll continue to guest blog from time to time when work permits. Please leave your comments and questions below. I’ll be happy to respond.

What Happened to Royal Caribbean Crew Member Rossario Rodrigues From the Serenade of the Seas?

Rossario Shaggy Rodrigues - Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Serenade of the SeasEarlier this month we wrote about a Royal Caribbean crew member disappearing from the Serenade of the Seas.  Our article - Another Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas - was widely read.  We also posted the article on facebook and received many, many comments.

We also posted additional information on facebook asking whether Royal Caribbean is pushing its crew members to the brink?  

Several hundred thousands of people read these posts.

In response, we received information that the missing Royal Caribbean crew member is a young man from Goa, India named Rossario Rodrigues. He is single with a brother working on a different cruise line. His mother provided a photograph of her son (above left).

What happened to Mr. Rodrigues?

Why did he go overboard?

Why was he the second crew members to "disappear" from the Serenade of the Seas in three weeks?

A photograph from his facebook page shows him full of life sitting on a motorcycle, undoubtedly not his own but in his dreams no doubt.  Why would a young man with his whole life ahead of him somehow "disappear" with no explanation and no trace?

The cruise line is not saying.  His mother knows nothing other than her son is not returning to Goa. 

Rossario Shaggy Rodrigues - Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas Cruise ShipWe have been informed that Mr. Rodrigues had a dispute with his supervisor, which we cannot confirm.  But who can confirm anything when someone goes overboard in the middle of the night from a cruise ship?

This is the way that cruises lines want it. 

Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein reports that over 190 people have gone overboard from cruise ships in the last decade or so. Most are never found, and no real explanation is offered. Troubling statistics. Troubling attitude by the cruise lines.

Certainly someone knows something. If you do, please contact us. Leave a comment below, or comment on our facebook page, or contact me privately at my email address jim@cruiselaw.com. 

Don't let Mr. Rodriques be just another statistic.

Meningitis Kills MSC Orchestra Crew Member, Cruise Ship Cook Remains on Life Support

On October 8, 2012, we reported on four crew members aboard the MSC Orchestra who were sickened with meningitis

According to AFP in Rome, today one of the crew members, Ermandiasa Gede, age 32 from Indonesian, died of the infection nine days after being hospitalized.

Two of the other crew members, a 26-year-old Brazilian crew member and a 32-year-old Filipino, reportedly recovered. However, the fourth sick crew member, a 47-year-old Italian cook, remains on life support.

 

Is Royal Caribbean Working Its Crew Members to Death?

Two weeks ago a television program in the U.K., "Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck," revealed the harsh working conditions aboard cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises' subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. The difficult working conditions and low pay are almost unimaginable by U.S. standards: 12 plus hour days, 7 days a week, 30 days a month with no days off over the course of 6 to 10 month contacts, for as little as $550 a month for non-tip earning ship employees.

The result of such a grueling schedule is exhausted and demoralized crew members who are often isolated from their families whose birthdays and anniversaries they miss on a regular basis.  

The mental health and emotional well being of crew members is not a topic that is discussed in the U.S.

Few Americans seem concerned with the working conditions on cruise ships faced by citizens of the greater world community.  Most U.S. citizens respond to the exploitation of crew members from India or Jamaica with the rationalization that whatever pittance the "foreign" crew members are receiving for Missing Royal Caribbean Crew Membersworking 90 hour weeks is more than the workers can receive back home. "If they don't like the work, they can quit" is the common wisdom. No doubt many crew members are easily replaceable considering that a country like India has hundreds of millions of people unemployed.

A week before the "Cruises Undercover" program aired, a Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared from the Serenade of the Seas as it sailed to Italy. The incident was briefly mentioned in the Italian press, as well as in newspapers in Croatia and Spain. We mentioned it in our article "Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas," but no major media outlets in the U.S. was interested in covering the story.

For a U.S. based cruise industry whose mantra is the "safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority," there is little expression of such a sentiment when a crew member disappears at sea.

This weekend another Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared. While this is not uncommon as I will explain below, what is unusual is that the disappearance involved the the same Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Serenade of the Seas. This incident was briefly mentioned in an Italian newspaper but, again, no one in the U.S, mentioned it.  We reported on it on Saturday - "Another Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas." Now two days later, no one else in the U.S. has reported on the story.

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of the Serenade of the Seas on our facebook page and asked "why are so many crew members going overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships? A number of former crew members commented and the consensus seems to be that cruise employees are working harder than ever for less money,  One crew member said that working on a ship is "like going on a marathon before preparing yourself for it." Several former Royal Caribbean crew members left their thoughts which are worth reading. 

The concern that I have is that there are so many crew members employed by Royal Caribbean who have gone overboard. Were these employees overwhelmed by work and felt hopeless away from their families? There is great stress placed on the cleaners, cabin attendants and waiters by their supervisors and department heads as Royal Caribbean struggles to stay profitable. Consider that in the three years I have written this blog, the following crew members have gone missing from Royal Caribbean / Celebrity cruise ships:

December 2009 - Majesty of the Seas - crew member jumped.

December 2009 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member jumped.

March 20102 - Radiance of the Seas - crew member jumped.

May 2010 - Explorer of the Seas - crew member jumped.

May 2010 - Oasis of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

March 2011 - Grandeur of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

March 2011 - Constellation - crew member disappeared.

May 2011 - Eclipse - crew member jumped.

December 2011 - Summit - crew member jumped.

January 2012 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

September 2012 - Serenade of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

October 2012 - Serenade of the Seas -crew member disappeared.

The official investigation into these types of incidents lies with the flag state.  But countries like the Bahamas will never go onto a Royal Caribbean ship to investigate a crew death or disappearance and will never, ever criticize the cruise line.

An independent and objective investigation is needed to determine why crew members are going overboard from Royal Caribbean ships. If the cases involve suicides, an inquiry is needed to determine whether the long hours and low pay are contributing causes. There is no question that the crew members need greater rest and greater pay. 

If I ran a large business and one dozen of my employees ended their lives or just "disappeared," I would launch an investigation and get to the bottom of the problem.

But cruise line executives think differently.  None of this puts money in the cruise line's pockets. The crew are viewed as cogs in the machine. When they break, they are easily replaced. 

 

If you have thoughts about this issue or have information about any of these cases, please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our facebook page.  

Photograph: 24ORA.com

Crew Members Aboard MSC Orchestra Stricken With Meningitis

A newspaper in Italy is reporting that four crew members of the cruise ship MSC Orchestra have contracted bacterial meningitis. Two of the four crew members are considered to be in serious condition. They were all hospitalized once the cruise ship reached port yesterday.

According to this newspaper, one crew member is a 32 year old Indonesian who is currently in septic shock in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Livorno, Italy. He apparently worked in the engine room. A second crew member is a 47 year old Italian who works in the cruise ship's galley, who also is in the intensive care unit. Two other crew members include a Brazilian and a Filipino, whose conditions are Orchestra Cruise Shipdescribed as less serious. They are hospitalized in the hospital's infectious disease department. 

Other newspapers state that the serious cases involve an Indonesian, age 32, and a Filipino, age 30, both of whom worked in the engine room. 

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.  Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be fatal.  It is not common on cruise ships, although it has occurred on other cruise ships as this case illustrates.

All of the crew members were given prophylactic antibiotics, which were also offered to the passengers. The 2,800 dosages were described as an "unprecedented quantity over a period of time so limited."  The medicine consisted of an antibiotic tablet of 500 milligrams for adults and syrup for about 400 children who were on board. An epidemiological survey was also conducted among the crew members who in recent days have been most in contact with the hospitalized crew.

The Orchestra is continuing its cruise as planned and has meanwhile docked in France's Villafranche, with next stops including Valencia, Ibiza, Tunis, Catania and Naples.

 

Photo credit:  Wikipedia (Ömür Tanyel)

NCL Conducts Undercover Investigation on Itself - Will Royal Caribbean Do the Same?

Kevin Sheehan - NCL - Undercover BossRoyal Caribbean and its subsidiary, Celebrity Cruise, have been in a state of panic lately frantically trying to fend off bad publicity surrounding an expose' on crew member hours, wages and working conditions on the Eclipse which aired in the U.K.

The British television station sent two "undercover" reporters on to the cruise ship, one as a passenger and the other as an assistant waiter. They painted a grim image of work on the Celebrity cruise ship: long hours, grueling conditions and low pay.  

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity rallied their friends in the travel community to try and refute the harsh image of "ship life" which crew members face as portrayed by Channel 4 Dispatches program "Undercover Cruises - the Truth Below the Deck." At the end of the day, all the cruise lines accomplished was to bring more attention to the exploitation of crew members and to create the image that they had something to hide. 

But not all cruise lines have this type of knee-jerk reaction to undercover reporters.

An article today in Travel Weekly reveals that at least one cruise CEO would rather see first-hand what the crew members really face, rather than claim that there is a conspiracy every time a reporter goes undercover with a video camera.

Travel Weekly's article "Big Interview: Cruise Boss Kevin Sheehan Learns From Fife on Deck," states that Norwegian Cruise Lines' President Kevin Sheehan went undercover himself to experience first hand the working conditions which his ship employees face. He was filmed as part of the TV program "Undercover Boss." The article explains that the NCL cruise CEO spent one day as a deckhand, another Kevin Sheehan - NCL - Undercover Bossday cleaning cabins and toilets, and a day working in the galley.

I was impressed with this comment he made to Travel Weekly: 

“We made a lot of changes. For example, there was an ice skating rink at the top of Norwegian Epic that had to be set up every evening. There were hundreds of pieces, each weighing 70 lbs, and women crew members doing it. It was back-breaking work and a disaster in my view. We discontinued it.”

Not many cruise line presidents have the transparency to admit something like this.  

Much of the work on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ships is truly "back-breaking." But you will never see the CEO's from these cruise line admit it or do anything about it. They are too busy sitting in their executive offices protesting that undercover reporters are biased.   

Cruise Industry Friends Rally to Support Celebrity Cruises Following "Cruises Undercover" Investigation

Last night in Britain, Channel 4 Television's "Dispatches" program aired its undercover investigation, "Cruises Undercover," into the hours and working conditions on Celebrity Cruises' Eclipse cruise ship sailing out of Southampton. 

The Twitter feed for "#cruisesundercover" and comments to the Channel 4 website page seems to show the general public's disgust for the long hours and low pay revealed on the Celebrity cruise ship, which some are calling a "slave ship," while many in the travel industry are dismissing the program as biased. 

The usual cruise apologists have rushed to the industry's defense.

We have the perpetually-on-a-cruise expert regarding cruise ships and cruise holidays and blogger for the U.K. Mirror John Honeywell who writes that the investigation was "under-researched and underwhelming" but then again three days before the show aired he wrote "I will have to watch this, but . . . it will be a complete and utter waste of my time."  

Cruises Undercover - Cruise Ship InvestigationWe have my favorite shill for the cruise lines, Paul Motter, editor for CruiseMates, who assures us that although "there are a lot of ways of doing business in the third world, which is where most of these workers come from, that we in the U.S. may not understand," most of the crew members are "ecstatically happy with their jobs."  And those crew members complaining about working conditions? Mr. Motter assures us that the waiters are telling us "lies" wanting to get "money at the end of every cruise."  

Can you believe the nerve of these liars from third world countries who work over 12 hours a day and expect tips?       

And then we have the cruise industry cheerleader publication Travel Weekly who tells us that before the program aired Celebrity Cruises expected a “biased and unbalanced” investigation.

Nonetheless, Travel Weekly promises us that the cruise line "is taking immediate steps to investigate all of the allegations made by the undercover reporter" and if anyone "violated our procedures and requirements, or the European and international labour regulations to which we adhere to, then we will take swift and corrective actions."

Pray tell, what exactly are these wonderful sounding "European and international regulations" which apply to Indian citizens working on a Maltese flagged ship?  

If the actions of Carnival U.K. and P & O Cruises (which earlier this year terminated 150 Indian waiters who protested low wages and the withholding of tips), are any lesson, "swift and corrective action" is exactly what I would be worried about if I were a crew member complaining about what the Channel 4 investigation revealed last night.   

 

Chart Credit: Channel 4 Dispatches "Cruise Undercover"

Celebrity Cruises Crew Member Controversy Brewing in Britain

On Monday October 1st, the U.K.'s Channel 4 Dispatches television is airing a documentary about the working conditions aboard the Celebrity Cruises' Eclipse cruise ship which is now home ported in Southampton. 

The program is called "Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck."  Channel 4 describes the program as follows:

Almost two million Brits took a cruise last year. For many, it's the holiday of a lifetime with hard-earned savings going in to a dream adventure.

Tazeen Ahmad - Channel 4 Dispatches - Cruises UndercoverGlossy marketing films and brochures depict a cheerful workforce dedicated to making a cruise a five star experience.

Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate the reality of life below deck for the multi-national workforce who toil behind the scenes of glamorous ocean going holidays.

The cruise industry generates billions of pounds in revenue each year and working on a ship provides many people from around the world a much needed source of income.

However Dispatches reporter Tazeen Ahmad - traveling as a passenger on a European cruise - and an undercover reporter working as an assistant waiter discover working conditions below the legal minimum in the UK."

Celebrity Cruises has called upon its friends in the travel industry to launch a PR campaign to denounce the program even before its airs. One travel group responded to the battle call and said: "Dramatization of these documentaries does nothing to educate the public to the facts, but represents poor value TV entertainment  . . . "  (I can't wait to watch!)

Celebrity Cruises says "sadly, we are anticipating a biased and unbalanced programme about the labour and wage issues in the cruise industry."

Claiming that the documentary is biased or misleading is the usual cruise line game plan when Celebrity Cruises Eclipse  investigative reporters go on board Royal Caribbean / Celebrity cruise ships to take an undercover look at how cruise ships really operate. Earlier this year, Inside Edition went aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Liberty of the Seas, and filmed the excessive drinking which the cruise line encourages. The president of the cruise line protested that the program was "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." 

The treatment of crew members, particularly waiters, on cruise ships is shameful.  Some call huge cruise ships like this "floating sweatshops." The waiters work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 6 to 8 months straight. One of the more dramatic stories this year covered Carnival U.K. firing 150 waiters from India who worked aboard P & O Arcadia.

Carnival terminated the waiters' jobs after they protested for one hour about their tips being withheld. 

Its great that the media will shine light on the cruise industry's treatment of its employees.  Once the program airs, expect more howling protests by the cruise lines and travel agents.

The documentary will certainly depict the industry as being different than the Love Boat TV series.  

I'm hoping that my friends in the U.K. will copy the program and send me a disc . .  .  

 

Photo credit:  EPA via Daily Mirror 

Carnival Fires 150 Crew Members from India for Protesting Low Cruise Ship Wages

In May we reported on exploitative labor practices by Carnival subsidiary P&O Cruises.

In Profits Over People: Carnival's Exploitation of Crew Members is Standard Industry Practice, we explained how P&O  decided to pay its crewmembers a basic salary of 75 pence an hour (approximately $1.20 an hour / $400 a month). The company phased out cash-tips-directly-to-the-crew and replaced the tips with "automatic gratuities" billed to the passengers' accounts.  But rather than forward the gratuities to the crew, the cruise line threatened to withhold the money if it is not satisfied with a crewmember's work performances. 

Arcadia - Cruise Ship Wage - Tips Dispute - Waiters TerminatedToday the Guardian newspaper in London published an article which brings us to date regarding the pay dispute. In P&O Cruise Ship Arcadia Hits Troubled Waters Over Ousting of Indian Crew, reporter Gwyn Topham reports that 150 waiters from India decided to make a little protest over the low wages and withholding of tips.

While the Arcadia was in port in Seattle a month ago, for about 90 minutes the waiters engaged in a "good-humoured" demonstration dockside about the low wages. The cruise ship's British captain communicated with the cruise lines' head office in Southampton and relayed the crew's concerns. The waiters returned to the ship, worked late into the night, and were assured there would be no reprisals by management.  

But as the Guardian explains, P&O's parent company, Carnival, did not find any humor in the situation: "This protest could not, directors decided, be tolerated – no matter what assurances the captain had given the crew."

Carnival sent letters to the restaurant staff who participated in the 90 minutes protest, admonishing them for their "industrial action" and stating "this behaviour is not something Carnival UK is prepared to tolerate."  Not only did Carnival prohibit them from returning to work on the Arcadia but banished them from working on any Carnival cruise ship world-wide.

In addition, Carnival instructed the hiring agency, Fleet Maritime Service International, which is registered in Bermuda to avoid taxes and labor regulations, to prohibit the waiters from ever working for Fleet Marine as well. The Guardian explains that "the Fleet payroll office is in the tax haven of Guernsey. Yet the letter is signed by an Edward Jones, the chief financial officer of Carnival UK."

Indian Crew Members - Arcadia - Low Wages and No TipsFleet Maritime is the largest employer of cruise ship personnel in India, and Carnival runs half of the world cruise market.  So Carnival essentially "black balled" 150 cruise waiters from one-half of the world's cruise ships.

Indian cruise ship employees, like virtually all crew members, are not members of a union and work entirely at the mercy of the cruise company. Carnival has an eye out for any type of collective protests by the crew.  This is union-busting circa early 1900's.  As this case illustrates, Carnival will not hesitate to retaliate against their employees for speaking out about unfair labor practices.  According to the cruise executives, If Carnival doesn't punish these upstarts, other crew members may protest too.  

Lots of Indian men and women go to sea believing that if they work hard on cruise ships, they can make a good living for their family back home.  But the truth is something less than those dreams. It's really long hours, hard work, low pay and no benefits.  The newspaper quotes a spokesperson for a British seafarer's union: "It's a shabby, unacceptable practice to exploit cheap foreign labour  . . . "

Walker & O'Neill Featured in "Top Verdicts and Settlements" for $1,250,000 Verdict for Injured Crewmember Against Royal Caribbean

The Daily Business Review released "Top Verdicts & Settlements" for last year.  You can click on the digital version here.

We obtained the highest award in an admiralty / maritime case in Florida in 2011.  The case involved an injured crew member from Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas who the cruise line sent back to Serbia and then denied her appropriate medical care and treatment.

We flew our client to Miami and arranged for her to see a board certified orthopedic surgeon who recommended surgery.  Royal Caribbean sent her to a local "litigation doctor" who never testifies that injured crewmembers need surgery.

The three arbitrators ruled that the cruise line failed to provide our client with a safe place to work and was 100% negligent for causing her accident.

The arbitrators also found that Royal Caribbean refused to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to its injured cruise employee, and that its failure to authorize the necessary surgery "lacked any reasonable defense."

The arbitrators awarded our client $1,250,000, the highest amount in a crewmember case last year and the most ever in a cruise arbitration matter.      


Walker & O'Neill Settles Claim By Royal Caribbean Cabin Attendant

Walker & O'Neill recently settled a claim against Royal Caribbean Cruises on behalf of a seriously injured former crewmember, originally from St. Vincent in the West Indies.

The crewmember was employed as a stateroom attendant for a number of years. Stateroom attendants, also referred to as cabin attendants or cabin cleaners, are required to work long hours and are often assigned over 20 cabins to clean. They are responsible for cleaning the bathrooms, cabin interiors, and balconies on exterior cabins for all of the assigned guests, as well changing the linen and making the beds several times a day. The cruise line also presses them into carrying heavy luggage during embarkation days as well.

Royal Caribbean pays cabin attendants only $50 a month in salary.  The crewmembers are dependent on tips from passengers to make a living.Royal Caribbean Crew - Cabin Attendant - Maritime Lawyer   

The crewmember in question was injured on the Enchantment of the Seas while he was lifting a sofa to clean under it and experienced sharp pain in his lower back. He sought treatment from RCCL's on board medical team.

Unfortunately, the cruise line failed to provide prompt and adequate care and deemed him fit to continue working even though he was in immense pain.

Our firm flew the injured crewmember to Miami where we arranged for him to be evaluated by a board certified orthopedic doctor.  We were successful in reaching a settlement of his claim to compensate him for his injury and resulting pain and suffering, and to provide funds for medical treatment in the future.

Please keep in mind when you cruise on Royal Caribbean cruise ships that the cabin attendants work well in excess of 10 hours a days, 7 days a week. That's over 280 hours a month without a day's rest.

Tip them generously! 

 

Photo credit: Jim Walker (photo used with client's consent)

Injured Seaman Wins Award Against Maersk Lines in Miami

Today a jury here in Miami returned a significant award against a major shipping company, Maersk Lines. 

The case involved William Skye, a 57 year old Jones Act seaman (crewmember) from New Jersey, who worked for Maersk Lines Limited as a Chief Mate (the crewmember rank just under Master / Captain) aboard a Maersk container vessel called the Sealand Pride.

Mr. Skye was represented by Jason Margulies and Michael Winkleman, of the law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman, who I interviewed for this article. 

According to Mr. Margulies, "this case is, to our knowledge, a case of first impression that has never before been brought."

Maersk Sealand Pride Container Ship LawsuitMr. Skye alleged that he was assigned and required to perform so many duties in connection with his job as a Chief Mate for Maersk that, over a 4 year period of time, he was required to violate the work/rest hour laws that comprise the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping).

The STCW provides, in part, in 46 USC 8104(d), that "A licensed individual or seaman in the deck or engine department may not be required to work more than 8 hours in one day."; and in 46 CFR 15.1111 (a) "Each person assigned duty as officer in charge of a navigational or engineering watch, or duty as a rating forming part of a navigational or engineering watch, on board any vessel that operates beyond the Boundary Line shall receive a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period."

While there are some exceptions to the foregoing, the rest received may not be less than 70 hours in any 7 day period. Further, he must receive at least a 6 hour uninterrupted rest period daily.

As part of his required job duties, Mr. Skye alleged that he was required to stand two 4 hour watches a day, and then perform additional tasks of his approximately 28 additional job duties associated with his position as Chief Mate. On average, the Plaintiff alleges that he was required to work approximately 15.75 hours a day; violating both 46 USC 8104(d) and 46 CFR 15.1111.

As a result of his long working hours and inability to receive enough uninterrupted rest, Ms. Skye alleged that he was diagnosed with Left Ventricular Hypertrophy by his cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Wachspress, in June 2008.  This condition is a physical thickening of the left ventricular portion of the heart, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood and significantly increasing chances of a heart attack. Further, he Maersk - William Skye - Lawsuitwas diagnosed with an adjustment disorder by his psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold Goldman, in 2008. Both his cardiologist and psychiatrist related his injuries to his working conditions aboard the Sealand Pride and recommended that he retire early, at age 54, from working aboard ships. During his last year of work, he earned approximately $171,000 and received approximately $36,000 in fringe benefits (food, shelter, medical care, etc.)

Mr. Skye was also a licensed attorney. He went to law school in the 1980's and practiced for a short period of time thereafter, deciding to return to a life at sea thereafter. Although his doctors do not restrict his ability to earn a living as a lawyer,  because he has not practiced law since the 80's, he is currently finding it very difficult to earn any significant amount in his practice as a lawyer. Nevertheless, Plaintiff's vocational rehabilitation expert, Dr. Robert Lessne, testified that if he were able to find a job with a law firm as a lawyer, he could expect to earn approximately $69,000 based on his current level of expertise. Dr. Lessne further testified that William Skye's working life expectancy, from the point that he retired in 2008 was approximately 17 more years.

During trial, Plaintiff presented the testimony of two former Maersk employees, Michael McCright and Steven Krupa. Michael McCright was a former relief Chief Mate aboard Maersk ships and he testified as to the difficult job that chief mates working for Maersk faced and that it was impossible to do the job without working a significant amount of overtime, which was exhausting. Steven Krupa was a former fleet manager for Maersk and testified that ultimately Maersk was responsible for complying with the STCW laws but that Maersk did not affirmatively do anything to check that its crew members were able to complete their job duties and comply with the STCW work/rest hours.  Mr. Skye also presented the testimony of one of the Maersk captains under which he worked, Cpt. James Brennan, who testified that William Skye was a good and competent Chief Mate who would complain to him that complying with the STCW work/rest hours was difficult.

Maersk - Sealand PrideFurther, Mr. Skye introduced evidence that showed that Maersk actually budgeted 185% of the Chief Mate's base salary to overtime; far more than the overtime budget for any other position on the ship (by comparison Maersk's overtime budget for the Captain was 26% of his base salary).

Maersk was represented by defense attorneys, David Horr and Stephanie Wylie, who are two of the best lawyers defending shipping companies and cruise lines in Miami.They presented arguments that it was primarily Mr. Skye's responsibility as Chief Mate to make sure that the work/rest hours were complied with. Further, they argued that Mr. Skye failed to delegate tasks which would have made it feasible for him to comply with the work/rest hours and allowed him to obtain uninterrupted rest.

Additionally, Maersk argued that Mr. Skye's injury was caused by cardiac conditions which he began complaining of in 2000 and, as such, his filing of a lawsuit in May 2011 violated the applicable three year statute of limitations. Maersk also presented testimony from cardiologist, Dr. Theodore Feldman, who testified that the left ventricular hypertrophy did not preclude him from working aboard ships and was easily controlled with medication.  Maersk also presented testimony from maritime safety expert, Captain Douglas Torborg, who went through three and a half years of duty logs (work hour logs) regarding Mr. Skye and testified that, based on the exceptions to the work/rest hours of the STCW, the working hours did not constitute a violation of the laws.  Douglas Torborg admitted that he has billed Maersk's lawyers approximately $60,000 for his work in reaching those opinions. Lastly, Maersk argued that Mr. Skye had long planned to retire in 2008 before finding out about his hear condition. 

In the end, the jury did not find that there was statutory violations of the STCW laws. They did, however, find that Maersk was negligent and that its negligence was a legal cause of Mr. Skye's injuries.  As a result of such injuries, which were first able to be discovered by Mr. Skye in 2008, he was forced to retire 10 years early. They awarded $2,088,549.00 (present value) for those 10 years of lost wages.  The jury also found that Mr. Skye's non-economic damages totaled $273,750.00. They found Maersk 25% negligent and William Skye 75% comparatively negligent.

I asked Mr. Horr if he has a comment and we will  update this story if we receive additional comments from the defense side.

 

Photo credit:

Top: Ship Spotting  / © Magogman

Bottom: Global Security

Profits Over People: Carnival's Exploitation of Crew Members is Standard Industry Practice

A dozen newspapers in the U.K. have reported on P&O Cruises' decision to pay its crewmembers a basic salary of 75 pence an hour (around $1.20 an hour) which turns out to be approximately $400 a month. Cash tips are being phased out with automatic gratuities being added to the passengers' bills. But rather than forwarding the passengers tips to the crew, the cruise line has threatened to withhold tips if the crewmember's rating falls below 92 percent.

In grade school, a 92 is an "A-."  So if a waiter who works a minimum of 11-12 hours a day (330-360 hours a month) receives a 91 (a "B+"?), management will pocket the tips?  

The Guardian newspaper reports that P&O Cruises justifies the move claiming that it is actually "good" for the crewmembers because many tourists don't tip.  It quotes David Dingle, CEO of Carnival UK, in charge of P&O cruise lines, saying that the crew were allegedly "much happier" and P&O's pay scale is "standard for the industry."

Some passengers reported that many of the crewmembers on a P&O cruise ship, mostly Indians, were India - Impoverished Crew - Exploitationat the point of tears upon hearing the news.

Carnival U.K. CEO Dingle tells the Guardian that "we have a manning office in Mumbai. There are queues out on to the street."  Ah, the desperate lining up, praying that Mr. Dingle will bestow them with the opportunity to work 350 hours a month for $400.

This no reason to exploit people.  But it is a revealing insight into why Carnival and P&O exploit their employees. They can and therefore they will. 

The U.N. reports that over 410,000,000 people from India are living below the poverty level.

Dingle is also right about low pay being what he calls "standard for the industry."

Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the U.S. pay cleaners from Jamaica as little as $545 a month. They expect them to grind out 12 hours days for 6 to 8 months straight.  For a 31-day-month, that's 372 hours for $545, less than $1.50 an hour.  And when the crewmembers' bodies break, the cruise lines dump them back home without medical care and treatment. 

Corporate Watch has an interesting article which characterizes the low P&O pay as shameful.  Fares for the Carnival Legend range between $2,798 and $6,458 per passenger for a 12 day cruise around northern Europe. Yet, P&O workers would need to work for 500 days straight to pay for a cruise themselves, assuming that they did not spend a single penny of their wages.

Carnival Corporation has annual revenues of $15.8 billion in 2011 and profits of $2.2 billion.  Micky Arison is Florida's richest person with a net worth of many billions.  But Arison is no Gandhi.  You will find him counting his billions on his 200' super-yacht or on the front row of the AA arena in Miami watching his hundred million dollar super-star basketball players.  Trust me, he's not worried about Indian waiters getting their tips.   

I can't imagine working 350 hours a month for $400, hoping that the guests I slaved away for would reward me a score higher than a 92.  An "A" or no tip?  You would think that a company earning billions a year (tax free to boot) wouldn't jack up a crew member for $150 in tips. But there is no satisfying this type of corporate greed.   

But who cares?  There are many young Indian men in line at the hiring agency in Mumbai hoping to be the next one to be hired to work aboard a P&O cruise ship.  

100 Days After Costa Concordia, Indian Crewmember Russel Rebello Still Missing

Today is the 100 day anniversary of the Costa Concordia crash.

Things are back to normal for many people associated with the disaster. Carnival CEO Micky Arison is back to his front row seats at the American Airlines arena watching his professional basketball team, the Miami Heat.  Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi is scheduled to begin to enjoy his retirement in July, which the cruise line assures is because he is scheduled to retire at 65 and is unrelated to the Concordia disaster. 

But for some people there is nothing normal about their lives 100 days after the Concordia capsized. Russel Rebello - Costa ConcordiaThe family of Indian crew member Russel Rebello, one of two people on the Concordia still unaccounted for, remains waiting for their son to come home. 

NDTV explains that Mr. Rebello, a handsome, always smiling and popular waiter on the Costa Concordia, was one of the 32 victims on the night of January 13, 2012.  His brother Kevin has faithfully kept a vigil in Italy searching for information and clues regarding what happened to Russel. Yesterday, Kevin returned to Mumbai broke and broken-hearted. He had to face his distraught mother, Gladys Rebello, without returning with his brother.

While Costa CEO Foschi is looking forward to his "golden years" in wealth, luxury and with his family at age 65, Mrs. Rebello will spend her years bereaving the loss of her son Russel.

Read the NDTV article here

MSC Armonia Crewmember Dies, Passengers Hospitalized

MSC Armonia Cruise Ship - Dead Crewmember, Sick PassengersA reader of Cruise Law News in Brazil has informed us that a crewmember of the Armonia cruise ship, operated by MSC Cruises, died yesterday after being admitted to the hospital in serious condition.

A newspaper in Brazil (G1 in Sao Paulo) reports that a local woman, Fabiana Pasquarelli, age 30, was taken from the MSC cruise ship and was eventually admitted to the intensive care unit of Hospital Ana Costa.

The deceased crewmember worked as a waitress and was taken to the hospital on Wednesday with a fever and cough and was apparently diagnosed with pneumonia.  

There is also speculation that she may have died of swine flu.

Five other crewmembers are also sick and have been under observation in the hospital since Friday. 

The cruise line said that passengers are disembarking the cruise ship today and new passengers will board.

Fabiana Pasquarelli MSC Cruises ArmoniaIf you have information about this incident, please leave a message below.  

February 18, 2012 Update:  Passengers from the cruise ship have also been hospitalized in serious condition.

Another Brazilian newspaper, A Tribuna, has an account and reports that the diagnosis is unclear although it is the result of an infectious process.  

Ms. Pasquarelli died of an acute respiratory failure after being placed on a ventilator.  

February 19, 2012 Update:

A newspaper in Brazil states that seven people of the ten passengers and crew from the cruise ship were released from the hospital. Three remain hospitalized.  The hospital ran tests to determine the type of infection that caused the sickness.

Five crewmembers have contacted us, wishing to remain anonymous, complaining that Ms. Pasquarelli's medical treatment was delayed.  Read comments below.

February 21, 2012 Update:

A spokesperson for MSC left a comment below.

Also, a newspaper in Buenos Aires reports that heath authorities in Uruguay were on board the MSC cruise ship, which docked this morning at the main port in Montevideo after fears of a flu outbreak. The ship is expected to arrive to Buenos Aires tomorrow.  Osvaldo Fabacchi, the head of Port Administration in Montevideo, stated that “at present the cause of the crew member’s death has not been confirmed. The autopsy has yet to be carried out in order to determine and confirm the cause of death.”

Crew Member in Critical Condition in Hawaii

Newspapers in Hawaii are reporting today that a twenty-seven year cruise ship employee was pulled from the water at Kalapaki Beach this afternoon.

The local police are saying that bystanders brought the man to shore and administered CPR.  Paramedics later continued CPR after arriving on the scene, and transported the crew member to Wilcox Hospital, where he is listed in critical condition.

The crew member is from an unidentified cruise ship docked in Nawiliwili Harbor which is the major port for Kauai.  If you are familiar with this incident and know what cruise ship the crewmember is from please leave a comment below.  
 

 

Jury Hits Celebrity Cruises with $1,000,000 Verdict for Unnecessary Pacemaker Surgery

Yesterday, a jury in Miami returned a $1,000,000 verdict against a Miami based cruise line whose ship employee underwent an unnecessary surgery to insert a pacemaker which he did not need.

The case involves a Celebrity Cruises chef, Shalesh Buttoo, who experienced headaches and pain to his face while working on a Celebrity cruise ship.  Although only 31 years old and apparently in good health, a doctor in Santo Domingo inserted a pacemaker into the crewmember's chest.  The issues at trial focused on whether Mr. Buttoo needed such a surgery and, assuming he did, whether the surgery was properly performed.   

In 2009, the cruise line had flown Mr. Buttoo from Europe, where the Celebrity cruise ship was based, to Santo Domingo.  We wrote about the danger of sending injured or ill crewmembers to Santo Domingo in order to reduce medical expenses for crew back in November 2009.  You can Medical Treatment in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic?  read our thoughts here.  You can read another article we wrote here: Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft.

For those readers not up on international geography, Santo Domingo is in the Dominican Republic, adjacent to Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola. 

Mr. Buttoo testified at trial that the pacemaker caused him debilitating injuries and forced him to use a walker.  The pace maker not only medically unnecessary but was improperly placed and caused inflammation.  He eventually traveled to Miami for follow up medical care where cardiac surgeons removed the pacemaker.

The jury found the cruise line negligent in its care and treatment of its crewmember and returned a $1,000,000 verdict.  Cruise lines are vicariously liable for the bad medical treatment rendered to their crewmembers.

Mr. Butto's trial lawyer in Miami, Earvin Gonzalez, argued that Celebrity Cruises sent the ship employee to Santo Domingo to save money because the doctors in the Dominican Republic are much cheaper than in Europe or here in Miami where Celebrity Cruises is based.  Mr. Gonzalez commented on the verdict:

“I am pleased that the jury was able to appreciate the level of harm caused by Celebrity and awarded damages to compensate Mr. Buttoo for what he went through.  Although no amount of money will ever erase the horror of being implanted with a heart device he did not need, the amount awarded allowed Mr. Buttoo to feel that justice was served.  It is important for ship owners to recognize the need to provide their crew with quality health care and to listen to their needs, rather than taking a calloused and uncaring approach.  The crew is part of the Cruise line’s family and they should be treated like family members and not like indentured servants.”

Celebrity Cruises was represented by Jeffrey Foreman and Noah Silverman of the Miami firm Foreman Friedman.  They declined to respond to our request for a comment.

How to Hire a Miami Maritime Lawyer to Sue a Cruise Line

Each year 14,000,000 people (yes 14 million) will go on a cruise.  There are literally hundreds of passengers, as well as crewmembers, who will suffer a serious back injury or break their ankle, leg or hip after slipping and falling while cruising.  Once back home after the cruise, they find it difficult to think of hiring a lawyer who they have never met in order to sue a large corporation in a far-off location like Miami.

But the process of hiring a Miami maritime lawyer to bring a claim against a cruise line like Carnival or Royal Caribbean is simple.

Jim Walker - Miami Maritime LawyerOver 95 percent of our firm's clients live out side of Florida.  If you have a question about an accident on a cruise ship, send us an email.  You can reach me directly: jwalker@cruiselaw.com  

You will receive an answer to your email right away.  We will need answers to four issues: 

When did the accident occur?  Remember that you have only one year to file a lawsuit against a cruise line!  This is a much shorter period of time than most land based injuries.

Which cruise line and which cruise ship were involved?  The majority of the cases we handle are against Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines.  These cases have to be filed here in Miami.  Other cruise lines like Princess Cruises have to be filed in California.  Holland America Line, for example, has to be sued in Seattle.  If we can't help you, we will find someone who can.

What happened and why is the cruise line responsible?  Be prepared to tell us not only how the accident occurred but why you think that the cruise line is liable.     

What injuries did you sustain?   The nature and extent of your injuries are important issues in your case.  Have you undergone surgery?   What type of medical treatment will you need in the future?  Once you retain us, we will quickly obtain copies of all relevant medical records and reports. 

If you prefer to call us, we look forward to speaking with you. We have a toll free number (800) 256-1518.  You will probably initially speak with one of our assistants, like Jan or Betsy (photo right, with client), who will ask you a few questions about the basic information listed above.  I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

If you decide to hire us, we work on a contingency fee.  This means that we do not bill you or ask for a retainer.  We are paid only if we are successful and obtain a settlement or a verdict.  You have nothing to lose. 

Miami Florida Maritime Law Firm We will send you four documents.

The first is the contingency fees agreement.  All lawyers who handle these type of cases must have a written contract with the client where everything is spelled out.  The second document is a statement of your rights as a client.  We will also send you a short questionnaire about your cruise accident.  The last document is a medical authorization so that we can obtain copies of your medical records.

We will email these items to you shortly after you email us or speak with us on the telephone.  Just fill out the forms and return them to us.  There is no need to travel to Miami to start your case.

One of the main reasons why cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean require that all claims be filed in Miami is that they know that it is inconvenient for injured passengers to do so.  That's why we make it easy for our clients to retain us.  Simply send us an email or make a single call.

I'm sure that you may have other questions, and I will be happy to spend as much time as necessary to provide answers for you.  I have been handling maritime injury cases since 1983.  Over ten years ago I was interviewed about the process of filing a claim against a cruise line. 

You can obtain additional basic information by reading the article here - Cruise Passenger Rights and Wrongs - Interview With Maritime Lawyer Jim Walker

Cruise Law Visits Ocho Rios Jamaica

Jamaica - Cruise Ship - Crewmember Our firm and our co-counsel Jonathan Aronson spent a few days this week in Jamaica. 

On Tuesday, we toured the port of Freeport - Montego Bay where we will begin advertising our services helping Jamaican crewmembers injured on cruise ships.  We met with the head of the terminal and enjoyed a VIP tour of the facility where we will be advertising. 

We walked the terminal grounds and viewed the Carnival Elation (photo left). 

The highlight of the trip was the seaman seminar we offered on Wednesday in Ocho Rios.     

We met with crewmembers almost all day on Wednesday.  Most of the crewmembers were employees from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity , and Carnival.  The injured crewmembers were stateroom attendants, pantry employees, cooks and utility cleaners.  They presented with a variety of orthopedic and neurological problems, repetitive injuries, and failure to provide appropriate medical treatment claims.

We met in the Jamaica No Problem Room (photo below). 

Jamaica is a beautiful country.  Lush landscapes filled with heliconia, giant banana plants, bamboo and coconuts from the coastal mountains to the ocean.  The Jamaican people are gracious, warm and hospitable.    

I have written a couple of blogs about crewmembers Jamaica, one of my favorite countries: 

Long Hours, Repetitive Injuries & Bad Medical Care Plague Royal Caribbean Crewmembers

"Injured on a Cruise Ship?" - Lawyer Advertising in Jamaica

Cruise Law Visits Montego Bay Jamaica   

Will Royal Caribbean Ever Live Up to Its Promises to Falmouth Jamaica?

If you are from Jamaica and missed us during our last trip to Jamaica, we will be back in January 2012.   Please feel to contact us in the interim here at Cruise Law . . .   

Ocho Rios Jamaica - Cruise Ship Lawyer

Photo credits:  Jim Walker

Crewmembers Trapped on Happy Cruises' Gemini Cruise Ship?

A reader of Cruise Law News has informed me that CNN's iReport contains a message seeking help from a crewmember aboard the Gemini cruise ship operated by the now defunct cruise line "Happy Cruises."

Happy Cruises is a Spanish cruise company which abruptly ceased operations on September 24th.  When cruise lines suddenly stop operations due to financial problems, the crewmembers are often treated poorly and sometimes abandoned. 

Happy Cruises - Gemini - Cruise Ship - Crew AbandonedIn this case, crewmember Rooy Eduardo Deceno Velásquez, a 32 year old cruise ship restaurant worker from Trujillano, Peru, left a message on CNN's iReport.  He is crying for help, stating that the crew has been  deceived and about to be abandoned in Gibraltar without pay.   The message is in Spanish and is translated roughly as follows:

DEAR CNN.

The reason I'm writing is because we need you to help us, they are holding us hostage, against our will, owing us over four months worth of paychecks, with deceit we were first told that we would cruise from Malaga to Barcelona but then we weren't allowed to get off in Malaga.

We left for Barcelona and were told we would arrive on Tuesday, but then the captain said we would arrive to Gibraltar on Wednesday 8am.  Now we're being told it will be on Thursday at noon.

This is the Happy Cruises Gemini, we're near the Gibraltar strait. Besides, today we were given the sign off sheet and they put "vacations".  Many of us don't want to sign it.  Please, we need help urgently, we don't know what to do and feel unprotected. They won't even let us call our families, we're being held against our will.

And try to contact the  "ITF" PLEASE, WE'RE BEGGING YOU, HELP US. I'M AWAITING YOUR ANSWER, PLEASE COME...WE'LL BE IN GIBRALTAR ON THURSDAY, OR MAYBE THEY'LL KEEP DECEIVING US, WE DON'T KNOW UNTIL WHEN, THERE'S SICK PEOPLE ON BOARD AND THEY DON'T WANT TO DO ANYTHING..

The link to the message is here and can be listened to below:

 

 

A newspaper in Peru also has an article about the incident which can be read here.

Do you have information, photos or video about the incident to share?   Please leave a comment below.

September 30, 2011 Update: 

The El Comercio newspaper in Peru is reporting that another Peruvian crewmember wrote to her sister 3 days ago stating that the crew has not been fed and that there was a big brawl aboard the cruise ship.   

Happy Cruises - Gemini - GibraltarCruise Law News received comments from unidentified individuals who claim to be crewmembers (see below) or family member of the crew who dispute that there are any problems on the ship.

October 1, 2011 Update:

International Shipping Partners (ISP) here in Miami is the administrative manager of Jewel Owner Ltd., which is the owner of the cruise ship.  ISP is the commercial and technical manager of the vessel.  ISP has made no statements about this dilemma other than stating the Gemini is "available for immediate sale or charter."

October 2, 2011 Update:

The Spanish newspaper Provincia reports that on Friday the Gemini dropped anchor in the eastern port of Gibraltar by the Ocean Pearl in hopes that the company pay the crew's wages and repatriate them.  Yesterday, the vessels docked in the passenger area of ​​the port of Gibraltar

Does anyone have photos or video of the conditions on the cruise ship?

October 4, 2011 Update:

The Panarama newspaper in Gibraltar has an update on the story - "Sad Times for Crew of Happy Cruises."

 

 

Photo credit:  

Top:  El Comercio

Bottom:  Provincia

Cruise Ship Rape - Arbitration in Bermuda? A Jury Trial in Miami? Or Both?

In the past month, I have written about the progression of federal court cases which have chipped away at the rights of foreign crewmembers, who are the backbone of the U.S. based cruise industry.

The cases of Lindo v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. and Henriquez v. NCL showed that the Eleventh Circuit would not hesitate to affirm the dismissal of the claims filed on behalf of NCL crewmembers in the U.S. courts here in Miami, leaving the seriously injured seamen to seek compensation in foreign countries applying foreign law.

Princess Cruises - Star Princess - Cruise Ship - Arbitration Sexual AssaultOn Friday, the Eleventh Circuit decided the case of Jane Doe v. Princess Cruises.  The Court addressed the issue whether a Princess crewmember raped on the M/S Star Princess cruise ship would be sent from the U.S. to face uncertain justice before an arbitrator in a country selected by the cruise line, or whether she could try her case here in Miami before a jury.  

According to the opinion which you can read here, the facts allegedly "tell a story of a woman, working for Princess Cruise Lines on one of its ships, who was drugged by other employees, raped and physically injured while she was unconscious, and when she reported to officials of the cruise line what had happened to her they treated her with indifference and even hostility, failed to provide her with proper medical treatment on board, and interfered with her attempts to obtain counseling and medical treatment ashore."  

We represent Jane Doe (whose name is being protected to protect her confidentiality). 

Princess Cruises is represented by Miami cruise defense lawyer Jeffrey Maltzman.

The complaint that we filed on her behalf alleged ten (10) causes of action:

As described by the Eleventh Circuit, the ten claims are:

(1) a “Jones Act negligence” claim, alleging that Princess Cruise Lines breached its “duty to provide a safe place to work such that [Doe] could perform the job obligations in a reasonably safe manner and live aboard the vessel free from sexual violence and/or sexual harassment”;

(2) an unseaworthiness claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its “non-delegable duty to provide [Doe] with a seaworthy vessel upon which to work and live free from sexual battery and/or sexual harassment”; (3) a Jones Act claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its duty under that act to provide Doe with prompt, adequate, and complete medical treatment for “injuries sustained while in the service of the vessel”;

(4) a maintenance and cure claim, alleging that the cruise line “purposefully refused to arrange for and pay [for] timely and complete medical cure” despite its obligation to do so under “the General Maritime Law”;

(5) a Seaman’s Wage Act claim that the cruise line breached its “duty to timely pay all of [Doe’s] wages as a seaman;”

(6) a false imprisonment claim, alleging that the cruise line had “purposefully and intentionally restrained [Doe] against her will on the cruise ship and did not permit her to leave the cruise ship to go ashore for medical treatment” in Seattle;

(7) an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, alleging “separate and independent torts committed by” the cruise line, its agents, and its employees related to Doe’s rape and the way that they handled the situation and treated her after learning of the rape;

(8) a spoliation of evidence claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its duty to preserve evidence after one of its crew members sexually assaulted and battered Doe;

 (9) an invasion of privacy claim, alleging that the cruise line, though its agents, breached its duty to protect Doe’s confidentiality and privacy as a rape victim by repeatedly disclosing her real name in an effort to intimidate and embarrass her; and

(10) a fraudulent misrepresentation claim, alleging that officers of the cruise line who were on the ship repeatedly and falsely told Doe after she had been drugged and raped that she could not disembark the ship to obtain medical treatment and counseling by doctors of her own choosing.  

The Court held that the first five causes of action fall within the language of the arbitration agreement.  The trial court will then consider the cases of LindoHenriquez and Thomas to determine whether these first five causes of action should be sent to Bermuda to be arbitrated and what law should apply.   However, the Court held that the last five causes of action, which involved post-rape conduct alleged against the cruise line, did not arise of of Jane Doe's employment and therefore are not subject to arbitration.  The last five legal theories alleged against the cruise line will be heading toward a jury trial here in Miami. 

This case should be of continuing interest to maritime lawyers representing crewmembers working for cruise lines which insert arbitration agreements in their employment contracts.

The case was featured today in the Daily Business Review.  Maritime lawyer Brett Rivkind also wrote an excellent blog about the rape case and the issue of arbitration entitled: "Appeals Court Addresses Arbitration Clause Involving Claim by Crewmember for Sexual Assault."

 

Photo credit:  Star Princess Cruise Ship, Seattle Washington - Jim Walker 

Henriquez v. NCL: Eleventh Circuit Slams Another Door in the Face of an Injured Crewmember

Last week we reported on the case of Lindo v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. where the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of a case filed on behalf of a seriously injured NCL crewmember from a U.S. court, leaving him to seek compensation in Nicaragua.    

Today the same court entered a similar order in the case of Henriquez v. NCL.  Mr. Henriquez was injured when another  crew member smashed a glass bottle on his head and stabbed him while they were aboard the NCL cruise ship.

Jones ActWhen he filed suit for compensation under the Jones Act and the maintenance and cure doctrine, NCL responded with a motion to send his case to arbitration in Nicaragua where the arbitrator would apply Bahamian law. 

The appellate court refused to entertain the crewmember's argument that arbitration is against public policy because an arbitrator in Nicaragua applying Bahamian law might not recognize his claim under the Jones Act.  The court held that Mr. Henriquez "cannot avail himself of the public policy defense at this stage . . . only after arbitration may a court 'refuse to enforce an arbitral award if the award is contrary to the public policy of the country.'"

The court also rejected the argument that arbitration should not proceed because he signed his employment agreement under duress. 

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the crewmember's maintenance and cure award and held that it was subject to arbitration.

This xenophobic decision is unconscionable.  The Bahamas has not adopted U.S. statutory law or maintenance and cure.  This type of ruling ensures that cruise lines face limit virtually no accountability when they injure a crewmember on their cruise ships and then refuse to provide prompt and adequate medical care.  In the process, the Eleventh Circuit has departed from 90 years of Jones Act history and close to 200 years of maintenance and cure decisions.    

Lindo v. NCL: Crewmembers Lose Rights As Harsh Cruise Arbitration Decisions Continue

Yesterday, in the case of Lindo v. NCL, a federal appellate court entered a decision which further stripped the legal rights away from seriously injured cruise employees.   

The Lindo case is the latest decision which reflects that our judiciary has little concern for the rights of cruise employees outside of the U.S. 

Eight years ago the Norwegian cruise ship Norway blew up at the port of Miami.  Originally bearing NCL Norway Boiler Explosion the name SS France, the Norway was an old decrepit cruise ship built in 1960.  It was poorly maintained.  Over the course of 40 years, the ship's old boilers had been neglected to the  point of criminal wrongdoing   The cruise ship suffered from a long history of safety problems.  The NCL executives refused to invest the money necessary to replace the dangerous boilers which were cracking and ready to burst. 

The cruise ship was a time bomb waiting to explode.  

On May 25, 2003, the faulty boilers blew up while the Norway was docked at the port of Miami.  Vapors, smoke and human flesh billowed hundreds of feet into the air.  The explosion scalded eight Filipinos and one Jamaican crewmember to excruciatingly painful deaths, leaving dozen of family members grieving the loss of their husbands, fathers and brothers.  

The families filed lawsuits against NCL and its parent company, Star Cruises, for negligence under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness, failure to pay maintenance and cure under the general maritime law of the United States, and punitive damages

NCL paid what is described as a confidential settlement, rumored to be over $7,000,000, to the family of the dead Jamaican crewmember.

But NCL responded to the lawsuits filed by the families of the eight dead Filipino men by moving to enforce language in the crewmembers' employments agreements which purported to prohibit the filing of lawsuits in the U.S.  NCL argued that the dead men's lives were to be valued by a compensation scheme set up in the Philippines which set the value of a dead seafarer at around $60,000.  

Even though the cruise line is headquartered here in Miami and the accident occurred here, NCL instructed its Miami defense lawyers to argue that the families had to pursue arbitration in Manila where a dead Filipino was considered less valuable than the luxury cars driven by NCL's executives.

Why the discrepancy between the compensation owed to the wife and children of a Jamaican crewmember versus the family of a Filipino? 

The answer lies in the word "arbitration."  Unlike the Filipinos, Jamaican crewmembers were not subject to arbitration agreements, which are designed by large corporations to take away a Norway Cruise Shipcrewmember's right to a jury trial in the U.S.   The Jones Act has provided crewmembers - both U.S. and "foreign" seafarers - the right to seek compensation from juries in the U.S. for dangerous work conditions aboard ships for the past 90 years.

Recognizing that a U.S. jury would fairly consider compensation for the Jamaican seafarer, NCL paid a fair amount of compensation to the surviving family members in Jamaica. 

But for a Filipino who might have to arbitrate the case?  NCL gambled that it could convince a U.S. federal court to kick the Filipino families' cases out of the U.S. because of an "arbitration" clause in the Filipino crewmembers' employment agreements.  Without a jury trial under the Jones Act in the U.S., the Filipinos' cases would be worth peanuts.

NCL's strategy worked.

On October 14, 2003, in the case of Bautista v. Star Cruises, 286 F. Supp. 2d 1352 (S.D. Fla. 2003), a federal district court in Miami granted NCL’s motion to compel arbitration and closed the cases.  On January 18, 2005, in Bautista v. Star Cruises, 396 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2005), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the order compelling arbitration.

The Bautista case stripped the NCL crewmembers of their right to try their cases in state court before a jury in the U.S.  The opinion was a result-oriented decision for big business and against the "little man."  NCL thereafter settled the death cases for a small fraction of what anyone in a civilized country would consider fair and just    

After NCL's stunning success in Bautista, other cruise lines based in Miami began inserting language in their crewmember contracts of employment taking away the right to a jury trial under the Jones Act.   Carnival and Royal Caribbean began requiring the cruise employees to arbitrate their cases outside of the U.S. without a jury.  The cruise lines unilaterally deprived their ship employees of U.S. remedies and inserted language requiring the application of foreign law. 

Crewmembers have historically been entitled to special protection under U.S. law.  Under the Jones Act, cruise employees are entitled to seek compensation for unsafe work conditions and must prove only that their injuries were caused by their employer's slightest degree of negligence.  Under the "unseaworthiness" doctrine, cruise lines are liable to their employees for dangerous shipboard conditions without a showing of negligence.  Crewmembers are also entitled to the payment of their living expenses and medical care under the "maintenance and cure" doctrine which has existed in the U.S. since around 1820.  Another important right afforded to seamen is a Federal statute which provides penalties against maritime employers for not timely paying wages to the crewmembers.

Cruise lines instead chose to insert the law of countries like Panama or the Bahamas.  These countries do not recognize the unseaworthiness or maintenance and cure doctrines.  Although the concept of negligence exists, these countries apply a much higher threshold necessary to establish liability and do not provide nearly the same elements of compensation.    

For the past six years, the cruise lines have sought to enforce arbitration clauses which send their employees outside of the U.S. to foreign countries which have few laws protecting the crewmembers.

Carnival LibertyIn 2009, the crewmembers finally received a break when the Eleventh Circuit held an arbitration clause attempting to apply Panamanian law was null and void when it deprived the seaman of his U.S. statutory right to recover penalties wages when the cruise line refuses to timely pay wages. 

In Thomas v. Carnival Corp., 573 F.3d 1113 (11th Cir. 2009), the court held that public policy prohibited a cruise line from enforcing arbitration where the result was that a crewmember was stripped of his rights under U.S. law.  

Unlike the tortured and result-oriented reasoning in Bautista, the Thomas decision was regarded as a fair and logical decision by the Eleventh Circuit.  Finally, the Eleventh Circuit pushed back against the cruise industry's wholesale assault against the rights of crewmembers.     

Many maritime lawyers thought that the Eleventh Circuit would apply the logic of the Thomas decision to reject arbitration clauses which stripped crewmembers of their statutory rights under the Jones Act.    

But yesterday, crewmembers received a cruel blow when the Eleventh Circuit upheld a decision enforcing a NCL arbitration agreement which required the application of the law of the Bahamas and prohibited a seaman  from pursuing litigation in the U.S. applying the Jones Act.  In Lindo v. NCL, a crewmember from Nicaragua employed on the Norwegian Dawn was seriously injured during his work.  The NCL employment agreement contained language that crewmember claims  would be arbitrated in Nicaragua (Lindo’s country of citizenship) under Bahamian law (the law of the flag state of cruise ship).

In a split decision, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the arbitration agreement even though the crewmember lost his right to a jury trial under the Jones Act.  In a plodding and painfully reasoned 66 page opinion, the majority essentially upheld Bautista and effectively overruled the Thomas decision.   The court prohibited the seaman from making a public policy argument that the effect of a forum clause sending his case to Nicaragua and a choice of law clause applying Bahamian law waived his rights.   The court held that at the conclusion of the case, he might be able to raise this argument, although this appears to be at best an inefficient result and more probably an illusory remedy. 

In a well written and compelling dissent, Judge Barkett cited the tradition of recognizing the “great public policy of preserving [seamen as an] important class of citizens for the commercial service and maritime defence of the nation.”  Judge Barkett cited one of my favorite maritime cases, the case of Harden v. Gordon, 11 F. Cas. 480, 483 (No. 6,047) (C.C.D. Me. 1823) where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Story adopted "maintenance and cure" as part of American jurisprudence.  

Seamen have historically been regarded as "wards of the admiralty," and their rights have been a special subject of U.S. maritime jurisdiction.  The majority opinion in Lindo completely ignores this well established tradition and line of cases.  The Lindo decision has no mention of equitable principles, public policy, or basic human rights.

The notion that a crewmember stripped of his Jones Act, unseaworthy and maintenance and cure remedies under U.S. law will find justice under the laws of the Bahamas in an arbitration proceeding in Nicaragua is preposterous.

Unless there is a reconsideration by the Eleventh Circuit en banc, the cruise industry will view the Lindo case as a green light to screw ship employees at every turn. 

$800,000 Arbitration Award for Injured Carnival Crewmember

An arbitrator in California recently awarded substantial compensation on behalf of a seriously injured Carnival crewmember.

California attorney Stephen Estey issued a press release which stated that he obtained an arbitration award for a crewmember working aboard the Carnival cruise ship Imagination in the amount of $800,000 for injuries sustained in June 2008.  The press release states that Polish citizen Marcin Sokolowski was employed by Carnival as an assistant Maître D.’  His duties Imagination Cruise Ship - Crew Injury - Arbitrationincluded lifting heavy bins of food and equipment.   Although some of the bins weighed in excess of 100 pounds, Carnival refused to provide him with a dolly to assist him in loading and unloading the bins. 

In June, 2008, crewmember Sokolowski felt a "pop" in his low back while lifting the bins.  He felt immediate pain and reported this to the ship's doctor, who only prescribed pain medication. When the crewmember's pain persisted over the next few days, the ship doctor injected him with pain killers and tried to "adjust" his lower back. 

Sokolowski's condition declined and a doctor in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico recommended surgery after a MRI of his lumbar spine confirmed that he had a herniated disc at L5-S1 on the right side.

In mid August, 2008, surgeons at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center performed  a lumbar discectomy; unfortunately, Sokolowski suffered permanent damage to the nerves radiating to his leg.  The press release states that the U.S. neurosurgeon and, subsequently, a disability commission in Poland found Sokolowski to be permanently disabled.  The arbitrator awarded total compensation in the amount of $800,000. 

As we reported earlier today, arbitration awards for back injuries have ranged for as little as $75,000 to a high of $1,250,000 in a case we handled earlier this year.

I do not know Mr. Sokolowski or his counsel but his story is the same story injured cruise employees tell us.  Crewmembers sustain serious injured on cruise ships and then undergo medical "treatment" on the cruise ship consisting of masking the pain and delaying the cure.  By the time that board certified U.S. doctors finally treat them, the crewmembers often have sustained additional and permanent neurological damage.   

Given the range of cruise ship arbitration awards so far, Mr. Sokolowski's lawyer did a good job obtaining compensation for his client.   

If you are a crewmemmber, from the Caribbean, Europe, India or South or Central America, injured on a cruise ship, please consider reading Arbitration of Cruise Line Crewmember Cases.

Arbitration of Cruise Line Crewmember Cases

In the last few years, the major cruise lines have been trying to enforce arbitration provisions which they inserted into the crew member's employment agreements.

Many of our crew clients around the world ask us "what is arbitration?" and was is the difference between an "arbitration" and a "trial."

Arbitration is a process where disputes between parties are decided by an "arbitrator" or a panel of "arbitrators."  In the crew cases we have arbitrated, the process is started by filing a claim with the Cruise Ship Arbitration - CrewMember American Arbitration Association / International Centre for Dispute Resolution.  This is the administrative body, typically called AAA or the ICDR, which oversees the process. 

The biggest difference between arbitration and a trial, is that a trial takes place before a judge and a jury.  There is no judge or jury in arbitration. 

Arbitrators are typically other attorneys or retired judges who are selected by counsel for the parties.  When there are three panel arbitrators, counsel for the crewmember will select one arbitrator and counsel for the cruise line will select one arbitrator.  Those two selected arbitrators will select a third arbitrator.  The arbitrators are sworn to be fair and impartial.

Once the arbitrator or arbitrators are selected, a date for the arbitration hearing will be selected.  Unlike a jury trial which could easily last more than a week, an arbitration hearing may last just two days.  There are relaxed rules of evidence.  The arbitrators will typically receive into evidence hearsay medical reports and affidavits of witnesses without the other side being permitted an opportunity to conduct cross examination.   

Pre-hearing discovery is limited.  There is no requirement to conduct discovery, although in most cases the crewmember will give a deposition and appear for a medical evaluation by a doctor selected by the cruise line defense lawyer.  We will always have our crew clients examined by a doctor who will appear live at the arbitration hearing, and we will take a deposition of a representative of the cruise line.

The cruise lines are responsible for the filing fee and the fees of the arbitrators.  These costs and fees can be expensive.  A cruise line paid around $60,000 in the ICDR filing fee and the fees of three arbitrators in a recent case.  Obviously, no crewmember could afford to arbitrate if they were responsible for these fees.  

There is the issue of where the arbitration hearing will take place.  Many arbitration agreement stipulate that the hearings will take place in the country where the cruise ship is flagged or the country of the crewmember's citizenship of the crewmember.  In many cases, the cruise line will nonetheless agree to arbitrate in Miami, because it is too expensive to pay the fees and costs associated with flying Miami based arbitrators and defense lawyers to far away places like India.  Quite frankly, I would love to arbitrate cases in India, Romania, Serbia, and throughout the Caribbean islands.    

Another big difference between arbitration and a trial is that the entire arbitration procedure, from start to finish, should take less than one year.  Given the congestion of our court docket in the state court system here in Miami, a date for jury trial could take two years or more.  This is good news for injured crewmembers who have no income and are in need of resolving their cases in an efficient manner.

Once the arbitration award is decided, it is not appealable except under very rare circumstances.  This is good news because the cruise lines can't drag out an appeal for another year. 

It is generally thought that a down side of the arbitration proceeding is that the amount of the arbitration awards are generally considered to be less than what a jury might otherwise award.  But the range of arbitration awards in my experience and to my knowledge have not been unreasonably low.

Of the six or so arbitration awards I am familiar with regarding crewmembers with injured backs for example, there was a low award of around $75,000, several in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, one for $800,000, and the high award of $1,250,000 which our firm handled this year.

If you are a crewmember injured on a cruise ship, don't hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

Is Alleged Murderer of Royal Caribbean Musician Innocent?

Nelson Pérez TorresThe press in Mexico is raising questions about the criminal charges leveled against Nelson Pérez Torres, who is jailed and awaiting trial for the murder of Royal Caribbean crewmember, Monika Markiewicz.

Ms. Markiewizc was an accomplished musician employed as a violinist aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.  In February, she disembarked in Cozumel from the Allure and did not return to the cruise ship which left and sailed back to Miami.  Her body was located the following day. 

An autopsy determined the cause of Ms. Markiewicz's death was "drowning" but noted that she suffered a blow to the head.

Mexican police arrested 24 year old Nelson Perez Torres, who worked at a restaurant / bar near the port.  He reportedly confessed to striking Ms. Markiewicz in the head with a rock and then throwing her into the ocean, according to the chief prosecutor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo where Cozumel is located.  You can read our articles about this case below: 

Royal Caribbean Crew Member Murdered in Mexico

Monika's Last Recital

A newspaper in Mexico is reporting today that the case against Torres is "riddled with contradictions and irregularities."  SIPSE.com  reports that the "star witness" for the prosecution has not only retracted his statement but alleges that he was theatened by the police to sign the declaration.  The Torres family has always contended that their son was beaten and "confessed" to the crime under duress.  We previously blogged about this: Alleged Killer of Royal Caribbean Crew Member in Mexico Arrested - Family Maintains Son is Innocent

The Mexican newspaper also states that videos taken at an intersection near the crime scene, and which should depict the identity of the murderer walking with Ms. Markiewicz, have not been produced.  The article also alludes that there will be defense witnesses who will testify to Mr. Torres being at a different location at the time of the murder. 

 

Photo credit:  estosdias.com.mx

Video credit: VOZTVCOZQROO (YouTube)

"Injured on a Cruise Ship?" - Lawyer Advertising in Jamaica

Today we began advertising in Jamaica, as I mentioned in an earlier blog.  The ad below will begin appearing in some of the newspapers in Jamaica, and a variation will appear on some of the billboards in Jamaica.

I have been a lawyer for 28 years.  I have never advertised on television, radio, newspapers or billboards.  We have relied on our reputation developed over the years and recommendations from one client we have helped to the next potential client who finds himself in a similar situation.

I have always viewed "billboard lawyers" with disdain.  Florida is littered with huge billboards looming over the highways advertising lawyers with 1-800 I N J U R Y telephone numbers.   

I do not think I have ever seen any of these "billboard lawyers" actually in the courthouse.  Probably because they don't really go to court or actually handle cases.  Many of these lawyers take the calls from their 1-800 numbers and then refer the cases to other lawyers to handle.  Lots of Americans point to the lawyer billboards as endemic of the so-called "litigation explosion" which many people think plagues the U.S. 

Unlike the U.S., Jamaica has a culture where litigation is not encouraged.  Plus there are virtually no Jamaican lawyers who advertise.  Injured crewmembers are often from countries like Jamaica where few people file lawsuits, there is no legal advertising, and it is difficult to obtain basic information about your legal rights. Cruise lines often take advantage of this type of situation.

Over the next few months, Jamaicans will see our firm's name and photos on billboards, in newspapers, and on the radio throughout the country.  We know first hand that there are many Jamaican men and women who dedicated their careers to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, only to be sent a one way ticket home and forgotten when they are seriously injured and can no longer work at sea.  Advertising in Jamaica will help level the playing field against the cruise lines.  We are educating these crewmembers regarding their right to obtain compensation here in Miami when they are disabled from cruise ship employment.

So, it is with mixed feelings that I am about to become a "billboard lawyer."   But not just any "billboard lawyer."  A Jamaican billboard lawyer.  

But unlike U.S. billboard lawyers, you will see the lawyers in our firm in the courthouse here in Miami fighting for the rights of our clients who the cruise lines have abandoned in Jamaica.      

June 28, 2011 Update:  We modified our ad, with a non descript cruise ship and a different background.

 

Cruise Law Visits Montego Bay Jamaica

Falmouth Jamaica - Royal CaribbeanI just returned from a three day trip to Montego Bay. 

My co-counsel, Jonathan Aronson, and I met with several of our clients who were seriously injured while working for Miami based cruise lines and have been languishing in Jamaica after being dumped back at home.  Seeing our clients, in their local communities, with their kids, brings a sense of reality and urgency to our relationship with them.   

We visited the port in Freeport / Montego Bay, the new Royal Caribbean development in Falmouth (more about that to come later), and headed over to Ocho Rios to meet the family of one of our clients who needs surgery after a cruise line accident.

A good trip.  

The country of Jamaica is beautiful.  Its people are filled with courtesy and generosity. 

Over the course of the next week, we will talk about some of our experiences in Jamaica, and the relationship of this proud Caribbean country with the Miami-based cruise industry.

Photo: 

Above - Jim Walker - Falmouth with Pullmantur Horizon cruise ship in background.

Below - Jim Walker - Kevin, with wife, son and Jonathan Aronson

Jamaica - Montego Bay - Cruise - Crewmember

 

Royal Caribbean Ordered to Pay $1,250,000 to Injured Crewmember

An Arbitration panel in Miami, Florida has ordered Royal Caribbean Cruises to pay $1,250,000.00 to a crewmember following an injury aboard the Jewel of the Seas cruise ship.

The crewmember, who is from Serbia, sustained a serious back injury in June 2008 when a crew member violently slammed a door into her back while she was walking down a narrow hallway.  She sustained a large herniated disc.  She reported to the ship infirmary and the ship doctor found her unfit for duty.  However, her supervisor instructed her to continue working.

Jewel of the Seas - Cruise Ship Medical Care - Crew Member - ArbitrationThe ship doctor thereafter refused to take her medical condition seriously, and did not take an x-ray or order a MRI at a port of call.  After seven weeks of continuous work, her medical condition deteriorated badly.  She collapsed and had to be taken from the cruise ship on a stretcher with a IV morphine drip to manage her pain.

Royal Caribbean sent her back to Serbia and refused to arrange for medical treatment.  It paid her only $12 a day for lodging and food, which is impossible to live on.  It paid her consistently late.  It took the cruise line over five months to finally authorize back surgery in January 2009.  The doctor then performed surgery at the wrong level.  Royal Caribbean thereafter refused to arrange or pay for her rehabilitation or arrange for follow-up x-rays or a MRI.

After she retained Walker & O’Neill to represent her, the cruise line continued to refuse to meet its legal obligation to provide her with the necessary medical treatment.  When our firm complained, the cruise line terminated her living expenses. One of the in-house lawyers overseeing the cruise line’s medical department, Tony Faso, decided to abandon her.  Mr. Faso sent an email to Walker & O’Neill stating:

"I am sure any arbitrator will agree with me. I am sure that I will get some ridiculous response from you. I really don't care . . ."

Walker & O’Neill then flew the crew member here to Miami, and arranged for her to see a U.S. board certified orthopedist who determined that the first surgery was a failure.  Royal Caribbean nonetheless refused to reinstate the crew member’s benefits or provide her with the necessary medical care.

The three member Arbitration panel found Royal Caribbean’s refusal to pay maintenance and cure benefits to be:

" . . . not reasonable.  The denial of those benefits lacked any reasonable defense . . . "

The Arbitrators awarded the crew member $1,250,000.00.

Royal Caribbean was also found responsible for $11,650.00 for the administrative costs of the International Center for Dispute Resolution ("ICDR") as well as $48,970.00 for compensation of the Arbitrators.  

This award is the highest arbitration amount awarded to an injured crewmember since cruise lines began arbitrating cases. The award demonstrates the consequences of a cruise line unlawfully abandoning an ill crewmember and spitefully terminating her medical benefits. 

The crew member was represented by James (“Jim”) Walker and Lisa O’Neill of Walker & O’Neill P.A. and Jonathan Aronson of the Aronson Law Firm.

Royal Caribbean was represented by Curtis Mase of the Mase, Lara & Ebersole law firm.

Screwed If By Sea - Cruise Lines Throw Workers Overboard When It Comes to Providing Urgent Medical Care

Every so often, I will read an article which reminds me why I practice maritime law and represent crew members from around the world.  Here is an article from Miami's New Times about several of our clients.  Although it was published several years ago, it reveals how cruise lines today mistreat crew members to try and save money.  

"Doran McDonald reached Miami International Airport at dawn, limping and hopping to a pay phone after his third flight in 24 hours. His right leg had been boiled, and the odor of decay oozed from his burned flesh. The top of his foot was a grapefruit-size blister, the stretched skin tight and shiny. McDonald hadn't been able to elevate his leg at all on the flights from Alaska to Vancouver, or from Vancouver to Los Angeles, or from L.A. to Miami. The swelling and pressure were excruciating and he was close to passing out from the pain. He was afraid the next two segments of his trip (Miami to Antigua, Antigua to St. Vincent) would be unbearable. Adding to his discomfort was the thought of Doran McDonald - Royal Caribbean Medical Carearriving in his native St. Vincent: His family lived two hours from the airport and didn't have a car; he had no idea how he'd get home. McDonald would arrive on the island on a Sunday morning. No doctor would see him for at least another day. 

McDonald, a small, soft-spoken 29-year-old, did what any man facing such obstacles would do: He called his mother.

Pearlie Hector was angry. She thought her son should never have boarded an airplane, that he should still be in the Juneau, Alaska, hospital where he had received preliminary medical care the day before. Most of all, she thought Doran was being mistreated by Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line he was working for when he was burned. Hector told her son to call Miami lawyer James Walker, who had represented another family member in a case against a cruise line years before, and she told him to go to a hospital in Miami.

McDonald's decision to stay and retain a lawyer resulted in his receiving a quality of medical care he wouldn't have had access to on St. Vincent, but it also prompted Royal Caribbean to set in motion the federal government's immigration policy machinery. Within a month McDonald would be languishing at Krome Detention Center.

The massive ocean liners that steam out of the Port of Miami almost every weekend look like whole city blocks torn free and headed for the Caribbean. Happy passengers, unmoored from daily responsibility for a weekend or more, lean against the rails beatifically smiling and waving to MacArthur Causeway motorists. It is a long way from the upper decks of a cruise ship to sea level, and no one knows that better than the workers who inhabit the lower stations of such a vessel.

Passages honeycomb the great ships' interiors, opening onto cavernous ballrooms and opulent luxury suites. Endless hallways of cabins each morning disgorge tourists who scurry to sprawling, dining rooms or outdoor bars next to bright-blue pools that shimmer in the sun like clear, antiseptic simulacra of the murkier ocean below. Deep in the bowels of a cruise liner are the smaller rooms with bunk beds where the workers live. Employees tend the engine, cook the food, and clean the Cruise Line Medical Care - Crew Memberpools. If they're lucky, they tend bar or wait tables. Others clean rooms and fluff pillows.

Some, like Doran McDonald, wake up in the middle of the night to make use of the only lull in the never-ending demand for food onboard a luxury liner. They file into the galleys and wipe every surface from counters to walls, cleaning the daily residue of bacon grease and chicken fat, sweeping up stray sprigs of parsley and shreds of lettuce from hastily thrown together salads.

McDonald, like many cruise line employees, is from a poor country. The big ships provide an inviting economic opportunity for men and women from Third World nations in Eastern Europe, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

The sailor had something else in common with his fellow galley workers when he rolled out of his bunk around midnight on May 20, 2002, pulled on rubber boots, and trudged into the kitchen to start cleaning: a desire to move up to a higher-paying job in the dining room. "When I work for Premier I am a waiter, and the money then was very good," McDonald says. "But when I go to Royal Caribbean, I start over again at the bottom."

McDonald was no stranger to shipboard living -- even for $500 a month, doing janitorial duty onboard a cruise ship was more remunerative than harvesting bananas in St. Vincent. McDonald had gone to work for Premier Cruise Line in 1998, and advanced from galley worker to waiter, a job in which he made more than $1000 a month and sent much of it home. But in 2000 Premier went bankrupt. McDonald started over at Royal Caribbean in 2002.

May 20 was only McDonald's second night onboard the Legend of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship cruising from Miami to Alaska via the Panama Canal, but he figured the work was routine. He would sweep and mop and scrub, and then go back to bed. He would mentally tote up his earnings and plan to send them to his mother in St. Vincent.

The kitchen was a mess, and McDonald says his supervisor told everyone to work quickly. Mops were handed out like rifles to infantrymen, and a crew of eight began hustling through their cleaning routine. McDonald picked up a pot full of oil from a fryer that had just been switched off. The pot was heavy and hot, and the oil made tiny shimmering waves as he labored to carry it to a Crew Member Medical Care - Cruise Linesink where he could dump and scour. Halfway to his destination, McDonald slipped. He felt nothing as the scalding liquid drained down inside the rubber boot on his right leg, but jolts of adrenalin shot through the numbness as the oil cooked his leg and the top of his foot.

His crewmates carried him to the ship's clinic, where he was given ibuprofen. Doctors decided to wait and observe the afflicted area in order to determine how bad the burn was.

This is where McDonald's story and Royal Caribbean's diverge. According to company policy, if an employee is taken to an emergency room, the attending doctor will determine what kind of care is appropriate and where and when such treatment should be given. But McDonald says that the ship's doctor already told him he would be sent home to St.Vincent before he was taken to the hospital in Juneau. In depositions taken later, cruise line employees claimed that they adhered to the policy.

Notes written by the emergency room doctor in Juneau indicate that McDonald believed already that he would be sent to St. Vincent.

The ER doctor's notes also make it clear that McDonald's burns were mostly second-degree, with the possibility of some third-degree burns, a direct refutation of Royal Caribbean's claim that McDonald only had second-degree burns and was, therefore, fit to travel. Royal Caribbean medical case manager Terri DeBrita, who admittedly didn't know if the doctor she was sending McDonald to in St. Vincent had any medical license, said in a deposition that other crew members had received satisfactory treatment for second-degree burns in St. Vincent, though she couldn't remember any such cases specifically.

On May 24, after four days of nothing but ibuprofen on board the ship, McDonald began his journey from Vancouver to Miami.

When McDonald called a lawyer at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 25, the attorney was annoyed. "I was in bed when I got the call from Mr. McDonald, and I thought, Jesus, what a hassle, you know?" says James Walker. "I thought it was probably nothing, but I knew his family, so I dragged myself out of bed."

Walker was aghast when he saw McDonald's foot. "The smell was disgusting," he remembers. "And it was obvious that he was in a lot of pain and needed immediate medical care. When I saw it I was hyperventilating." Walker took McDonald to South Miami Hospital, but not before meeting up with a photographer who documented McDonald's injuries. The blister on top of McDonald's foot ruptured in the emergency room.

After two days of treatment at South Miami Hospital, Walker arranged for McDonald to be checked into Baptist Hospital, into the care of a burn specialist who treated and observed McDonald for Jim Walker - Cruise Law - Maritime Lawyer  about a week before performing skin graft surgery on the badly burned foot.

In the meantime, Walker had informed Royal Caribbean that McDonald was being treated in Miami. This was, apparently, not to the company's liking. On June 4, Royal Caribbean's crew medical manager, David Blackwell, fired off a letter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) that put a decidedly unsympathetic spin on McDonald's decision to get his health care in the U.S. The letter stated, in part, that "upon his layover in Miami, (McDonald) was intercepted by an attorney, James Walker, and taken to South Miami Hospital." The letter also characterized McDonald's admission to Baptist Hospital and his skin graft surgery as "a move on the part of the attorney to keep the crewmember in Miami."

McDonald stayed in the hospital through July, receiving physical therapy for his leg and foot. The doctor prescribed a custom-fitted pressure sleeve for the newly grafted skin. Royal Caribbean had been talking to Walker about McDonald's INS requirements, asking that he present himself to an INS official so that he could ask to stay in the U.S. throughout the course of his medical rehabilitation. At this point, Walker was unaware of Blackwell's e-mail to INS, and while he was wary of Royal Caribbean's intent, he knew McDonald had to comply with the law and show up for the hearing. The cruise line arranged for transportation to an INS office in Miami. McDonald thought he'd be checking into a hotel somewhere in Miami after his INS appointment.

Instead, INS officials handcuffed McDonald and slapped shackles on his ankles. "I told the guy that it is paining me on my foot and I now have a skin graft and my foot is not cured, and he told me I must take my time and walk slowly," McDonald recalled in a deposition.

McDonald confesses that up to this point he still clung to the hope that he could go back to work on Legend of the Seas for Royal Caribbean. McDonald wasn't happy about missing work. He still owed money to an "agent," basically a cruise line recruiter, who charged McDonald $1500 for his job on Legend of the Seas. "I really just want to get my leg fixed, get back to work," says McDonald. He says he was frightened and confused by the immigration officials, and didn't know what he was signing when he signed a piece of paper admitting he was in the U.S. illegally, and that returning home would not put him in harm's way.

McDonald again sought advice from his mother.

Pearlie Hector called everyone she could, including St. Vincent's diplomatic representatives in Washington. After five days her son was released from jail. "I tried everything I could to get him out of there, but they wouldn't even let me leave his leg sleeve for the prison doctor," Walker says. "It was his mom who got him out." McDonald was released temporarily, and placed in a boarding house for foreign cruise workers. He continued medical treatment until his foot healed. Even with the skin graft, there is some scarring and discoloration, and he says it's a little stiff. "But I think it would be very much worse if I don't have the surgery," McDonald says.

After the cruise line refused to pay for much of his medical treatment, McDonald sued Royal Caribbean and won an undisclosed amount. "I'm not rich," he says, smiling. "But I'm okay."

The papers he signed prevented him from staying in the U.S. legally -- and from having a seaman's visa, which would enable him to go back to work for another cruise line. Meanwhile, though, McDonald has become engaged to be married to a Haitian woman who resides in the U.S. and has applied for citizenship. McDonald is in the States illegally, working with an immigration Cruise Ship Medical Care - Crew Member lawyer to regain his legal status. "It doesn't look good because of the paper I signed," he says.

Cruise ships, with crew from around the world, are often registered outside the U.S., allowing South Florida-based companies such as Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International to skirt some U.S. labor laws (Legend of the Seas, for example, is registered in Liberia). The jurisdictional jumble -- foreign nationals working on ships registered abroad and often operating in international waters -- creates a legal gray area that can work to the detriment of employees.

There are few industry watchdogs; this is no surprise given the disparate ethnic groups that work on cruise liners, the transient nature of employment (contracts for a single cruise are not uncommon), and the constant movement of the ships themselves. But those who do keep an eye on corporations such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean say that employees, especially foreign-born employees, are being funneled to cheap doctors in the Caribbean who provide sometimes inadequate care for cut-rate prices.

"We hear about it all the time," says Scott Brady, an inspector with the International Transport Workers' Federation in Cape Canaveral. "A lot of people don't want to complain, because they want to keep their jobs. This line of work is the only hope for some of the poorer people from the Caribbean and from Eastern Europe, so they want to stay on with whatever company they're with. But you hear the horror stories." ITF doesn't keep any statistical data on health care for cruise line employees -- in fact, an exhaustive search conducted by New Times couldn't turn up a single advocacy group or agency that keeps comprehensive information on the subject.

"I can't prove anything, industry-wide, except that the cases keep coming in, and I see, one by one, instances where these companies are overlooking an obligation to provide quality medical care in order to save money," says Brett Rivkind, an attorney with the Miami firm Rivkind, Pedraza and Margulies. "We think it's cost-saving in terms of treatment, and also to avoid workers pursuing claims here in the U.S. They try to cover that up by saying "We're sending them to their hometown,' as if there's sentimental value that counts for something."

Carnival Cruise - Crew Member Medical Care Carnival settled such a case with Rivkind client Francisco Romero in August. "We had a case where a Carnival worker needed cataract surgery. He was using a Miami ophthalmologist, and the cruise line said, "No, no, we want to send him home to Honduras,'" Rivkind recounts. "The ophthalmologist in Honduras had just had a baby, and her husband was studying to be an ophthalmologist, so she just let him do the surgery." Fifty-year-old Romero, a long-time Carnival employee, lost his eye in 2000, and filed suit in June 2001. Carnival fought the suit for more than two years. "It's not enough they let this happen, when they could easily have gotten him a good surgeon in the U.S., but then they fought us tooth and nail when he tried to get compensation," Rivkind says. The settlement included a nondisclosure clause, so he can't reveal the amount Carnival paid Romero.

"These companies are making decisions regarding crew members' medical conditions on a legal basis and a financial basis, rather than a medical basis," Rivkind avers.

U.S. immigration policy makes it easier to send foreign-born crew members to second-rate doctors in Third World countries, according to Rivkind and others. Foreign-born crew members need medical visas to receive treatment on U.S. soil. Medical visas are usually good for 30 days, and if a crew member needs an extension, the employer must produce documented proof of the need for further treatment. In some cases, Homeland Security requires that the crew member be produced in person. This arrangement can work out to the employers' advantage if the crew member is fighting to receive medical treatment in the U.S. "Look, it's impossible to prove collusion," says Rivkind. "But I've had calls from these companies saying, "Yeah, sure, we'll get him the treatment he needs, but we have to produce him for an immigration hearing first, so he can stay in the country. It won't be a problem.' Next thing I know, the guy's being shipped home where he's likely to get god-only-knows what kind of care."

Royal Caribbean officials deny taking advantage of crew members. Blackwell, the crew medical manager, says that Royal Caribbean employs about 36,000 people, and takes good care of the 400 or so on medical leave around the world at any given time. But, he says, the company has to follow immigration rules. In the U.S., medical parole for foreign-born crew members is difficult to arrange since September 11, 2001 (Department of Homeland Security officials did not return phone calls asking about interaction with cruise lines).

"Immediately after 9/11 it was very difficult (to get medical parole for injured crew members) because of security," Blackwell says. "Then things kind of eased up a little. Recently, it's gotten more difficult again."

Blackwell says that medical parole in the U.S. is determined by immigration officials based on a doctor's evaluation. He also says the company can be fined up to $50,000 for violating immigration laws. He refused to comment on specific cases, but when pressed by New Times about his e-mail alerting INS that Doran McDonald had been "intercepted by an attorney" at Miami International Airport, Blackwell offered this hypothetical situation: "Our obligation as a company is, if a crew Brett Rivkind - Maritime Lawyermember is in transit and in the process they arrive in Miami to change planes and they do not make the flight, we have an obligation as a company to let INS know that a crew member has jumped ship, essentially."

Rivkind admits that, post-9/11, more stringent adherence to U.S. immigration laws makes it harder for cruise lines to keep injured crew members for treatment in the U.S. "But I think they're using that, as well. They used to have an ability to keep these guys on medical parole if they wanted to. With immigration changes, I believe it is more difficult, but I think the cruise lines also take advantage of that."

While Blackwell was willing to speak to New Times -- though not about any specific cases -- weeks of back-and-forth with South Florida's other cruise line giant, Carnival Cruise Lines, resulted in an anemic e-mail response. Spokesperson Jennifer De La Cruz wrote that no information on the number of crew members the company employs was available, nor was there any available information on the number of crew members receiving medical treatment, in the U.S. or elsewhere.

ITF's Brady says that the cruise industry is notorious for pressuring employees to avoid making waves, even when their health is at stake. "I can't prove it because all I get is word of mouth," he says. "Every once in a while someone gets a lawyer, but they always include nondisclosure agreements in their settlements. And if word gets back to a cruise line that an employee is speaking with a union representative about these kinds of issues, they'd be fired from their jobs and probably blacklisted."

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence of medical malfeasance by cruise lines. Brady has stories, and Walker and Rivkind each have had several clients with similar tales of woe. One of them, 28-year-old Azumi Sagara, is actually a U.S. citizen who says Royal Caribbean employees tried to delay her access to an emergency room until the ship she was on traveled to Nassau, and then refused to pay for her medical care. Sagara was an ice skater on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. As the ship lumbered toward Port Canaveralon March 27, Sagara found herself doubled over in pain. "Something in my abdomen really hurt -- I didn't know what it was, but I knew I needed to see a doctor." She was told she was probably pregnant. When a quick test proved otherwise, the ship's medic said she probably had an infection. "The doctor gave me some pills and told me to come back in a week," Sagara says.

By 9:00 p.m. the pain was so severe, she knew she'd have to go to the emergency room when the ship docked in Port Canaveral the next day. That night she called a nurse, asking for a referral from the doctor to seek medical treatment in Port Canaveral the next day. "She said, 'I can't call the doctor for that, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.'"

Sagara knew that would likely mean she couldn't get treatment in the U.S. Crew members only had two opportunities to get off the ship in Port Canaveral: before the passengers started leaving at 7:30 a.m., and after all passengers had disembarked, at noon. Sagara knew that a trip to the doctor would mean she'd have to wait until noon to get off the ship, and she was in too much pain to do that. "And at that point, I thought maybe I could get back onboard that day, but we had to be back by 3:45 p.m., so waiting until noon would pretty much put that out of reach," Sagara says. She decided to get off the ship and to the emergency room by any means necessary. "The ship's security officer wouldn't let me off," she says. "I said, 'I'm in a lot of pain, I need to go to the ER.' While I was signing off, he told me to wait until we got to Nassau." Eventually, she made a break for it. "I ran past the security officer and got to the immigration guy. The security officer was saying,'She's not cleared, she's not cleared.' I said, "I need medical attention.' The immigration guy said, 'I can't stop you from going to your own country.'"

Doctors in the ER told Sagara she had pelvic inflammatory disease, and ruptured ovarian cysts with some internal bleeding. "They said I had to see a specialist immediately," she says. Sagara flew home to California, received a week's worth of medical care, and returned to the Mariner on April 4 after missing one week of work. She worked for Royal Caribbean for the duration of her contract, until May 2.

Calin Ioan, a Romanian citizen, formerly a bartender aboard Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas and also a client of Walker's, is lucky to be alive. Walker filed suit on Ioan's behalf after the 28-year-old repeatedly went to the ship's doctor with complaints of ear pain, starting in the summer of 2002. According to Walker, Ioan was given ibuprofen and sent back to work. The Enchantment docked at Port Everglades every weekend, but Ioan claims that the ship's doctor would only allow him to see a physician in St. Thomas in September 2002. That doctor gave Ioan a nasal spray and some ear drops.

Eventually, the doctor in St. Thomas suspected something more was wrong with Ioan and, in January 2003, recommended a CT scan and biopsy. The ship's doctor wrote an e-mail to David Blackwell and Ioan's medical case manager, Bill Sera, summing up the St. Thomas doctor's suspicions. The doctor also suggested that they wait until Ioan's contract ended on January 20 and arrange for him to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist once he returned to Romania. The shipboard physician, Bernhard Van Staden, ends his e-mail with overdue compassion: "I would like this to be sorted out, as he has been going with his problem for quite some time."

By the time Romanian doctors detected the tumor in Ioan's throat (on February 2, 2003), it had reached Stage IV -- the final stage of cancerous growth -- and had spread too far to be removed surgically. Radiation and chemotherapy have beaten the cancer into remission, but they also rendered Ioan unable to work. He has been living with his mother since his return. His medical bills mounted, and he says that Royal Caribbean will only pay for some of his treatment costs. He retained Walker, and is suing for his living bills and all medical expenses from the time of his arrival in Romania. Royal Caribbean officials wouldn't comment on his case."

 

Article credit:  Forrest Norman, Miami New Times

Photo credit:  Jonathon Postal

Diagram credit:  CruiseBruise.com

 

Have a comment?  Please leave one below. 

 

Accident on Oasis of the Seas Seriously Injures Crew Member

Cruise Law News has been contacted by two passengers this weekend, inquiring about a serious accident which occurred on the Oasis of the Seas.  The passengers are describing the incident as occurring during a crew fire drill while the cruise ship was at the port in Cozumel last Thursday, January 27th.  A crew member was badly injured and taken from the cruise ship by a medical team.

The captain of the Oasis made a number of announcements indicating that the crew member was in critical condition and underwent surgery.

 If you were you on the cruise and have pertinent information, please feel free to leave a message below.

January 29, 2011:  We received information that the accident occurred "during the mandatory drill an oxygen tank cracked and hit a crew member on the head.  Safety officer broke his leg."    

January 30, 2011 Update: a passenger comments below that a defective oxygen tank used during the fire drills 'took off like a rocket' and hit the crew member in the head and he was taken to Miami for emergency medical treatment.  

January 31, 2011 Update:  a cruise insider informs us that the Royal Caribbean crew member died on January 29, 2011.

Holland America Crew Member Killed In Life Boat Mishap

A 29 year old crew member died during a botched life boat training exercise in New Zealand today. 

According to newspapers in New Zealand, the accident occurred when crew members from Holland America Line's Volendam cruise ship were practicing life boats drills.  One of the wires attaching the lifeboat to the cruise ship snapped, throwing the two HAL crew members into the water in Lyttelton Harbor.  One of the crew members was rescued, but the other man who was wearing heavy clothing and boots went under water and did not reappear.  The crew members were reportedly not wearing a life jacket.

HAL has not released the name of the deceased crew member. 

January 9, 2011 Update:

We received a comment (below) from the Medical Officer on the HAL cruise ship, expressing his/her condolences.  We appreciate hearing from cruise line like this.  It shows compassion.  This is the first time in 500 blog articles that a cruise line has posted a comment on our blog following a crew member death or injury. 

A newspaper in New Zealand has a follow up article on the crew member death - "Liner Crew Traumatized by Shipmate's Drowning" - indicating that the cruise ship's 600 crew members were "obviously traumatised by the whole thing . . .  they all know each other pretty well, so they are quite upset."

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Medical Care - A 19th Century Hospital?

Today we received emails commenting on the bad medical treatment provided on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships and the recent $2,900,000 verdict against the cruise line for its negligent medical treatment rendered to an injured crew member from Nicaragua.  Here are the emails:

On the $2,900,000 verdict we reported on last week:  "Having worked for Royal Caribbean I totally believe this is justified!  Well done Jury!"

Death Wish?:  "I too could write a book about the atrocities of medical care onboard during my 4 Royal Caribbean - Medical Care - Medical Treatment - Cruise Ship contracts.  I suffered an injury and was sent to see a doctor in Curacao, and I'm an American citizen!  When I said that I wanted to see a doctor on port day in Miami I was told that they could not arrange it (we were still 4 days away from Miami) and I would have to wait until the following port day, 11 days later if I did not want to see the doctor in Cuaracao." 

19th Century Hospital:   "While working on ships we had 1 doctor terminated for downloading porn onto his work computer.  He stated he was doing "medical research."  Then there was the cruise where 3 people died, 1 from a stroke and 2 from heart attacks.  Both doctors were terminated at the end of that cruise.  Why?  Because apparently the nurses had to talk them through CPR!  Absolutely disgusting.  I've told family members and friends that if they ever get hurt or injured on a cruise ship the last place they want to go is to the ship's infirmary.  The "medicine" dished out is reminiscent of early 19th century hospitals, where one only went if he or she had a death wish."

Fend For Yourself:  "I am an American citizen who worked for Royal Caribbean.  I left the ship in the last quarter of my last contract with an injury. It was even tough for me to get RCCL to cover decent medical treatment for me as an American citizen.  I cannot even imagine what it is like for crew members who are sent back to their countries of origin.  Forget about any sort of living compensation while shoreside for treatment.  I was able to live with my parents, but if I hadn't had that option I would have had quite a bit of difficulty.  It is shameful the way they sign crew members off of ships to fend for themselves."   

 

We have written articles about Royal Caribbean's abuse of its crew members:

Cruise Ship Medicare Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft 

Titanic Dreams - Royal Caribbean Wins Worst Cruise Lines in the World Award

 

Have you received medical treatment on a Royal Caribbean?  What was your experience?

 

Photo Credit:  Jim Walker

Miami Jury Hits Royal Caribbean With $2,900,000 Verdict

Today a jury in Miami, Florida returned a verdict in the amount of $2,900,000 in favor of a disabled Royal Caribbean crew member who received terrible medical treatment after the cruise line sent her back to Honduras. 

The case brings attention to the problem many Royal Caribbean crew members experience when they are injured while working for the cruise line.  Royal Caribbean often sends their cruise employees back to third world countries, where the medical treatment is sub-standard, in order to Royal Caribbean Cruises - Bad Medical Care save money.  This cruise line can easily send their crew member to qualified doctors here in Miami but decides not to do so for economic reasons.  The result is often horrific surgeries performed by unqualified doctors.  

This is inexcusable, given the fact that Royal Caribbean has a net worth of $15 billion, collects over $6 billion a year, and pays no U.S. taxes. 

In this case, Royal Caribbean sent a crew member with a knee injury to Honduras where the local surgeon committed medical malpractice during arthroscopic surgery, causing serious injuries to the ligaments in her knee.  The doctor then botched a complete knee replacement which was not necessary in the first place. 

We have written articles about this particular cruise line and its mistreatment of crew members: Cruise Ship Medicare Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft and Titanic Dreams - Royal Caribbean Wins Worst Cruise Lines in the World Award.  Last September, I wrote that: 

"Royal Caribbean has also adopted a strict keep-them-out-of-the-U.S. policy. The company saves money by sending its employee to places like Nicaragua and St. Vincent.  But these places lack basic medical facilities and basic medicines. The crew member’s heath and life are compromised in the process."

The jury's verdict reflects that there is something fundamentally wrong with this cruise line's treatment of injured and indigent crew members from places like Nicaragua.    

The crew member in this case was represented by the firm of Rivkind, Pedraza & Margulies.  Royal Caribbean was represented by Curtis Mase. 

Horror On The High Seas - Jurisdictional Disputes Leave Foreign Crew Members In No Man's Land

A number of articles published this weekend reveal the plight of young women sexually assaulted on foreign flagged cruise ships and cargo vessels.

Yesterday, in Cruise Rape - Is Royal Caribbean Up To Its Old Tricks?, we reported that a South African crew member claims that another crew member raped her on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  The Captain of the cruise ship reportedly dismissed the rape as a "he said, she said" incident, and then sent her back to her home country.  If a U.S. crew member or passenger is victimized, the cruise line claims that it reports the crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  The FBI has jurisdiction over such incidents.  But when a "foreign" crew member is raped, the case can fall into a no man's land.

Most Royal Caribbean cruise ships are flagged in the Bahamas.  Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia.  No one from these countries has any interest in or inclination of conducting a criminal investigation into the rape of a woman from South Africa.  And the country of South Africa has no jurisdiction to board a Bahamian flagged vessel operated by a Liberian corporation.       

Today, the Times Live newspaper in South Africa reports that a 19 year old cadet on the Safmarine Kariba cargo vessel was raped by a senior officer.  Ms. Akhona Geveza was completing her Akhona Geveza - Safmarine Kariba - Sexual Assaultcadetship to become a navigational officer.  After she reported being raped, her lifeless body was found floating in the water off the coast of Croatia.  It is unknown whether someone pushed her overboard or she committed suicide.

The terrible ordeal is explained in two articles "Teen's Horror on the High Seas" and "Legal Tangle Over Teen's Death at Sea."  The newspaper mentions a number of incidents of sexual assault and harassment of crew members.

The articles explain that what makes the case of Ms. Geveza difficult to investigate is that the ship is registered in Britain, Ms. Geveza is South African, the vessel was in Croatian waters, and the officer who allegedly committed the crime is Ukrainian. 

It has been our experience when we represent young women from outside the U.S., that the flag states (Bahamas, Bermuda, Liberia, and Panama) never conduct a criminal investigtion.  

A female cadets interviewed in one of the articles is quoted as saying: "We were told that the sea is no man's land and that what happens at sea, stays at sea . . . " 

 

Credits:

Photograph             Akhona Geveza - FaceBook

Jury Hits Royal Caribbean With $1.7 Million Verdict for Injured Crew Member

A jury reached a verdict yesterday in the amount of $1,700,000 against cruise giant, Royal Caribbean Cruises, here in Miami.  The crew member is a musician who slipped on stage and suffered an injured shoulder which required surgery and ended his music career.

The Miami Herald reports on the case this morning, explaing that the defense lawyers for the cruise line suggested to the jury that they award less than $130,000 for the crew member's injuries.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship VerdictThe case is now being discussed on USA TODAY 's Cruise Log, a popular cruise blog frequented mostly by cruise fans.  The type of comments on this website are often in defense of the cruise industry.  You will often read comments that a verdict like this will cause cruise fares to increase.

The fact of the matter is that Royal Caribbean will collect over $6,000,000,000 (billion $) from its passengers this year.  It will pay $0 in Federal taxes because it registered its business in Liberia and flies flags of foreign countries to avoid taxes, safety laws, and wage regulations.  It is also part of an international "Protection and Indemnity" insurance group with hundreds of billions of dollars in assets.

The verdict will have no effect on the cruise line or any of its cruise passengers.  

Royal Caribbean is considered by many to be the worst cruise line in Miami regarding the mistreatment of ill or injured crew members.  Take a moment and read:

Royal Caribbean Cruises - An Epidemic of Sick, Injured & Neglected Crew Members

Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft

Leave a comment below if you agree or disagree. 

Reason No. 7 Not to Cruise: Cruise Lines Exploit Foreign Crew Members, Like You'd Never Believe

Cruise Critic ran an article a couple of weeks ago about the Top 10 Reasons To Cruise.  I responded with my article "Top Ten Reasons Not To Cruise."  I previously addressed the first six  reasons not to cruise, which are at the bottom of this article.*

The purpose of this series is not to convince you not to cruise, but to educate consumers regarding the dangers inherent in and the consequences of cruising.  I'm not your big brother, trust me.  It you want to cruise, that's entirely your business and none of mine.   But at least educate yourself before you take your family on a vacation you may regret.  

St. Vincent - Royal Caribbean - Exploitation - Crew MemberThe 7th reason not to cruise may not leave much of an impression on most of my American readers because it involves "foreign crew members" who most passengers will never meet.

Our firm and clients have been featured over a hundred times on every major television station, cable news network, radio, newspaper and magazine in the U.S. and abroad.  But the news sources are interested almost exclusively in crimes or injuries involving U.S. passengers.  An injured or victimized crew member from Jamaica, India, or Nicaragua is usually of no interest to U.S. reporters.

The exception was several years ago when The Miami New Times ran a story "Screwed If By Sea - Cruise Lines Throw Workers Overboard When It Comes to Providing Urgent Medical Care."

The article focused on one of our crew member clients from the little island of St. Vincent who, after suffering second and third degree burns on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing to Alaska - was sent by Royal Caribbean on a journey from Alaska to Los Angeles to Miami to Barbados to St. Vincent - as part of a plan by the cruise line Royal Caribbean to abandon him in a third world country with no medical treatment. 

Take a moment and read the article.

You will smell the crew member's rotting flesh half way through the article.

Is "evil," or "diabolical," or "criminal" too strong of a word for this degree of corporate malfeasance?  I suppose it depends if it involved you - or a "foreign" crew member. 

The exploitation of crew members, particularly "utility cleaners" who often work 360 hours a month for around $540 a month, continues.  Last year we addressed the problem in an articles entitled:

"Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award; and

Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft.

There are few Americans who would cruise if they knew how poorly the cruise lines treat their crew members.  The absolute worst cruise lines which abuse their crew members are Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises - the only winners of Cruise Law News' popular "Worst Cruise Line In The World Award."

Read the first six reasons not to cruise and then add this article into the mix.  Are you really going to cruise with your family on one of these foreign-flagged cruise ships which exploit the souls of the hard working men and women from Jamaica, India, Nicaragua and St. Vincent?

 

Tomorrow - Reason No. 8 Not To Cruise: Blackwater, Blackwater, Blackwater

 

Credits:   Jim Walker's Cruise Law Flickr Page 

 

*Cruise Law News' Last  6 Reasons Not To Cruise 

No. 1: Cruise Lines Are A Perfect Place To Sexually Abuse Children

No. 2: Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Place to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It!

No. 3: Carnival, Royal Caribbean And NCL Are Corporate Felons

No. 4: If You Are A Victim On A Cruise Ship, The Cruise Line Will Treat You Like A Criminal

No. 5: If You Are Retired Or A Child, The Cruise Line Considers Your Life Worthless

No. 6: If The Ship Doctor Kills You, Too Bad

Maritime Rights of Princess Cruises Crewmembers for Injuries and Illness

Most crewmembers like their jobs.  They work hard but take time to enjoy the camaraderie that exists between the crew.  But when they bcome injured, and particularly if they are sent back home, they find it difficult to obtain medical treatment for their ship related injuries.

Princess Cruises - Crew - Maritime Rights - InjuriesMany crewmembers employed by Princess Cruises have contacted us to inquire about their rights after being injured or becoming ill on Princess cruise ships. 

Most crewmembers contact us via email after they have been sent home on "medical leave," but the cruise line refuses to timely provide them with medical treatment and payment of their living expenses.

Unfortunately, Princess keeps its crewmembers in the dark.  Most crewmembers do not understand these basic maritime rights:  

The Jones Act & the Right to a Safe Place to Work Aboard the Cruise Ship

The Jones Act is a U.S. law which requires maritime employers to provide their crew with a safe place to work.  Under this law, cruise lines must operate their cruise ships in a safe and prudent manner.  The types of cases which fall under the Jones Act include waiters slipping and falling in the galley, neck, back and wrist injuries due to carrying heavy trays, and back injuries due to heavy lifting. 

If a crewmember's injury is caused by the cruise line's negligence (even the "slightest degree of negligence"), the crewmember is entitled to make a claim for lost wages and tips, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and medical expenses (in the past and the future).    

The "Unseaworthiness" Doctrine - Strict Liability for Cruise Ship Injuries

Cruise lines are required to maintain and operate their cruise ships in a manner which does not cause injury to the crew employees.  If any part of the vessel is dangerous and causes an injury to a crewmember, the cruise line faces liability for paying compensation to the crewmember.  This liability exists without the necessity of proving that the cruise line was negligent.  A cruise ship can be found to be "unseaworthy" if there is insufficient training of the crew, an insufficient number of employees to perform the work, or the crew is required to perform the work in a dangerous manner.

Princess Cruises - Crewmember Rights - Illness and InjuryUnder certain circumstances, the cruise ship can become "unseaworthy" when a crewmember attacks or sexually assaults a crewmate, particularly if a weapon or date rape drug is used.

As is the case with Jones Act negligence, a finding that the cruise ship is "unseaworthy" entitles the crewmember to the full range of damages - ranging from wages and medical expenses to pain and suffering and mental anguish (inconvenience, depression, anxiety).

Prompt and Adequate Shipboard Medical Treatment

Crewmembers who become ill or injured are entitled to prompt and adequate medical treatment from the ship doctor and nurse.  If the condition cannot be treated satisfactorily on the cruise ship, crewmembers are entitled to seek medical treatment in the next port of call, including U.S. ports of call.  Crew employees often work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.  When they become injured or sick, unfortunately there is a mentality of the supervisors and officers that they "must keep working."  Often the crew's supervisors frown on complaints of being ill, injured, tired or mentally exhausted.

Sometimes waiters, bar staff and cleaners develop serious injuries carrying trays, lifting boxes, and working long hours.  Their injuries can become serious and permanent due if there is a delay in treating the injury.  Under the Jones Act, crew members have the right to seek compensation if their illness or injury is not treated in a timely and responsible manner. 

"Maintenance and Cure"

Cruise lines like Princess are required to pay the crewmember's living expenses (called "maintenance") and provide all necessary medical treatment (called "cure") when a crewmember is unable to work due to an injury or illness and needs to leave the cruise ship. Crewmembers are entitled to select their own doctor or switch to their own doctor if they are dissatisfied with the company doctor. 

"Maintenance and cure" is a well-established legal doctrine which has existed in the U. S. since 1820.  It can be dated back to the Medieval Sea Codes.  Under this doctrine, cruise lines are legally obligated to treat their crew as if they were their children needing medical help. 

We have found that Princess often does not pay living expenses or provide its crewmembers with medical treatment.  Sometimes the cruise line requires the injured crewmember pay for his Princess Cruises - Maritime Rights - Jones Actor her own medical treatment and then offer to possibly pay the bills later.  This violates the law.  As a practical matter, most crewmembers cannot afford to pay for surgeries or ongoing therapy.  The result is that the medical condition worsens and the crewmember experiences additional pain and disability.    

Under the "maintenance and cure" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation when the cruise line abandons or neglects in their home countries.  In addition to the damages under the Jones Act and "unseaworthiness" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation for additional pain and suffering and mental anguish, unpaid medical and living expenses, and attorney fees.  If the cruise line acted unreasonably, callously, arbitrarily, or capriciously, then the crewmember can seek "punitive damages" - designed to punish the cruise line for acting badly.        

Princess Cruises' Illegal "Employment Contract"

If you are a Princess crewmember reading this article, you probably have never heard of the Jones Act or the "unseaworthiness" and "maintenance and cure" doctrines.  That's because Princess does not explain these basic rights to you.  You can read your "employment contract" a million times, but you will never find any reference to these rights.

Instead, Princess Cruises claims that a crewmember must submit to "arbitration" (without a jury) in Bermuda, and only the law of Bermuda applies. Of course, the cruise line selected Bermuda law because Bermuda does not have a Jones Act nor does it recognize the legal doctrines explained above. 

Princess Cruises - Unseaworthiness - Crew rightsHowever, U.S. courts have found that Princess' "employment contract" and its "terms and conditions" which attempt to apply the law of Bermuda are illegal and unenforceable.  Princess does not explain this either to its crewmembers.          

About Princess Cruises - Doing Business in Florida

Princess Cruises is a cruise line headquartered in Santa Clarita, California.  It is well known  for the Pacific Princess which served as the cruise ship for the "Love Boat"  television program. 

Princess operates fourteen large cruise ships: Caribbean Princess, Coral Princess, Crown Princess, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Island Princess, Ruby Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess, Star Princess, and Sun Princess - as well as three smaller cruise ships, Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, and Royal Princess. 

Princess Cruises registered its corporation and flagged its cruise ships in Bermuda in order to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. safety & labor laws.  But Princess has its headquarters in Southern California with a huge base of operations in Broward County, Florida.  It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Miami based Carnival cruise lines.  There are numerous lawsuits pending in Miami against Princess for injuries to Princess cruise employees around the world.  

We have handled claims against Princess Cruises involving passengers and crewmembers. One of the most publicized case involved the death of a passenger due to a fire aboard the Star Princess.  We represented the passenger's children in that tragedy and one of our clients testified before our U.S. Congress regarding fire safety issues.

 

Credits:

Photographs of Star Princess cruise ship   Jim Walker's Flickr page

Photographs of Princess crewmembers Princess Cruises Crew Members FaceBook Page  ("This is for all the people who work onboard Princess' ships and  . . .  lived for months on end in a prison cell they call a cabin, gotten drunk off of $1 beer and wine in the dungeon they call a crew bar.")

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Reported Aboard Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship

Carbon Monoxide - Celebrity Cruises - Mercury Cruise ShipMultiple news sources are reporting that six crewmembers on Celebrity's Mercury cruise ship at the Port of Baltimore are being treated for exposure to carbon monoxide. 

Fire rescue officials took the the six crew members  to local hospitals. 

According to WBAL TV in Baltimore, the Baltimore fire department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright said crews responded to the scene at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday to treat the victims.

Cynthia Martinez, the PR spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Cruises (the parent company of Celebrity Cruises) issued a statement that crew members were performing a welding operation on board the ship inside the engine room Friday. The members began to report respiratory problems and other medical issues after they completed their work and reported to the ship's medical facility.

A local ABC station reports that "at least 5 medical units, a Hazmat team, and an EMS Commander are currently at the scene treating the victims and taking carbon monoxide readings to Mercury Cruise Ship - Celebrity Cruises - Carbon Monoxide determine the air's quality."

The cruise line PR spokesperson also said: "Out of an abundance of caution, the ship staff contacted city fire and rescue, which responded Saturday to treat the 6 crew members and transport them to hospitals."   Ms. Martinez claims that all six crew members were walking when they entered the ambulances to go to the hospitals. 

The TV station in Baltimore also reports that a Hazmat crew is trying to determine where the leak was coming from.

Update February 14, 2010:

One of the writers at the online cruise community CruiseMates.com brought the following article to my attention: "6 Workers Sickened On Cruise Ship In Baltimore" written by the AP and published on the web site of a local CBS affiliate WJZ in Baltimore. The article contained the photo below.  It has  a little more detail and indicates that the Hazmat team did not find carbon monoxide on the ship: 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Mercury Cruise Ship - Celebrity Cruises"Baltimore City Fire and hazmat officials went on the ship and tested for CO and found nothing."

This does not appear particularly surprising, because the testing was done 12 to 18 hours after the suspected exposure.

Cynthia Martinez, the PR spokesperson for the cruise line, is attributed saying that the Mercury cruise ship can hold a couple thousand passengers.  The cruise ship was heading to Baltimore at the time of the incident. She indicated that the six ill six workers had been working in the engine room, welding pipes with welding gear Friday night at the time of the suspected exposure.

There have been no reports by the hospitals or the cruise line regarding the current medical condition of the ill crewmembers.  

The Mercury was cleared to sail to South Carolina and has no passengers are on it until they board in Charlston. 

 

 

Credit:

Celebrity Cruises' Mercury cruise ship        Baltimore Sun

Hazmat photograph               AP  / CBS Baltimore affiliate WJZ 

Miami Jury Awards Crew Member Injured on NCL's Norwegian Crown $9,500,000

A jury here in Miami awarded a crew member injured on a cruise ship approximately $9,500,000 as compensation for serious injuries sustained on a NCL cruise ship.

NCL - Norwegian CrownDanny Simpson, a citizen of the U.K., was employed by spa concessionaire, Steiner Transocean, as a fitness instructor aboard the Norwegian Crown. In 2006, he slipped on the spa floor and injured his back.

Mr. Simpson sustained nerve injury to his spine which caused urological damage. He now suffers from impotence and underwent penile implant procedures.  Mr. Simpson also experiences bowel and urinary problems and has to use a catheter.  His family has to wash out her bowels several times a week. 

Mr. Simpson, age 42, is married and has six children.

NCL Cruise Line - Steiner Spa - Jones Act Case - $9,500,500 VerdictThe verdict was obtained by my friend, David Brill, and his law partner Julio Ayala.

David Horr and Eduardo Hernandez (photo, right) of the law firm of Horr Novak & Skipp defended Steiner Transocean at trial. 

Previously, NCL reached a settlement with Mr. Simpson before trial.

Following the filing of post trial motions by Steiner's lawyers, this case will go on appeal for another year.  

For other breaking cruise law news, don't forget to read:  Top Cruise Story of 2009 - Sister of Missing Princess Crew Member Angelo Faliva Speaks Out: "Vogliamo la Verità!" - "We Want the Truth!"

 

Credit:

Norwegian Crown  Tim Martin (via worldshipny.com)

 

Royal Caribbean Cruises - An Epidemic of Sick, Injured & Neglected Crew Members

Today I received a telephone call and two emails from crew members from Trinidad, India and Nicaragua. 

Their stories all sounded the same. 

They worked on cruise ships as a waiter or assistant waiter until they suffered back, shoulder or Royal Caribbean Crew Member = Trinidadwrist injuries.  After being sent home, they had to call and email the cruise line repeatedly before a medical appointment was finally scheduled.  They received only $12 a day for living expenses.  And their "case managers" - the employees at the cruise line responsible for arranging their medical treatment - would never return their e-mails.

Halfway through their stories, I would interrupt them with the question: "So you worked for Royal Caribbean?"

Right now this particular cruise line has embarked on a purge of removing ill crew members from its "sick lists" and slashing the medical treatment and daily stipend provided to the ship employees. 

We have addressed this problem in prior blog articles -  Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft and "Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award.

Royal Caribbean requires its waiters and assistant waiters to carry trays weighing up to 50 lbs.  The Royal Caribbean Crew Member - Trinidad waiters work over 12 hours a days, 7 days a weeks, carrying the trays over their shoulders.  The result is a rash of neck, shoulder, wrist and back injuries due to the repetitive heavy load and strain.

Once their bodies are broken, the crew members are of little use to the cruise line.  Royal Caribbean sends them back to their home countries, where they are neglected and then abandoned. 

The extreme cost cutting measures are the result of this particular cruise line being caught between the dream of having the most ostentatious cruise ships in the world (the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas), and the reality of being unable to even sell out the Oasis of the Seas for its inaugural cruise. 

For every ten inquiries we receive from injured crew members - like Trinidadian crew members Mr. Ambris (above) and Ms. Villafana (to the right) - nine are former Royal Caribbean crew members.  

Once all of the hoopla over the arrival of the Oasis of the Seas dies down, will Royal Caribbean shift its focus back to the welfare of its hard-working crew members?  Or will receiving emails and calls from Royal Caribbean crew members continue to be a daily occurrence?     

"Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award

A popular part of Cruise Law News is the monthly "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award.  This is a special award, reserved only for the cruise line which demonstrates the worst treatment of passengers, crew members, and the environment.  

And the Winner for October Is  . . .  Royal Caribbean Cruises.

A Little Background Info on Royal Caribbean Cruises

Miami based Royal Caribbean Cruises is the second largest cruise line in the world, consisting of four brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and its luxury line - Azamara Royal Caribbean - Worst Cruise Line in the WorldCruises.  It also operates its Spanish Subsidiary - Pullmantour Cruises, where it sends its old cruise ships like the Zenith and the Sovereign of the Seas.  

Like other U.S. based cruise lines, Royal Caribbean registered its business overseas (Liberia) and flagged its cruise ships in foreign countries (Liberia, Bahamas) in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.  Although it collects between $5 and $6 billion a year from U.S. tax-paying citizens, Royal Caribbean does not pay U.S. taxes by virtue of its foreign corporate citizenship.  Its crew members are 99% non-U.S. citizens.

A Multi-Billion Dollar Corporation Which Pays Its Crew Members Peanuts 

Royal Caribbean crew members who toil behind the scenes, like galley cleaners, earn around $550 while working 360 hours a month - that's about $1.50 an hour.  Yes, that's right - $1.50 an hour.  Royal Caribbean has a net worth of around $15 billion dollars, but pays its hardest working crew members $1.50 an hour. 

Royal Caribbean waiters, bartenders, and cabin attendants earn a salary of only $50 a month. That's $1.67 a day. The cruise line depends on its passengers to tip the crew members so that they can make a living.    

Royal Caribbean invests virtually nothing into its crew members by way of medical treatment or employment benefits.  It is always looking for ways to save money at the expense of its crew.  Royal Caribbean is struggling to finance its + $1,500,000,000 (yes that's 1.5 $billion) cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas.  Its inaugural cruise is in just two weeks but it cannot even sell enough tickets to make its first voyage profitable.  And Royal Caribbean is sweating bullets figuring out how it will finance the even more expensive cruise ship Allure of the Seas, which will be arriving next year.  

So how does Royal Caribbean plan to pay for its two + $3,000,000,000 "Monsters of the Seas?"

Lets-Screw-The-Crew-Members-First

Royal Caribbean started pinching pennies with its crew members when it realized that the economy was tanking.  Its stock fell from $45 a share to under $6 a share, and it became obvious that it could not meet its financial obligations for its new mega cruise ships it ordered several years earlier.  Long before Royal Caribbean turned its back on its most loyal passengers - its Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers - the cruise line targeted its crew members to try and suck money back into its business.

As I mentioned in a prior article "Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft,' Royal Caribbean has been giving the screws to its foreign crew members, particularly the men and women from the Caribbean islands. The cruise line slashed Crew Member Medical Treatmentthe daily amount it pays to its sick or injured crew members from $25 a day to only $12 a day.  Obviously, no one in the world can eat and pay rent and other living expenses - which is the cruise line's legal obligation - on a pittance of only $12 a day.  But this is what Royal Caribbean is doing, scrimping on every penny, to try and finance its new cruise ships. 

Another tactic Royal Caribbean used to save money was to adopt a strict policy of keeping its crew members out of the U.S. whenever they are injured or become sick.  Under the General Maritime Law, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are obligated to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to their ill crew members.  This is called the doctrine of "maintenance and cure," the oldest legal doctrine in the U.S. 

Royal Caribbean is based here in Miami, which is a good place to manage its crew members' medical needs.  But the cruise line adopted a policy of keeping the ship employees out of the U.S.  Royal Caribbean is the poster child of corporate malfeasance when it comes to abandoning its sick crew members in third world countries around the world.      

"Ms. Jones" - Royal Caribbean Sees What It Can Get Away With        

We have a crew member client, lets call her "Ms. Jones."  She is from Jamaica.  She is a twenty-five year old, hard working woman who, like many young people from Jamaica, sought a career and better life working on a cruise ship.  In April of this year she felt sick and went to the ship doctor on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas while the ship was in Europe.  The ship doctor did not take Ms. Jones seriously.  She continued to work.  April turned to May and May turned into June.  Finally she was referred from the cruise ships to a doctor ashore who eventually mis-diagnosed her condition as a neurological condition.    

Royal Caribbean - Crew Member Medical Care When medical conditions cannot be managed on the cruise ships, Royal Caribbean sends its ill crew members to, of all places, the Dominican Republic for treatment.  Why?  It's cheap.  No other reason.  To save money.  The Dominican Republic is an impoverished country, next to Haiti. It is certainly one of the last places you would think of for state-of-the-art medical treatment.  

Dumped in the Dominican Republic

The odds were stacked against Ms. Jones when she arrived in the capital, Santo Domingo. But the good news, initially, is that the doctors finally ordered blood tests and diagnosed that Ms. Smith did not have an orthopedic problem.

She had leukemia. 

This is not a good diagnosis and the diagnosis had been unreasonably delayed.  But the doctors at least had finally figured out what was ailing Ms. Jones.  They had a plan as of early July.  The doctors notified Royal Caribbean and requested permission to start Ms. Jones on the preferred drug for this type of leukemia, "Gleevac," and to consider her for bone marrow transplantation.

Neglected In Jamaica

So what did Royal Caribbean do?  Did they fly her quickly to Miami which has excellent board certified oncologists?  No. They sent Ms. Jones back to her village in Jamaica, a location which makes Santo Domingo look like a thriving metropolis. Royal Caribbean provided no medicine to treat her leukemia and no plans for bone marrow transplantation.  They did this to save money.  Ms. Jones found herself in Jamaica in a weakened and immunosuppressed condition with a malignancy.  Yet no "Gleevac."  No money.  No "sick" wages.    

Ms. Jones languished in Jamaica.  July turned into August.  And then August turned into Leukemia - Crew Member Medical TreatmentSeptember. No Gleevac.  No bone marrow transplantation.  No living expenses.  Her calls and emails to Royal Caribbean begging for assistance were ignored.    

Ms. Jones contacted us.  We immediately notified Royal Caribbean and demanded that Ms. Jones receive her Gleevac, her living expenses, and wages.  We insisted that she sent to Miami for evaluation.  In response, Royal Caribbean called our client directly, behind our back. We have seen Royal Caribbean do this before. They were caught, and they began scrambling. 

Royal Caribbean then wrote to us, claiming that Ms. Jones had received her medicine.  This was a big lie.  We pressed the issue and Royal Caribbean instructed us not to contact its "medical department."  We were left to deal with a low level "claims adjuster" whose only job is to deny claims -  like the insolent claims representative for the "Great Benefit" insurance company in John Grisham's Rainmaker who writes denial letter after denial letter to the mother of a child dying of leukemia. 

Crew Member Medical Treatment - Cancer We quickly by-passed the claims handler and wrote to and called the lawyers at the cruise line.  They informed us that because a lawsuit had not been filed, they would not talk with us.  So within one hour, I prepared a lawsuit and had a process server run over to the port to serve their General Counsel.  Still, they refused to discuss the situation. They continued to stall, lie and obfuscate.

Not a Single Gleevac Pill in the Entire Country

Finally, the truth became evident - not only had they failed to provide Ms. Jones with the life saving "Gleevac" but there was no such medicine in the entire country of Jamaica.  Finally, Royal Caribbean arranged for the medicine to be flown to Jamaica - over 5 months after Ms. Jones first went to the Royal Caribbean ship doctor.

Like most cancers, leukemia left untreated can advance to the "blast" stage, where the prognosis is not good.  And the chances of death increase exponentially. 

As of this late date, Ms. Jones remains in Jamaica.  She is still taking her Gleevac, as long as it Royal Caribbean Cruises - Worst Cruise lIne in the World lasts.  She is receiving only $12 a day to live on, always paid late. On Friday evening, Royal Caribbean finally agreed to permit Ms. Jones to come to the U.S. but it took her hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit first.  We are trying to obtain a visa for her from the U.S. Embassy so she can come to Miami to be properly evaluated and treated by board certified U.S. oncologists. 

Her life depends on it.

For anyone reading this article who like me has lost a loved one to cancer, you know that life is too precious to play games like this. Particularly by a $15 billion dollar corporation.  Life is far too precious for such arrogance. 

Royal Caribbean's Priorities - Profits Not People

Meanwhile the hype and fanfare surrounding the arrival of Royal Caribbean's billion dollar cruise ship Oasis of the Seas continue.  You can read what I think of this boondoggle and environmental disaster in "Royal Caribbean's "Monster of the Seas" - a Cruise Ship Only Gordon Gekko Could Love.  There are lots of empty cabins which Royal Caribbean needs to fill for the Oasis of the Seas to make money. 

Titanic dreams occupy the minds of Royal Caribbean executives, CEO Richard Fain and President Adam Goldstein.  Their egos and the fate of Royal Caribbean are hopelessly intertwined with these floating monstrosities.  

They have never heard of Ms. Jones or other crew members like her, living on $12 a day, fighting to stay alive.

 

Photo Credits

Oasis of the Seas      DailyMail.co.uk  "Inside the world's biggest and most expensive ever cruise ship, the £810million Oasis of the Seas"

Photo of Royal Caribbean crew member, Mr. Doran McDonald    Jonathon Postal, Miami New Times 

Leukemia blood film    Euthman's Flickr Photostream

Senator Al Franken Cross Examines Corporate Lawyer Regarding "Arbitration" of Rape Victims' Rights

In a previous article entitled "Arbitration" - Stripping Rape Victims of their Rights," I discussed the sleazy tactics of some corporations who try to take away rape victims' rights by forcing them into "binding mandatory arbitration."

Haliburton/KBR tried to force its employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, into arbitration after she was drugged and gang raped in Iraq while working for a military subcontractor.  

Senator Franken introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate which prohibits companies who do business with the U.S. government from including "arbitration" agreements in employment contracts.  Rape victims should be entitled to a jury trial and their "Day in Court," rather than have an arbitrator selected by their employer decide their case.

This clip shows the corporate lawyer, for the Haliburton/KBR company who hired the rapists, wilting under Senator Franken's questions.  It quickly becomes evident that the lawyer had a morally indefensible position.

It is worth watching to the end: 

 

 

Some cruise line are just as dirty as Haliburton/KBR. 

I will be discussing the issue of cruise lines trying to strip rape victims of their rights over the course of the next several months. 

Stay tuned.  

P.S. Senator Franken would be a great lawyer . . .

"Arbitration" - Stripping Rape Victims of their Rights

In April 2008, I attended the Congressional Victim's Rights Awards Caucus Ceremony in Washington, D.C.  One of my clients and good friends, Laurie Dishman, was being honored by the Caucus.  Ms. Dishman had been raped on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  The cruise line mistreated her following the shipboard crime. 

Ms. Dishman became a zealous advocate for rape victims after experiencing first-hand how the cruise line treated her and tried to cover the crime up. She received an award from her Congresswoman, the Honorable Doris Matsui of Sacramento California.  The photo to the the left is of Congresswoman Matsui, Ms. Dishman, and her dad Bill Dishman. 

But this article is not about Ms. Dishman, who is one of the most amazing women in the world.  I will write about Ms. Dishman's trials & tribulations and her resounding victories in later blogs.  This is about another brave young woman, Jamie Leigh Jones.   

At the awards ceremony, Ms. Dishman and I met Ms. Jones.  Ms. Jones was also being honored by her Congressman, the Honorable Ted Poe of the 2nd Congressional District in Texas (Houston, Beaumont).  Congressman Poe has attended some of the hearings in Washington over the years regarding the problem with crimes on cruise ships.  He has been a consistent supporter of crime victims, including rape victims on cruise ships.

Ms. Jones attended the awards ceremony with her fiance, a member of the U.S. Navy, and her family. 

While receiving her award, Ms. Jones briefly explained what happened to her.  While working in Iraq for Halliburton/KBR, a military contractor, her co-employees drugged and then gang raped her. She was also locked in a container and told not to report the crime.

When she filed suit to hold the rapists and Halliburton responsible for the horrific crime, her employer moved to dismiss her lawsuit and send her to what is called "arbitration."  Halliburton had inserted language into her employment agreement which tried to take away her right to a trial by jury.  Halliburton wanted her case to be decided by a single "arbitrator", picked of course by Halliburton (and undoubtedly a man), in a confidential setting.  She also had no right to appeal the arbitrator's decision.

I was dumbstruck to think that a rape victim could lose all of her legal rights and be subject to a "kangaroo court" where the same company who hired her rapists would also hire the arbitrator who would decide her case.  It seemed like being raped again.  

Halliburton's lawyers insisted on enforcing the "arbitration" scheme they prepared to rig the legal proceedings in favor of the corporation. The matter went on appeal to the Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit. 

The Court of Appeal recently ruled in favor of Ms. Jones.  The Court held that her claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, and false imprisonment are not subject to arbitration.  The Court's opinion is available online to review.          

The magazine Mother Jones covered Ms. Jones' story in an article entitled "Court Okays Halliburton Rape Trial."  It is worth a read.

There are corporations in the U.S., including cruise lines, who have modeled themselves on the Halliburton approach of let's-screw-our-employees-with-an-arbitration-agreement. Like Halliburton's lawyers, the cruise lines' lawyers have been plotting to deprive their employees of their rights. Some cruise lines are worse than others.  In subsequent blogs, I will discuss how some particularly bad cruise lines are scheming to strip their injured crew members - including rape victims - of their right to jury trials and U.S. maritime rights which have existed for 200 years.  

The Fifth Circuit's decision tells employers that you can't take away rights via arbitration when your employees drug, brutalize, and falsely imprison a young woman.  

The Court saw through Halliburton's arbitration scheme, and its secret kangaroo court. 

Now Ms. Jones can now seek justice in a court of law in front of a jury of her peers, rather than one of Halliburton's business partners. 

      

Photo Credits

Photos of Laurie Dishman - International Cruise Victims organization

Photo of Ms. Jamie Leigh Jones - ABC News 

Photos of Ms. Jones and Congressman Ted Poe -  Website of Honorable Ted Poe, 2nd Congressional District of Texas

Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich, Win First "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award

When I started this blog, I announced that I would be awarding what I am calling the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award. 

This is a special award, reserved only for the cruise line or cruise line executive which demonstrates the worst in corporate malfeasance towards cruise passenger safety and crew member rights.  The award, like MSNBC's "Worst Person in the World" award, goes to that cruise line or cruise person engaging in underhanded conduct. 

And the Winner Is  . . .

Without question, September's award goes to the Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich. 

Princess Cruises operates 17 cruise ships and is headquartered in Santa Clarita, California.  It also has a substantial base of operations here in South Florida. Like other cruise lines, it incorporated itself in a foreign country and its cruise ships fly foreign flags of convenience in order to avoid U.S. taxes, laws and regulations.

Ms. Ehrenreich joined Princess in 1993 after working at a law firm defending cruise ships. Ironically, she credits attending a college course in U.S. "constitutional law" as a motivating reason to become a lawyer.  One of her responsibilities is to oversee the company's interests when Princess crew members sexually assault passengers or other crew members.

The Love Boat

Princess Cruises was popularized by the television series "The Love Boat" which ran in the 1970's. The TV Love Boat theme is so interwoven with this cruise line that it marketed the slogan "it's more than a cruise - it's the Love Boat!" through the 1990s. Princess built on the "Love Boat" slogan with its current high powered marketing theme "Department of Romance" which caters to young couples with illusions of romantic getaways and honeymoon cruises.  

PR - Perception and Reality

The unique thing about cruise lines is that there is often a disconnect between the slick image created through advertisements and what really goes on behind the scenes.

Date rape drugs. Rape. Malpractice by the Princess ship doctor.  Destruction of evidence.  Lying.  Unauthorized release of confidential information of its employees. Princess Cruises has touched all of the bases. Let me start with just one example.

Crew Members and Cruise Crime Victims Have Privacy Rights

I have represented over 60 women and children who have been sexually assaulted on cruise ships. Not a pretty topic.  Many of our clients have appeared before our U.S. Congress at hearings on cruise ship crime.  This is something the cruise lines like to keep secret.  Not good for ticket sales.

One of our cases involved a young woman from Mexico who had been sexually harassed while working on a cruise ship operated by a Miami based company.  While investigating the case, I learned that my client previously worked for Princess Cruises.  I sent an email to Princess Cruises' General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich. I explained that I was pursuing a case against a cruise line here in Miami and needed to obtain my client's personnel and medical records from Princess. 

Records of this type are confidential and cannot be released without a signed and notarized authorization or a lawfully issued and served subpoena. California, where Princess is headquartered, has the strongest constitutional privacy rights in the U. S.  Ms. Ehrenreich obviously knows this after living in California her whole life, and being a student of "constitutional law."  

I requested that Ms. Ehrenreich  provide me with the particular type of authorization Princess required to release these confidential records.  My client would execute the authorization and, in turn, I could obtain the records.  I wanted to be certain that I was in full compliance with the Federal and State laws and regulations which govern records of this type.

Double Crossed

Ms. Ehrenreich quickly emailed me back and - to my surprise - claimed that there were no records reflecting that my client ever worked for Princess.  I knew this was not true, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I double checked the spelling of my client's name and I also sent her my client's Princess crew member identification number!  This would easily permit the records to be identified and retrieved. 

Ms. Ehrenreich then refused to respond to my requests. 

I continued on with the case against the cruise line in Miami. But it soon became apparent by the type of questions asked by the defense lawyer that his law firm had somehow obtained my client's confidential records from Princess in California. How could this be possible? Princess absolutely needed a signed and notarized authorization. To release medical records, the cruise line needed a HIPAA compliant release. Or Princess needed to be served with a subpoena.  But the cruise line never obtained an authorization nor received a subpoena.    

The Truth Comes Out

I asked the cruise line defense lawyer if Princess secretly sent him the records.  He refused to respond.  I served him with requests for my own client's records from Princess and any emails or letters from Princess.  He objected.  I pressed the issue further and threatened a Court hearing and sanctions.  He caved in, admitting that Princess surreptitiously sent him the records behind my back. 

I subsequently obtained evidence that when Ms. Ehrenreich received my email and told me that my client never worked at Princess, she sent an email to the defense lawyers in Miami and began communicating with them about my client. Then Princess sent all of my client's records to these lawyers, without a signed authorization or receipt of a subpoena!              

A Cruise Line Without A Moral Rudder

If the top lawyer for a large corporation will flaunt ethical rules and Federal and State privacy rights, what does that say about the culture of that corporation?  Who will protect the rights of cruise line employees, particularly crew members from foreign countries who can be easily exploited?  Who will enforce a code of honesty and ethics?    

Things are not as they seem on the Love Boat.  Cruise lines like this develop an arrogance over the years.  They don't pay U. S. taxes.  They abuse their foreign crew members. They usually get away with things. 

Duplicity and a lack of transparency characterize  Princess Cruises.  What can be expected from a cruise line whose General Counsel acts like this?

You will hear about this cruise line and Ms. Ehrenreich in the future, no doubt. 

This month's award was won in a landslide.  Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich, have more than earned their place as the first recipients of the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award.     

 

Photo credits:

Worst Person Logo MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Photo of Star Princess Cruise Ship   Jim Walker, Seattle WA July 4, 2009