KHOU 11 reports that alcohol and cigarettes purchased by cruise passengers, represented by cruise lines as "duty-free products," are being taxed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) once the ships return to Galveston.
The state of Texas will start collecting similar taxes from cruise passengers at the Port of Houston by in October.
The television station says that the state of Texas has collected over $280,000 from cruise passengers since January.
The cruise lines misrepresent that the liquor and cigarettes are tax free, and then the TABC officials confront the returning cruise passengers as they come through customs.
The station quotes a passenger saying "They advertise it as duty free on the ship and when we get off the ship, to our surprise, it's not duty free. I think it's wrong."
The article is about Royal Caribbean kicking a passenger off the Rhapsody of the Seas for what is described as "rowdy behavior" that included throwing items overboard while the ship sailed in the south Pacific. The cruise line has a "Guest Conduct" policy which requires the passengers to act responsibility and permits the cruise line to kick them off the cruise when they act badly.
I don't disagree with the notion of removing an unruly passenger from a cruise. But the first thing I thought of was that Royal Caribbean probably over-served the guest too much booze in the first place. I later read comments that the passenger in question was probably drunk when he threw a bunch of stuff overboard and then staggered back to his cabin and passed out.
Royal Caribbean has what it calls a SafeServe policy where it supposedly trains its staff not to over-serve alcohol to passengers. But from the many comments to the incident on the Cruise Critic message board, it seems that the drinking policy is not rigorously enforced. The cruise line also offers an All-You-Can-Drink package which can lead only to more and more drunken conduct.
I have written about Royal Caribbean's drinking policies in the past where the company collects hundreds of millions of dollars in profits a year based on a system where bartenders earning only $50 a day from the cruise line push booze to make tips from the passengers.
Here are some comments to the rowdy passenger article:
"Saw way too much of the drunken behaviour on our last Royal Caribbean Cruise aboard Voyager and I have to agree that alot are now making sure they get their full monies worth with the drinks package and the only way to do that is to make sure you are just about smashed everyday."
"I cannot imagine drinking for ten straight days, actually I can, it's called "leaving Las Vegas" and it starred Nicholas Cage . . ."
So what happens when a cruise line violates its drinking policy and then a passenger breaks the guest conduct policy? Yes, the guest usually gets the boot. But shouldn't the bartenders responsible for over-serving the guest also find themselves on the dock the next morning? Should cruise executives face culpability when excessive serving of alcohol leads to unruly conduct, fights, crimes and people going over-board?
Or is a passenger's drinking problem just his problem alone?
Courthouse News Service reports on a disturbing story of Carnival allegedly over-serving alcohol to a passenger who fell off the cruise ship and then not taking reasonable steps to rescue the overboard woman.
The case involves cruise passenger "Sarah." As Courthouse News explains:
"After Carnival cruises got her so drunk she fell overboard, and eyewitnesses reported it, the captain refused to turn around the ship for 90 minutes, then refused to airlift her to hospital to treat her fractured bones."
The lawsuit alleges that a bartender kept pushing drinks on her. To encourage more alcohol sales, the Carnival bartender offered them free $5 coupons for the ship's casino. As a result, Sarah became "extremely intoxicated" and fell into the ocean but not before first striking a life boat during her 100 foot fall.
Her injuries included what is describes as "fractured orbital bones, lung contusions, hypothermia, fractured ribs, dissection of the carotid artery, heart arrhythmia, broken optical shelves, blood clots in her eyes, arms, and legs, as well as extreme hematomas all over her body."
Sarah's friend, fiance and others on the ship saw and/or heard her fall into the ocean and immediately notified several Carnival staff members. Carnival refused and delayed before they turned the ship to cruise ship around and eventually found her nearly two hours in the ocean, severely injured and without a life vest.
But the woman's ordeal was not over. Carnival refused to airlift her to a hospital, but diverted the cruise to Key West, where "doctors explained that they did not have the equipment to handle the severe trauma that plaintiff had suffered. They also stated that the plaintiff should have been air evacuated from the cruise ship directly to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami."
The story was also covered by Cruise Critic, and the members of that on-line cruise site are blaming Sarah for not exercising "personal responsibility."
Bur cruise lines are considered to be persons under the law. Cruise lines have responsibility to their guests. There is case law in Florida that cruise lines face liability when they over-serve passengers past the point of intoxication which appears to be the case if the allegations are true. Plus it's inexcusable to delay a couple of hours before trying to rescue an overboard passenger, whether they are drunk or not.
People may scoff at the case but Carnival earns hundreds of millions of dollars pushing alcohol on its huge fleet of cruise ships. It faces a multi-million dollar exposure in a case with such egregious allegations.
This morning the Carnival Miracle returned to New York with the body of an 18 year old high school student aboard.
The young man, scheduled to graduate from Saratoga Springs High School this spring, reportedly died of alcohol poisoning last night. He has been described as a "polite young man" in a local newspaper and as a "great, gentle kid" by extended family members on an on line cruise community website Cruise Critic.
18 year old kids are not suppose to die on cruises or during school breaks.
There will be debate where the alcohol came from and who is responsible for the young man's death.
One thing is certain. There's way too much emphasis on booze in the Carnival cruise experience. It's too easy for teenagers to gain access to alcohol on cruise ships. Its particularly easy when bartenders, working for tips, serve too many drinks without any regard to where the drinks eventually end up.
In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy's Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises." A 14 year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor's death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation. It's not a baby-sitting service."
So should parents watch over their teenagers like they zealously do at home? That's not what the cruise lines like Carnival tell you to do.
If you click on the "Cruise Booze" category to the left you'll see dozens of articles about excessive alcohol sales on cruises. The more booze on cruises, the greater the risk of crimes and death. As a parent of an 18 year-old-about-to-graduate, I find it hard to even think for a second of going on a cruise and returning without my son alive.
Many years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to Disney World with our two boys. While my wife was watching our kids in the pool, I ordered a beer for myself and a wine for my wife. The Disney bartender said he could sell only one drink per adult. So I had to ask my wife to come buy her own drink. I thought what a pain this was, but it was a responsible policy designed to keep alcohol away from underage drinkers.
There is nothing remotely resembling such a policy on cruise ships. Pushing alcohol is the business model of the cruise industry.
If this death becomes a story covered by the major press, you will see attacks on the parents for not supervising their child. But most parents have no idea just how out-of-control cruise ships like Carnival are. Carnival earns many hundreds of millions of dollars aggressively pushing the booze. There are few security guards, There are no real safeguards like I experienced at the Magic Kingdom.
Most parents spend their lives watching their kids like a hawk, but once on a cruise they get caught up in the fantasy environment marketed and sold by the "'fun ships." They let their guard down. The result is tragedies like this while the cruise line makes millions of dollars selling booze.
February 27 2013 Update: Here's the statement from Carnival we received this morning:
"We can confirm that an 18-year-old male guest passed away in his cabin at approximately 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26 during an eight-day voyage of the Carnival Miracle which ended later that morning in New York. The cause of death has not been determined. With regard to speculation that he may have died from alcohol poisoning, we can confirm that, based on the preliminary investigation, there is no indication he was served any alcohol by shipboard personnel. Following his death, the cruise line contacted the FBI as per standard practice in this type of occurrence. FBI representatives boarded the ship on Tuesday morning to conduct an investigation. No foul play is suspected. We extend our deepest sympathies to young man's family and loved ones during this very difficult time."
Former cruise ship performer and soon-to-be-lawyer Danielle Gauer returns for another inside look at the cruise industry. You can read Danielle's prior articles about life as a cruise ship dancer here and what Canadians should know about cruising here. Thanks Danielle for another great blog:
Many cruise ship passengers wonder where the crew lives and what it's like “down below.”
Beneath the beautifully decorated lounges, restaurants, art galleries and shops is another city with its own rules and hierarchical structure. The jobs on a cruise ship are pretty much based on nationality which designates the type of living arrangement that crew member will have. Because the "lowest" jobs on the totem pole are the cleaners, those employees are usually situated on the lowest deck of the ship, in shared cabins with a communal washroom and shower to be shared with those living in that particular corridor.
The type of job also determines status in the crew hierarchy. Hierarchy determines crew privileges and the kind of unspoken social rules that they must follow. As a dancer, I was considered a “non-striped” officer. As a result I was allowed to go in the guest areas of the ship, have a drink in a lounge, go to the top deck and sunbathe, and watch other entertainers on nights I wasn’t working. My “status” also permitted me to "hang out" with the high ranking officers who lived on the upper decks of the ship.
A cabin steward would not dare to try and socialize with an officer, and vice versa. There are cases where male officers would “shack up” with low ranking employees for the duration of their contract. The officer coin the subordinate crew member as their “mistress.”
For those who followed the Costa Concordia disaster, you may recall the good captain and his girlfriend. That is business as usual.
The majority of crew members do not have any special privileges. These crew members include the cabin stewards and waiters who are predominantly Indonesian or Filipino, and who work 12-15 hours a day for little money. They are lucky to get time off in port to call home to their loved ones, as satellite calling cards on the ship can be quite expensive ($20 for 17 minutes of talk time back in 2006).
But the real question is . . . what happens after work and the passengers are out of sight?
Usually located on deck 3 or on the “I-95” (the term is used to describe the main deck or “corridor” of the crew area), the general crew bar is open to all crew members. This means that even the highest ranked officers can party with the lowest men and women on the totem pole. There is also an Officer’s Bar which is designated to only the officers on the ship.
Aside from blatant segregation, the crew bar is alive with music and cheap booze, allowing crew members to party and get “tanked” till the early hours of the morning. The bartender working in the crew bar typically works on the ship in another capacity during the regular work day, but takes on the responsibility to get his/her fellow crew members liquored up so that they can actually enjoy their time on board the ship.
With lots of alcohol inevitably comes inappropriate behaviors involving both passengers and crew members. Much of this misconduct flies well below the radar. The only concern for the crew members is when they wake up with a hangover the next morning, or they find themselves terminated following an alcohol test. With that said, this is a risk that many crew members see worth taking.
I guess the common phrase still holds true, what happens in the crew bar stays in the crew bar . . .
Royal Caribbean Cruises, which I believe is one of the leaders in irresponsible alcohol practices in the cruise industry, is adding to its already controversial beverage policies with an offer of free booze when two passengers book balcony rooms or higher levels on trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruises this spring to Europe.
South Florida Business Journal covers the story in an article New Twists in Boozing and Ocean Cruising. The Journal explains that Royal Caribbean is offering the free booze to passengers who buy balcony cabins on:
Navigator of the Seas’ 15-night sailing from New Orleans to Rome (Civitavecchia) on April 6;
Independence of the Seas’ 13-night sailing from Port Everglades to Southampton, U.K. on April 7;
Brilliance of the Seas’ 11-night sailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Lisbon, Portugal on April 13; an
Adventure of the Seas’ 14-night sailing from San Juan to Southampton on April 21.
We have seen a correlation between too much booze and women and children being sexually assaulted, drunken brawls and passengers going overboard. Royal Caribbean does not mention whether there is a limit to how many drinks its bartenders and waiters will serve the passengers. Carnival recently stated that there is a 15 drink "limit" on its all-you-can drink policy. So if that is any indication of the standards of the cruise industry, then the new free drink policy on the Royal Caribbean ships will be surely result a significant portion of the passengers being intoxicated.
The South Florida Business Journal mentions our blog in its article:
"Maritime attorney Jim Walker of Walker & O'Neill has written some critical blogs about alcohol consumption on ships. He alleges some cruise lines routinely over serve passengers with bartenders being incentivized to do so. Of course, Walker is in the business of suing cruise lines when something unfortunate happens to passengers or crew members.
Carnival recently imposed a limit of 15 drinks in a 24-hour period for its booze bundles, which Walker likened to "no limit at all." A contrarian might argue that some people can knock down a beer an hour all day long and into the night without being stumbling drunk.
The danger for cruise lines is lawyers in some cases are trying to hold them liable for over serving passengers. Walker has a blog about a lawsuit involving a female passenger on one ship, who was allegedly raped by members of a ship's crew after drinking too much."
A lawsuit recently filed here in Miami illustrates the danger of cruise ship rape which most families who cruise do not realize.
The lawsuit filed last week alleges that Carnival served a young woman two margaritas, a Mojito and three double vodka drinks. Weighing only 118 pounds, the passenger was visibly intoxicated but the Carnival bartenders kept pouring drinks to the woman and her friends, one of whom was so drunk that she vomited on her.
Carnival crew members and officers were observed openly fraternizing and drinking alcohol with women in the ship's bar and disco club. The lawsuit alleges after the woman was intoxicated, two upper level Carnival ship employees, both large men, physically pinned down the wrists of the petite, small framed woman and took turns raping her. One Carnival employee sodomized her. The lawsuit states that the two men humiliated the woman and laughed at her when she resisted and protested.
The theory of liability against Carnival is that the cruise line routinely over-serves alcohol to its passengers in order to increase profits and it does not maintain an adequate level of security to protect women on its cruise ships. While Carnival encourages excessive alcohol consumption, it does not enforce its alleged "zero tolerance" policy against crew - guest fraternization. In addition to the negligence allegations, the lawsuit asserts that the cruise lines is vicariously and strictly liable for the criminal conduct of its employees.
The correlation between excessive alcohol and sexual violence against women is a topic we have discussed often here on this blog.
Serving a young women what turns out to be 9 drinks, permitting crew members and officers to mingle with the drunk women in the disco, and providing no real security or warnings to passengers about the risk of being raped is a recipe for disaster.
If a bar or restaurant served a woman 10 or 15 drinks and then employees of the restaurant raped the guest, the local police would probably end up arresting the bartenders and restaurant owner in addition to the employees who committed the crime. But on Carnival cruises, this seems to be part of the "fun ship" experience.
In 2006, I attended a Congressional hearing where a subcommittee listened to testimony where bartenders of Carnival-owned Costa Cruises served a 15 year old girl 10 drinks. A newspaper in Ireland wrote that in a period of 45 minutes the 15-year-old girl "was served 10 drinks in a bar on the cruise ship, two Sex on the Beach, four Woo Woos, two vodka and mixers, a shot of vodka and liqueurs." The young girl went overboard while trying to vomit over the railing. She has never been found.
If you are a woman sailing on a cruise ship, watch how much you drink. Bartenders earn their living on tips and the food and beverage employees are under pressure to meet drink quotas. If you drink too much, stay with your friends. If you are a parent with teenage daughters, don't think that the cruise line will strictly enforce a drinking age of 21 or that it is safe to leave your children unattended.
A court case pending in Miami contains an insight into the number of sexual assaults which occur during cruises.
The case is Jane Doe v. NCL and involves an incident where a cruise passenger alleges that she was raped in the toilet stall of a public bathroom while participating in a "Pub Crawl" on the Norwegian Sun. A "Pub Crawl" is what I would describe as a drinking game where NCL employees take passengers to bars throughout the cruise ship where they are served booze. I mentioned the case last year.
The federal district court judge just entered a number of orders in the case which are of interest.
NCL filed a motion arguing that it owed no obligation to warn its guests of the risk of being raped on the high seas. The court rejected the cruise line's argument.
The court pointed to the fact that there were 23 allegations of sexual assault on NCL cruise ships for the 15 month period before the incident (January 2010 to April 2011). The history of prior sexual crimes on NCL's fleet of cruise ships raised the issue whether the rape on the Norwegian Sun was foreseeable which, the court held, is an issue for the jury at trial.
NCL also argued that it had no duty not to over-serve passengers alcohol during cruises. The federal court also rejected this argument. The court adopted the holding of a state court case, Hall v. Royal Caribbean, where a state appellate court ruled that cruise lines face liability when they serve passengers alcohol beyond the point of intoxication.
The security report on this case concluded that the passenger was "extremely intoxicated."
The passenger in the NCL case is being represented by Miami maritime lawyer Keith Brais who posted copies of the court orders on line here and here.
NCL is being defended by Miami lawyer Curtis Mase. Mr. Mase was involved in a highly publicized case in 1999 where a trial court ordered Carnival to reveal the number of sexual assaults against cruise ship passengers. This was the first time a cruise line had to reveal the extent of shipboard crimes.
Carnival disclosed that there were 62 incidents on its cruise ships for a five year period. Two weeks later, the New York Times reported that Carnival located another 46 incidents and raised the tally to 108 incidents of sexual misconduct over the preceding 5 years.
ABC News reports that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has adopted an all-inclusive drink package on three of its cruise ships (Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Gem & Norwegian Jade) at $49 per person per day plus tips.
NCL is following Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean which all offer all-you-can-drink plans on their cruise ships.
ABC states that the cruise lines "stand to make big bucks from the drink packages." ABC explains that many cruise passengers tend to drink more during the first few days of the cruise than they do later during the cruise. But the drink packages often have to be purchased for the entire voyage, which motivates the passengers to drink more so not to lose the value of all-you-can-drink deal.
In March of 2006 I attended the second of seven cruise ship hearings in Washington D.C. regarding cruise ship crimes and missing passengers.
The most compelling cruise story featured at the hearing was the case of Lynsey O'Brien, a fifteen year old Irish girl traveling with her family aboard the Costa Magica cruise ship. During the cruise, the Costa bartenders served 15-year-old Lyndsey 10 drinks. A newspaper in Ireland wrote "in a period of 45 minutes his 15-year-old daughter was served 10 drinks in a bar on the cruise ship, two Sex on the Beach, four Woo Woos, two vodka and mixers, a shot of vodka and liqueurs."
Lyndsey went overboard while trying to vomit over the railing. She has never been found. Her mom and dad, two sisters and brother returned to Ireland from the Costa cruise without their sister.
Lynsey's father Paul O'Brien just published a book a week ago about the horrendous experience of losing a child during what should be a holiday cruise and then ending up in a lawsuit against the cruise line which killed your daughter.
A federal grand jury indicted a Florida man arrested for participating in and encouraging the gang rape of a 15 year old girl on a Carnival cruise ship last month. The grand jury indicted Casey Dickerson on sexual abuse charges Wednesday for engaging in the rape of a girl in a cabin on the Carnival Sensation cruise ship.
The victim told the FBI that she and a friend went to Dickerson's cabin with him and four other boys. She said that Dickerson and the boys held her down and took turns raping her.
Dickerson denies the charges but said he was drunk and didn't know when anything got "sexual."
This is a case we have blogged about before here and here and here.
The case demonstrates the danger of free flowing cruise booze and the danger to minors of sexual assault on cruise ships.
The good thing, if there is such a thing, about this case is that the FBI actually made an arrest and there will be a federal prosecution - which is rare.
I have been critical of Carnival's new all-you-can-drink cruise booze package which is similar to the booze policy that Royal Caribbean has been selling to its passengers. I have been quoted before saying that there is a direct correlation between too much cruise booze and sexual assaults and overboard passengers - Boozy Cruises a Recipe for Disaster.
But truth be told the "new" alcohol policy is just an official designation of the all-you-can-drink atmosphere which has existed on Carnival's Fun Ships dating back over the decades. The drunken anything-goes party attitude results in violence and people going overboard - literally.
According to the lawsuit papers filed against Carnival, the "drunk husband" was passenger Clint Markham, who drank heavily while ashore in Cozumel. When he returned to the Carnival Conquest cruise ship, he was "inebriated to the point of being unable to care for his own safety or to think clearly and rationally. He wanted to continue drinking and partying . . .
What followed was a spat between Mr. Markham (photo right) and his wife who tried to calm her husband down and keep him in his cabin where he could take a shower and sober up. But Mr. Markham proceeded to an upper deck of the ship, where he engaged in animated conversation with friends and strangers. He then climbed up on the railing where he sat for a few moments and then fell face forward into the sea. His body was never found.
The lawsuit seeks to hold Carnival liable for creating an out-of-control environment where the cruise line encouraged its guests to drink to excess such that "even though he had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, Clint Markham had been conditioned by defendant to want to keep partying, and to take it to the limit and beyond." The complaint (filed by another maritime lawyer in Miami) alleges:
"Defendant Carnival Corporation goes to great lengths to inebriate its passengers and, in so doing, to break down their inhibitions, and create an 'anything goes' atmosphere. Synonyms for the name of the defendant's corporation, Carnival, include 'bacchanal,' 'orgy,' 'debauch' and 'merrymaking.' The word 'carnival' has come to mean in the general lexicon a 'self-indulgent festival.' Defendant's business plan to cultivate this atmosphere among its passengers is no coincidence."
I'm sure that many reading about Mr. Markham's situation (which I blogged about last year, here) will say that its a matter of "personal responsibility" and place all of the blame on him for what happened.
I am also a firm believer in personal responsibility. But I must quickly point out that corporations are considered to be persons too. Cruise lines like Carnival make hundreds of millions of dollars a year pushing the sale of alcohol. Carnival knows that lots of bad bad things happen when their guests drink too much.
Just last month a soldier who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan drank himself into a stupor while aboard the Carnival Fascination. He ended up allegedly running around the ship assaulting people and then apparently jumped from one deck down to another before he ended up jumping off the ship with a life ring when the cruise ship security personnel chased him.
And remember the case of cruise passenger, Robert McGill, (photo left) who drank himself silly with Mezcal and 7 or 8 beers while ashore in Cabo and then returned to the Carnival Elation where he staggered up the gangway, ordered more booze from Carnival, got into an argument and beat and strangled his wife? Afterwards he ordered a bucket of beer to drink as the ship returned to port.
Yes, all of these individuals share responsibility for drinking too much. Its easy to blame them. But Carnival, which profits greatly from its all-you-can-drink atmosphere, also has personal responsibility for these deaths.
Client Markham KETK / KHOU / Houston Chronicle
Robert John McGill with FBI L.A. Times
Carnival's motto? Load em' off, load em' in. Let the drinking begin . . .
A local news station in central Florida is reporting that a 15 year old cruise passenger alleges that she was gang raped by other passengers while cruising aboard the Carnival Sensation cruise ship.
WFTV reports that one of their news reporters interviewed a man who was arrested for allegedly raping a a 15-year-old girl during a Carnival cruise. The news station reports that "investigators said the girl was raped on the Carnival Sensation cruise ship by the man who then encouraged other attackers to do the same."
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the teenage victim stated that she and another friend, also 15, went to 31 year old Casey Dickerson's cabin with him and four other boys.
The newspaper states that once in the cabin, the girl said, Dickerson and the boys held her down and took turns having sex with her.
At the same time, the victim's teenage friend was being held in the bathroom by one of the boys.
As Dickerson and the others sexually assaulted the victim, they told each other to "switch," so that they would change positions.
The girl said someone knocked on the door while she was being attacked and one of the boys answered it.
The girl said she was on the floor of the cabin, wearing only a bra, and after the person who knocked at the door left, Dickerson and the boys continued their sexual attacks, the complaint says.
The WFTV reporter, Jeff Deal, talked with the suspect, Dickerson, in jail. Dickerson denied raping anyone.
"According to investigators, a group of underage people asked Dickerson to buy them alcohol.
'You admit you bought alcohol for them?' Deal asked.
'I admit I bought alcohol,' said Dickerson.
Dickerson had access to two rooms because his wife had complained about noise early on in the cruise. Carnival gave them keys to a second room.
Investigators said the group started partying in the first room and that's where the 15-year-old claims she was essentially gang-raped.
Investigators said the girl first claims Dickerson raped her and then two underage boys raped her too.
Investigators said the boys said Dickerson told them to do it.
During the interview, Dickerson claimed he didn't know the age of the young people . . and when we pressed him on the rape allegations he suddenly decided to end the interview."
Its amusing to watch a cruise line caught in a scandal pretend to be outraged over "unfair" media scrutiny.
Royal Caribbean's response to Inside Edition's out-of-control cruise booze expose' reminds me of the the quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother.
Last week, InsideEdition aired a story "Inside Edition Investigates Cruise Ship Drinking" which took a look at widespread public intoxication aboard Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas cruise ship. Inside Edition's show contained video depicting:
". . . many passengers pound back booze day and night. In the ship's night club, our cameras spotted people passed out and one passenger face down on the bar. We also observed raunchy dancing and women exposing themselves.
From the moment our undercover producers walked up the gangway, the booze kept flowing. We saw many passengers drinking heavily before and during the mandatory lifeboat drill . . .
But the real boozing we witnessed occurred after the Liberty of the Seas set sail when legions of waiters descended on passengers with tray loads of booze pushing the drink of the day." You can watch the video below:
The following day Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein wrote a blog about the Inside Edition expose, calling it "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." He wrote about his cruise line's "SafeServe" alcohol training program and allegedly "strict policies" against over-serving alcohol to passengers.
There is no question that Royal Caribbean has a written policy theoretically designed to curb excessive drinking. But its just that - a policy. In practice, the waiters and bartenders routinely ignore the policy and push alcohol sales. Its hard to take a cruise CEO's shore-side policies seriously when you watch videos of Royal Caribbean waiters, who work almost entirely on tips, dancing around with bottles of rum on their heads while pouring double shots directly into the passenger's mouths.
Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $50 a month. The waiters push booze in order to obtain gratuities. Profits from aggressive alcohol sales are a fundamental part of the cruise line's "onboard purchases" program. The cruise line nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze. If Royal Caribbean was serious about curtailing over-consumption of alcohol during cruises, they would pay the waiters and bartenders a reasonable salary.
Lots-of-cruise booze translates into lots of cruise profits but higher incidents of sexual assault, drunken brawls and serious accidents including some leading to death. The alcohol related problems on Royal Caribbean cruise ships date back decades.
In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy's Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises." A 14 year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor's death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation. It's not a baby-sitting service."
There have been problems with too much booze on Royal Caribbean cruise ships ever since.
The first sexual assault case I handled in the late 1990's involved a 15 year old boy served a dozen glasses of champagne and then molested by a 28 year old Royal Caribbean crew member pedophile.
Perhaps one of the best known cases of an over-served passenger involved another case we handled where honeymoon cruiser George Smith was grossly over-served alcohol. Royal Caribbean bartenders even provided shot glasses for Mr. Smith and other passengers to quaff absinthe that had been smuggled aboard the Brilliance of the Seas.
The seminal case involving the responsibility of cruise lines in dispensing alcohol is a 2004 case here in Miami called Hall v. Royal Caribbean. A passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the opinion, "was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel's employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways."
The trial court threw the case out saying that the cruise line had no obligation to the drunken passenger. But the appellate court revered, holding that although passengers have a personal responsibility to act reasonably, the cruise lines also have a corporate responsibility of acting reasonably in serving a safe amount of alcohol.
In 2006, a young man from Ohio, Daniel DiPiero, fell off a Royal Caribbean ship when he tried to vomit over the railing which was too low. The accident was entirely preventable. Video showed that the young man had passed out in a deck chair but no security had passed by for several hours.
Many of the problems with alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the past few years stem from its all-you-can-drink-packages,where passengers can drink themselves into a stupor for a daily set price. No cruise line with a genuine concern for passenger safety would market these types of unlimited booze deals.
With this history in mind, CEO Goldstein's protestations about "sensational" media reports fall on my deaf ears. There is nothing more sensational for a family to learn that their son has gone overboard or their daughter has been raped after Royal Caribbean over-served them alcohol.
The Inside Edition video speaks for itself. Little has changed at Royal Caribbean. The cruise line continues to push cruise booze and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free booze profits in the process.
At the end of the day, it's the "personal responsibility" versus "corporate liability" debate. What do you think?
Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts . . .
A newspaper in Australia is reporting that 16 cruise passengers, with ages between 18 and 23, were booted off the P & O Cruises' Pacific Dawn cruise ship for fighting.
The incident occurred late at night, with some newspaper accounts suggesting that the men were intoxicated and fighting over a woman.
The Observer reports that one of the passengers was arrested after he allegedly assaulted a female crew member. The newspaper quotes one of the rowdy passengers stating: "We got kicked off because we were having too much fun . . . It was awesome."
Outbreaks of fights like this are one of the occurrences which mar the cruising experience. How often these incidents occur is subject to debate. Recently, 20/20 aired a cruise expose which showed lots of YouTube videos of cruise drunks and out-of-control brawls. Many travel agents and cruise fans were upset with what they thought was a sensationalist television program.
We have looked into the problem of too much booze and fights on cruises over the last few years in our articles:
Last night ABC News aired a cruise ship special on its 20/20 program about the Costa Concordia disaster. Narrated by Chris Cuomo from Italy, the one hour program contains an inside look at this latest cruise ship disaster based on interviews with surviving passengers.
You can watch the first segment of the show, which focuses on details of the cruise disaster, here.
The 20/20 program also took a hard look at the problem with excessive drinking during cruises. I learned a new phrase last night, of being "cruise-ship drunk." You will see lots of videos of passengers being "knee-walking" or "fall-down" drunk. Not a pretty sight.
The show correctly points out that there is a direct correlation between excessive drinking and violence, which is compounded by the tendency of the cruise lines to push the sale of booze, the insufficient number of security guards, and the absence of an independent police force. We looked into these problems over the last few years in our articles:
Yesterday there were multiple news accounts of the sentencing of Carnival cruise passenger, Robert McGill, to life in jail for the brutal murder of his wife aboard the Elation cruise ship.
The crime occurred after McGill reportedly drank a half bottle of Mezcal and seven or eight beers while ashore in Cabo San Lucas. The Southwest Riverside News reports today that McGill was "so inebriated he could not negotiate the ship’s gangplank without assistance upon returning from a shore visit."
After he killed his wife in an intoxicated rage, he cleaned himself up, placed a "do not disturb" sign on the cabin door, and proceeded to the top deck where he drank beers from a bucket as the cruise ship sailed back to San Diego.
It is disturbing to me that the shipboard security would permit a passenger who is so-drunk-that-he-can't walk-straight onto the ship without escorting him to the ship doctor or placing him in the brig until he sobers up. Certainly the security guards manning the gangway entrances are going to notice someone reeking of booze and stumbling through the metal detector like this.
What are Carnival's procedures when security observes passengers in such a high state of intoxication? I'm not sure. I know that many cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, consider such intoxication to be a violation of the passenger's code of conduct, which permits the cruise line to intervene and place the passengers in the brig for their own safety and that of other passengers.
But in reality does any cruise line actually enforce this policy? Did anyone on the Carnival Elation care when McGill stumbled aboard with a gut full of Mezcal and 90 ounces of cervezas consumed ashore in Cabo?
If Carnival had acted responsibly, McGill would have spent the evening and night in the brig to sober up and no one would be reporting on such a violent crime. But it didn't. Not only did Carnival let such a drunken passenger onto its ship, but it served McGill a bucket of beer after he killed his wife. So much for not serving drunks.
I know, many people reading this will say its not Carnival's fault, its a matter of personal responsibility. Yes, personal responsibility plays a big part in life. McGill should have acted responsibly and not drank to excess, assuming that alcohol played a part in the murder. But Carnival has a legal obligation of exercising its corporate responsibility to protect its guests as well. There is a correlation between drunken passengers on cruise ships and violence, just like a connection between drunken bar patrons and bar fights.
In this case, Carnival looked the other way when McGill staggered aboard. Carnival profited by selling McGill beer later. Buckets of bud lite beer on Carnival ships go for $25 for five beers, which would cost less than $5 a six pack ashore.
The LA Times has an interesting photo of Mr. McGill being escorted off the crew gangway by a FBI agent, as passengers are seen boarding the passenger gangway above to begin their cruise on schedule.
It seems that Carnival's motto is load em' off, load em' in. Let the drinking begin . . .
The article by Michael Miller involves an encounter between a 17 year old passenger ("Jane Doe") and a 31 year old Royal Caribbean crew member employed as a singer in a band on the unidentified cruise ship. After the crew member bought the minor a piña colada, two rounds of "Jaeggerbombs" and "a few more drinks," they ended up in the crew member's cabin where the rape allegedly occurred. "Another man" (apparently another passenger) then ended up in the cabin and took pornographic photos of the drunken girl, according to the article.
The lawsuit alleges that the minor was required to prepare a written statement while she was still intoxicated. She was then permitted a medical examination, where her blood alcohol level was .101.
The curious part of the article is the newspaper writes "Royal Caribbean, which is based in Miami, could not be reached for comment regarding the lawsuit." This is odd because the Miami New Times is here in Miami and a short distance down Biscayne Boulevard from the port where Royal Caribbean is located. It is less than clear whether the reporter called the cruise line or tried to make contact with any law enforcement who may have been involved.
It is my understanding that the cruise line notified the FBI which quickly ended its investigation and arrested no one. The cruise line then undoubtedly terminated the crew member involved. Like most (alleged) cruise rapes, this case ended as soon as it was reported. The (alleged) victim will be left with no recourse except to file a civil case. The fired crewmember will probably end up working on a Carnival cruise ship in six months.
What happened in the cabin? Did a rape occur? I don't know, I was not there. There will be no criminal jury impaneled to weigh the evidence.
But whatever happened, one thing is certain - the minor was served a great deal of alcohol, sold by a crew member to another crew member, both of whom knew that the cruise line has a policy against serving minors with alcohol. The minor appears to have been drinking the piña colada, two "Jaeggerbombs" and "a few more drinks" in public, undoubtedly in view of other crew members who were aware that minors can't be served alcohol and that crew members cannot "fraternize" with passengers, whether they are adults or minors.
Incidents like this do not happen in a sober environment or in a serious setting where security personnel are on alert. When I read these type of stories or am contacted by women in similar situations, I am quickly reminded of the "anything goes" mentality of shipboard life on cruise ships. Did the parents of the girl (who are not mentioned in the article) have any idea how many incidents of overserving minors and sexual assaults occur during cruises?
Royal Caribbean needs to improve its alcohol policies and procedures. It needs to warn parents about dangers like this. Cruise lines earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year pushing the sale of alcohol, some of which is consumed by young girls who end up in places on cruise ships where they should not be alone.
Photo credit: Royal Caribbean drink menu via Cruise Critic
We receive a lot of weird emails and telephone inquiries from cruise passengers about all types of things. Can we get our money back because the waiter was rude? Can we get a free cruise because the weather was bad and we missed a port, etc . . . etc. . . . etc.
I'll be honest. I hate these type of inquiries. They are a waste of everyone's time.
Last month we received one of these type of complaints. Passengers on some type of music fan cruise on a Carnival cruise wanted us to help them obtain a refund because they claimed that some of the band members were drunk and disrupted their enjoyment of the cruise. We couldn't help them. Bad cruise experiences (not involving a serious injury) like this have no place in our legal system. The passengers we talked to agreed with us after a few minutes.
This weekend one of the passengers emailed me a link to the TMZ web site (not something I read everyday), joking about their experience. TMZ gossiped about one of the members of the Backstreet Boys becoming so intoxicated that many passengers wanted a refund. Its turns out that the Backstreet Boys had a fan cruise in December on a Carnival cruise ship leaving from Miami to Cozumel and back. TMZ claims that A.J. McLean (who I learn is a Backstreet Boy) "was so hammered and rowdy on a BB fan cruise last month, that several passengers lodged complaints ... with some even demanding a refund . . . one cruise staffer tells us A.J. and his crew acted like 'drunken fools' for the entire five-day trip."
Drunks during a Carnival cruise? Sounds like business as usual on the Carnival "fun ships."
"Complicating matters is the huge amount of alcohol which the cruise lines sell to the passengers, which often leads to drunken brawls in the bars and discos and sometimes around the pools. It will be interesting to see how Carnival and the other cruise lines handle the "wider audience" flocking onto the larger cruise ships. If cruise ships are like cities and "stuff happens," what steps are they taking to protect U.S. families?
Will the cruise lines elect to hire a full complement of well trained and experienced security guards? Or will they continue to try and save money with only 2 or 3 inexperienced "guards" trying to protect 2,000 or 3,000 passengers?"
Well, the answers to these questions may be found in YouTube videos which have surfaced regarding a brawl which broke out in the Caliente Club on Carnival's Dream cruise ship three weeks ago.
The August 12th fight was widely reported by the news media, including Professor's Ross Klein's Cruise Junkie which contained the following account from a passenger:
"We were on the Carnival Dream sailing 08/07 to 08/14 and heard that a brawl broke out in the dance club around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. We heard from passengers and a bartender that the brawl started over a song. It involved so many young people (men and women) that the security on board was unable to handle everyone and had to call in assistance from wait staff and other crew members. The fight spilled over into the art gallery located next door and apparently a $10K painting was ruined with blood spatter. Flat screen tvs were smashed and there was a lot of damage done. We heard that people on the ground were getting kicked in the head by men and women and that one person needed to be revived because he was hurt so badly. We also heard that the crowd spilled out of the dance club and that innocent people were getting punched in the face as they were walking by.
The next morning in Costa Maya there were a bunch of people (10 people) sitting by the side of the ship with all of their luggage as they were kicked off the ship and their relatives were shipped off to Mexican jails. Carnival needs to learn a lesson here and not serve alcohol after a certain time and perhaps shut down the 18+ dance club before 3:00 a.m. Nothing good can come of drunk teenagers at 3:00 in the morning."
"A fight occurred on the vessel. It was broken up by ship's security and the cause of the fight was investigated which resulted in 10 guests being disembarked in Mexico . . . The safety and security of our guests and crew is of utmost importance and we will not tolerate behavior that could put any of them at risk."
Carnival has a problem with way too much alcohol served on their cruise ships and way too few security guards to handle the unruly drunks. Here are two videos of the fight.
The San Diego Union Tribune reports that federal prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty against a passenger who is charged with beating his wife to death while on a Carnival cruise last summer.
The newspaper reports that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego charged Robert John McGill with first-degree murder and kidnapping of his wife, Shirley.
Mr. McGill is charged with beating his wife to death in their cabin aboard the Carnival cruise ship Elation on July 14, 2009. The newspaper reports that court records quote witnesses as saying Robert McGill appeared extremely intoxicated - not an uncommon occurrence on cruise ships.
Mr. McGill also reportedly admitted killing his wife to passengers, cruise ship line employees, and FBI agents who arrived on the cruise ship.
The Los Angeles’ Daily News previously reported that “Defendant Robert McGill stated he killed his wife in the bathroom of their cabin with his bare hands,” according to a criminal complaint filed by a FBI special agent.
An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County medical examiner concluded that Ms. McGill died of strangulation and blunt force injury to her head and body.
According to the Cruise Ship Forum, Carnival stated that notwithstanding the murder and the arrival of 20 FBI agents, the Elation’s scheduled departure would not be delayed.
Mr. McGill is shown to the right being escorted off the crew gangway by a FBI agent, as passengers are seen boarding the passenger gangway above to begin their cruise on schedule.
Carnival's motto: Load em' off, load em' in. Let the drinking begin . . .
The article mentions what is described as a "mini-rampage" on the P&O cruise ship Ventura while the ship was at sea. Also mentioned is the brawl between six Carnival passengers who punched, scratched and bit it out with police in Antigua over a dispute with a taxi driver over, depending on who you believe, either a $50 or $100 taxi fare.
Mr. Ash's article raises a couple of interesting issues.
Are cruise lines inviting rowdier crowds on board with discount tickets? And what happens when, as Mr. Ash puts it, "the happy and careless rich collide with the hungry and resentful poor?"
One of the subscribers to this blog commented on an earlier article about the danger presented when vacationing families intersect with the hard partying younger crowd who are enticed to cruise with the lure of cheap three-day booze cruises. I compare the situation to going on a cruise with Kid Rock - I love his music but I wouldn't want to take my family on a cruise with his posse partying next door.
As reported by Mr. Ash, a BBC2 television host Jeremy Vine recently questioned Carnival CEO Micky Arison about this problem of violence associated with cheap cruise tickets and a more diverse group of passengers.
“Cruise ships are a microcosm of any city or any location and stuff happens . . . The negatives of discounting might be less commission for agents and less revenue for us but the positive is it opens up the product to a wider audience.”
The "wider audience" will undoubtedly include a younger crowd from a different demographic, including what I call the hard partying "Bud Light - tank top" crowd.
Mr. Ash concludes his article with the following thought:
"I can’t think anything I’d rather less do than go on holiday with five thousand three hundred and ninety-nine other people. Imagine the rush for the boats – or taxis – during shore excursions. Imagine the stress of finding a space by the pool. Or queuing for dinner. One may as well go to the Med and scrap with the Russians and Germans for sun loungers. No wonder people get punchy. Who wouldn’t?"
Complicating matters is the huge amount of alcohol which the cruise lines sell to the passengers, which often leads to drunken brawls in the bar and discos and sometimes around the pools. It will be interesting to see how Carnival and the other cruise lines handle the "wider audience" flocking onto the larger cruise ships. If cruise ships are like cities and "stuff happens," what steps are they taking to protect U.S. families?
Will the cruise lines elect to hire a full complement of well trained and experienced security guards? Or will they continue to try and save money with only 2 or 3 inexperienced "guards" trying to protect 2,000 or 3,000 passengers?
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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