Yesterday, while the cruise world was following the news of the fire aboard the Carnival Liberty, a cruise passenger went overboard from the Carnival Breeze.
Reportedly, a highly intoxicated passenger (people are saying 30 - 35 years of age) went overboard while the Carnival cruise ship was off the coast of Cuba.
Fortunately, the Carnival crew rescued the man. Passengers took photos and video of the rescue (you can watch a video here from my Facebook page).
The usual response we see when someone ends up in the water like this is to call him "stupid" and wonder how he survived the fall and not get sucked under the ship. But I always visualize a drunk overboard passenger's bar tab (i.e., a print-out of onboard purchases).
The most I have seen on a passenger's tab is 23 drinks in the course of around 5 hours. Serve that much booze to anyone and you are guaranteeing that something bad will happen. Unless it can be shown that the passenger smuggled a bottle of booze aboard, a bartender or group of bartenders who over-serve that mush alcohol to a passenger should be immediately fired. The passenger should be barred from the fleet.
There is a direct correlations between intoxication and violence, sexual assault and reckless conduct. Drunks flying over the rails is a clear indication that Carnival has a drinking problem on its cruise ships.
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.
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."
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.
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 . . .
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 . . .
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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