Earlier today I blogged that the Italian judges released Costa Captain Schettino of the doomed Concordia cruise ship from house arrest. The judges also released him from the strict prohibition against speaking with anyone other than his lawyer and close family friends.
So by this afternoon we have one of Captain Schettino's first statements.
It's a whopper.
AFP quotes Schettino saying that a "divine hand" guided him and saved lives.
"A divine hand surely touched my head . . . If I had continued on that path the ship's prow would have hit the rock. It would have been carnage."
"There are those who say the impact with the stern was caused because I was suffering from a hallucination. What hallucination! It was rather my instinct, my skills, the ability to know the sea and suddenly change direction."
Ah, a coward captain who killed 32 innocent souls but now thanks himself and his co-pilot God.
The Italian judges should send Schettino to a mental institution.
Tonight CNN will broadcast "Cruise to Disaster," a documentary into the Costa Concordia disaster. Here is the lead in to the CNN special program:
"What we found will be unsettling for anyone who has taken or is thinking of taking a cruise: allegations of inadequate safety briefings and chaos in the minutes after the collision; a captain who failed to sound a general alarm for almost an hour, meaning vital, lifesaving assemblies at lifeboat stations did not take place; and a crew that felt unable to act without clear orders from their captain.
In some cases, lifeboats were not able to be launched because by the time the general alarm finally sounded at 10:48 p.m., the ship was leaning over too far to allow the lifeboats to launch. Thirty-two people died in the Concordia disaster.
We learned that 6,000 tons of water entered the Concordia in just 20 minutes. For a ship three times the weight of the Titanic, it was fatal. Almost immediately, key equipment in the engine room was knocked out. The ship's backup generators were flooded.
Computers that monitor the ship's stability were also compromised. CNN's documentary team obtained remarkable footage from the ship's bridge that revealed Captain Francesco Schettino grappling with a situation that was already out of control. His ship had a hole below the waterline the width of a football field.
We also found compelling evidence that Schettino's decision to "salute" the island of Giglio by sailing perilously close caused the accident, but also that this wasn't the first time the Costa Concordia had sailed within a few hundred yards of the rocks.
Schettino is still awaiting trial on multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Schettino escaped the ship on a lifeboat while the ship was capsizing. A transcript of his tense exchange with Port Authority officials can be read here, including their order to him to "Get on board, damn it!"
Here is the video introduction to the program tonight which airs at 8:00 PM EST:
Following the Costa Concordia tragedy, there was considerable debate about where the survivors would file suit and what legal claims against the cruise line would be raised.
As we approach 6 months after the disaster, there is even more confusion. Lawsuits have been filed all over the place.
A group of New York lawyers filed suit in state court here in Miami. Many Miami lawyers referred cases to Italian lawyers to pursue in Genoa, Italy where Costa is headquartered. Other New York lawyers filed suit in New York. Lawyers in Illinois filed suit in Chicago. One lawyer filed suit in Galveston and even took the extraordinary step of seizing a Carnival cruise ship to try and get Carnival's attention.
The latest highly publicized court filing, announced last week, involves a case filed against Carnival Corporation for the defective design of the Costa Concordia.
Mississippi lawyer John Arthur Eaves filed the lawsuit in California and alleges that the Concordia was designed in a manner that causes the cruise ship to "roll and list" and caused problems safely evacuating the vessel. He intends to names the designers and architects in the lawsuit.
Mr. Eaves scheduled a press conference in Italy (see video below) and said:
"We believe that the actions of Carnival were so calculated, to place the profits of their fleet, the ability to sell more space on each boat was so calculated a decision that they intentionally ignored safety concerns and for that we have asked the court for punitive damages in the United States which is the ability of a U.S. court to take away the profits by which Carnival gain. We thought it is not right for Carnival to make huge profits by doing the wrong thing."
Mr. Eaves was the lawyer who filed suit in Galveston and was criticized for seizing a Carnival cruise ship "as a shot across the bow" to get the cruise line's attention. I met Mr. Eaves in Washington D.C. during the Congressional hearings into the Concordia disaster. He seems like a bright lawyer and a good fellow who has a passionate interest into cruise ship safety issues.
His "design defect" filing in California is another creative lawsuit seeking to hold Carnival responsible for the Concordia disaster. His latest lawsuit has also come under criticism by the cruise industry defenders, but I think it is right on target.
Someone needs to take a look at these taller and taller cruise ships and determine whether they are safely designed. A couple of months ago I wrote an article Are Cruise Ships Dangerously Top Heavy? I'm not a naval architect but the cruise ships today seem to have far too much air draft, like a 17 story condominium stuck on a barge.
Cruise ships like this depend on stabilizers. But stabilizers are of no help when the cruise ship loses power. Ships like this seem likely to tip over.
It's the last place I would want my family to be if there is a collision, or a fire, or the engines fail in rough water.
Photograph: News Pictures / Rex Features
The U.K.'s Channel 4 broadcast a cruise documentary tonight called "Disaster at Sea: Why Ships Sink."
"Why Ships Sink" examines the issue of passenger safety at sea since the Titanic. A film crew came to Miami last month and interviewed me and others involved in the cruise and maritime industries.
Unfortunately, the documentary is not yet available for airing in the U.S. so please excuse the "watch now" teaser on the website. The program will air in the U.S. in two weeks. But if you are from the U.K. you should be able to watch the program online or catch it the next time it airs on Channel 4 (Tuesday April 10, 2012 12.05AM on Channel 4).
Channel 4's write-up of the show is below:
"Nowadays, huge, extravagant cruise ships tower above the ocean surfaces, boasting state-of-the art shopping malls, cinemas and tennis courts, and offering arrays of bars and restaurants.
In spite of a century of advanced design and new technology and being built by the world's greatest expert marine engineers and scientists, lessons from the past are being constantly overlooked and these ships continue to sink.
The Titanic embarked on her maiden voyage in April 1912 and was the largest, heaviest, most expensive luxurious man-made moving object on the planet, built by the world's most skilled labour force.
Regardless of this, the ship sank after striking an iceberg, with catastrophic consequences, shocking the world and prompting a thorough investigation into the dangers at sea.
One hundred years later, the world received a frightening reminder of such deadly events when luxury cruise liner the Costa Concordia suffered a similar impact.
The ship was a palace of the ocean: it had a capacity of 3780 passengers and was 290m long and 31m high. Yet in January 2012, it capsized and sunk off the Tuscan coast in one of the worst disasters in the cruise industry's history.
Disaster at Sea: Why Ships Sink examines the complex web of design and construction weaknesses, navigational and human errors, and failures in evacuation plans, which contribute to the sinking of ships and the loss of passenger lives.
The documentary examines the science behind the individual tragedies of ships and features in-depth interviews with marine engineering experts to find out whether we can prevent another devastating disaster at sea."
Credit: Channel 4
The following is from LexBlog TV which hosts our firm's blog Cruise Law News:
By far and away, the most encapsulating part of the news surrounding the Costa Concord shipwreck in Italy has to be the remarkable and unbelievable imagery. But while the images of the ship lying on its side, half above the water, are difficult to comprehend, things get even more unbelievable as you find out more and more about exactly how this type of thing could happen.
To explain what we know about how this happened—starting with Captain Francesco Schettino’s bizarre actions—and the culpability he and the cruse line may face, we bring in Jim Walker of Walker & O’Neil and the excellent Cruise Law News.
"The Situation Is Under Control, Go Back To Your Cabin" and Other Lies From The Costa Concordia Disaster
When I first learned of the unfolding Costa Concordia cruise disaster ten days ago, I remember reading a statement attributed to the cruise line stating that the evacuation was proceeding "orderly" and the passengers were "not at risk."
Initially there were no reports of deaths or injuries, but I knew that something was terribly wrong. Elderly passengers are always at risk while transferring from a cruise ship to a lifeboat, even to a tender to shore on a perfectly calm day. How possibly could there be no risk to passengers during during an emergency evacuation at night under these dire circumstances?
We now know that this was just one of many lies to be told by Costa and its captain.
What other statements will long be remembered from the Costa disaster?
"I slipped and fell into the lifeboat" by Captain Fransesco Schettino.
This is perhaps the biggest whopper I have ever heard in my life. It takes great acting skills to deliver such a ridiculous explanation for abandoning a ship you just sank. Being a liar does not erase being a coward. If Schettino really slipped and fell, I offered on Twitter to represent him in a lawsuit against Costa (a bad joke on Twitter I suppose in a time of great sorrow). But If I were his lawyer, I would file for a trademark on the "slipped-and-fell-onto-the-life-boat" phrase for its sheer comedic genius.
What other cruise lies will long be remembered?
"The Situation Is Under Control, Go Back To Your Cabin" says a Costa supervisor to panicked passenger who assembled on deck with their life vests ready to be evacuated. How many of the passengers were deceived by this false information? The most compliant personalities were probably the first to follow these instructions, whereas the cynics didn't. Did the deferential passengers die in the bowels of the ship?
In an every-man-for-himself situation do the gentle souls die first?
Photo credit: Reuters
Caption credit: Costa Cruise Line
Late last Friday, I received a tweet from one of my 9,000 friends on Twitter informing me that a cruise ship had run aground off the coast of Italy. Not much was known about what happened. No one in the media was initially reporting on the incident.
I stayed up all Friday night and Saturday morning watching the increasingly frantic twitter feed about the emerging circumstances surrounding the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. Twitter friends like London cruise blogger John Honeywell a/k/a @CaptGreybeard began tweeting the first photographs of the beached cruise ship. Other friends on twitter like Mikey's Cruise Blog tweeted non-stop as the story unfolded.
Completely missing from the discussion on social media sites like twitter and facebook were Carnival (the owner of Costa) or its CEO Mickey Arison ( @MickyArison ) or the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) which has a twitter name @CruiseFacts.
CLIA did not make a single tweet, statement or press release all weekend.
The few bits and pieces of information which trickled from from Costa falsely suggested that the stricken cruise ship was being orderly evacuated and that the passengers were "not at risk."
In the first blog I wrote that night, I suspected that the cruise line's comments were "probably the usual misleading and false cruise propaganda." As it turned out, while Costa was assuring the public that everything was fine, panicked passengers were jumping overboard or struggling to survive as water filled their cabins.
The motto of the $35,000,000,000 a year cruise industry is CLIA's "one industry, one voice." But CLIA apparently does not work on the weekends. When disaster struck the Concordia and over 4,000 passengers and crew feared for their lives, CLIA remained silent.
Meanwhile, the void was filled with insightful analysis and photographs from the international media, particularly from the U.K., as well as iReporter accounts from the scene of the disaster.
The first tweet from the Carnival CEO Arison, who has amassed a personal fortune of over $4,000,000,000 (billion) from cruise fares, came long after the disaster, expressing his condolences, but quickly followed by a tweet (since deleted) supporting his pro basketball team of NBA superstars.
The void created by the absence of information from CLIA and Carnival and its subsidiary line Costa was quickly filled by non-stop interviews of surviving passengers who described the chaos and deadly confusion as they tried to escape the sinking vessel, which we now understand was caused by the reckless conduct of the cowardly cruise ship captain (above right) who abandoned ship when things got tough.
The media quickly called on maritime lawyers here in South Florida to provide insight into the disaster. Our firm received inquires from major television and radio networks like ABC, 20/20, NBC, CNN, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, CNBC, the Canadian Television Network and BBC Radio, as well as national and international newspapers and magazines like Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and U.K.'s Telegraph. I spent the better part of this week speaking with several dozen journalists and shuttling between TV production studios in Miami and Fort Lauderdale for interviews.
The cruise industry did not have much to say. No one appeared on TV on behalf of the cruise lines. CLIA finally updated its facebook page to assure the public that cruise disasters like this were "extremely rare." But journalists are turned off by such false and self-serving garbage, and turn to information like that contained on my article Costa Concordia Calamity Just the Latest Disaster for Cruise Industry which discussed prior deaths and injuries on Costa cruise ships in the last two years and a rash of deadly cruise disasters which CNN featured this week.
CLIA also teamed up with a local cruise line defense lawyer here in Miami to write a press release with claims like "the cruise industry is a heavily regulated industry and safety is our highest priority" and "all cruise ships are designed and operated in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Maritime Organization."
I have learned that the media hates corporate PR statements like this. It's called "gobbledygook" (definition below).
Most journalists understand that cruise lines are largely unregulated. To the extent that there is any regulation it is mostly self regulation by an industry whose business model is to incorporate in places like Panama and Liberia and flag their vessels in places like the Bahamas and Bermuda to avoid all U.S. income taxes, labor laws and safety laws. The so-called "strict requirements" of the IMO are, at best, mere recommendations which the cruise lines can choose to ignore with impunity, like the decision Costa made not to bother to conduct a lifeboat drill before sailing on this disastrous cruise.
As this week comes to an end, the misleading cruise line press releases simply added to the lack of credibility and silliness of an industry which is known for its lack of transparency. As the Costa Concordia disaster became a nightly staple for the cable news stations this week, CLIA and the cruise line supporters were no where to be found. They seem to be hiding under the covers.
Perhaps CLIA's new motto should be "one industry, no voice."
Here are examples of some of the articles we participated in this week:
Canadian Television: Crime, fires compromise cruise ship safety: experts
International Herald Tribune / New York Times: Disaster Cripples Cruiser, Not Cruising
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cruise ship accident prompts questions about industry safety
*The word "gobbledygook" comes from Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman and the mayor of San Antonio. He used the word in the New York Times Magazine in 1944 referring to a turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”
Following the spectacle of the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise industry is starting its campaign to convince the public that cruising is safe notwithstanding the terrifying and grotesque images of the stricken ship.
Pro-cruise trade organizations line the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA") will claim that incidents like this are "rare" and will characterize the Costa Concordia as a "freak" accident. But in truth this incident is just the latest cruise disaster in a long line of disasters.
One week ago, Italian cruise liner the MSC Poesia ran aground into a reef in the Bahamas while sailing to Port Lucaya near Freeport, Bahamas. You can read about that incident here - MSC Poesia Destroys Reef in the Bahamas - Cruise Ship with 26' Draft Sailed Into 15' Waters
The 93,000-ton cruise ship needs twenty-five feet of draft but sailed into only fifteen (15) feet of water. Fortunately for the cruise ship (and unfortunately for the priceless and irreplaceable reef), the vessel ground the fragile reef into bits. MSC was not able to get off the reef until high tide. But the incident did not stop the cruise ship from tendering cruise passengers to Port Lucaya to enjoy themselves at the beach. Once high tide freed the ship, the Poesia sailed off as if nothing happened. Few people in the media reported on this near disaster.
It takes deaths and destruction to focus the media on problems in the cruise industry.
There have been two serious collisions of Costa cruise ships in the last two years.
In February 2010, the Costa Europa cruise ship collided with a pier in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The allision ripped a hole in the hull of the ship and flooded a crew cabin, resulting in the death of three crew members and injury to four passengers. Photographs of the Costa Europa show the vessel listing heavily on its port side, in order to keep water pouring into the large opening on the starboard side. You can read about that incident here - Costa Europa Collides With Pier in Egypt - Three Crew Dead, Passengers Injured
In October 2010, the Costa Classica cruise ship collided with a cargo vessel, the Belgian registered bulk carrier Lowlands Longevity, at the mouth of the Yangtze River. The ship suffered a long gash over 60 feet long in its side and several passengers were injured. You can read about that Costa cruise ship crash here: New Photographs Reveal Extent of Damage to Costa Classica
In addition to these collisions, an engine room fire broke out onboard the Costa Romantica near Uruguay in February 2009. A year earlier, in may 2008, there was a dangerous near-collision between the Costa Atlantica and a cargo ship, the Grand Neptune, where the captain of the Costa cruise ship was heavily criticized. You can read the UK Marine accident report here. (There is speculation that Captain Schettino was at the vessel's captain at the time.)
The parent company of Costa is Carnival cruise line which has had more than its fair share of disasters.
The U.S. Coast Guard blasted Carnival for its negligence following the November 2010 fire aboard the Carnival Splendor cruise ship when the cruise line's fire suppression system malfunctioned. The Splendor was a relatively new cruise ship manufactured in Italy. The fire caused the failure of all of the generators on the cruise ship which stranded over 3,500 passengers on the high seas off the coast of Mexico. "Coast Guard Blasts Carnival Splendor for Fire Negligence"
The U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier to the scene and the U.S. Coast Guard had to tow the stricken cruise ship back to the U.S., at the U.S. tax payer's expense.
Plus consider the following serious events:
Fires Breaks Out On Bahamas Celebration Cruise Ship - December 2011.
Fire & Rough Weather Mar Queen Mary 2 Cruise - October 2011
Cruise Ship Fire in Norway Kills Two - September 2011
First Mexican Cruise Ship Catches on Fire - April 2011
Engine Room Fire Aboard MSC Cruises' Musica Cruise Ship - December 2010
Over 200 Passengers Rescued From Burning Ferry in Baltic Sea - October 2010
Power Outage on Queen Mary 2 Due to Catastrophic Explosion - September 2010
Fire Breaks Out On Cruise Ship In Norway - May 2010
All of this occurred in the last two years! In May of 2010, I chronicled the series of serious cruise disasters back over the last decade - Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything? If you are going to read one story on this blog, it is this one - the dangerous history of cruise ship fires dating from the Princess Cruises Star Princess fire in 2006 to the fire and sinking of the Sun Vista earlier in the1990's.
So as you digest the disturbing story of the renegade captain working for a cruise line with numerous recent casualties and the photos of the luxury liner on its side, don't let the cruise industry fool you into believing that this is an isolated accident.
Don't miss watching: Top Five Worst Cruise Ship Disaster Videos (to be updated)
On a lighter note: Tina Fey's Honeymoon Ruined By Cruise Ship Fire?
MSC Poesia - shipwrecklog
Costa Europa cruise ship - AP (Hussien Talal) via Mail Online
Costa Classica - EPA via Mail Online
This morning I was trying to find articles with real time and genuine insight into the ferry disaster off Tanzania.
An old vessel called the Spice Islander grossly overloaded with over 1,000 passengers sank. There have been around two hundred people pulled from the water dead and some 600 rescued.
I kept finding one detached articles after another from the mainstream press, many erroneously publishing a photograph of a ferry from the Philippines. Finally I stumbled across an article "Tragedy Unfolds as Passenger Ferry Capsizes off Zanzibar" which was published by Storyful which aggregates content from Twitter.
The Twitter hashtag following the disaster is #Zanzibarboataccident as well as #Zanzibar
I then began to follow @Tanganyikan who has been tweeting updates and uploading compelling photographs of children rescued from the water as well as tense families waiting for word on whether their loved ones are dead or alive.
@Rasahi uploaded an accurate photo of Spice Islander which looks like an old rust bucket.
Twitter has indeed delivered information and photographs over the mass media noise. Images of children thought to be lost at sea yet held high above jubilant rescuers, some wearing wet suits.
You won't find these type of stories and images of joy and sorrow in Reuters or the AP.
Photo credit: @Tanganyikan
Last year I published a series of articles about how cruise lines mishandle customer complaints and ruin their reputations in the process.
Part I of "And the Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem" series focused on the ways that Carnival and Royal Caribbean managed to botch customer problems and tarnish their images.
Part II took a look at Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), which usually avoids the pitfalls of its larger competitors. But in this case, NCL refused to refund the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the same day as the cruise. The guest notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise. NCL said no. He asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish) so a child with cancer could enjoy a once in a lifetime cruise. NCL said no.
Then NCL re-sold the cabin to another couple. NCL got a double profit due to the death of a guest. Ugh.
Most of the time the right thing for your corporate image is exactly the right thing to do for your customer. But some cruise lines can't seem to get it right, which brings us to part III of the series.
Last week the Connecticut Watchdog newspaper published an article "Stranded By Princess Cruise Line." The story involves a newlywed couple from Connecticut, Diana Benne and Adam Gompper. Both seems like hard working conscientious types. Diana owns a popular hair salon and Adam is a police dispatcher.
They purchased a Caribbean honeymoon cruise with Princess Cruises. Things started out just fine with the couple enjoying the cruise and a stopover in San Juan (photo below). But it seems like Princess Cruises didn't inform them of a last minute itinerary change resulting in the Caribbean Princess cruise ship leaving St. Thomas early. Even though the cruise ship was still tied to the dock, the captain would not let the couple aboard and abandoned them in St. Thomas. It must be a sick feeling to stand on the dock with only the clothes on your back and watch your cruise ship heading out to sea. What a way to start your marriage.
When the couple tried to discuss a resolution to the problem, Princess blew them off.
When I read about problems like this, I think of how easy a happy resolution would be. Refund the couple their money or give them a free cruise. In return, you will have dedicated fans of Princess Cruises for the rest of their lives. The proverbial "win-win" situation. But ignore or engage in a petty quarrel with a honeymoon couple you left in a port outside of the continental U.S.? You have earned an enemy for life.
Princess Cruises left the couple in St. Thomas of all places. St. Thomas has one of the highest murder rates in the world. You can read about the sad story of a 14 year old girl who was killed last year during a cruise stop-over in St. Thomas here.
Princess Cruises spends tens of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as the ultimate in romantic cruise getaways. It is known for its wedding packages and the famous "wedding cams" which you can watch online. It is, after all, best known for the "Love Boat" television series.
But when things go wrong on the Love Boat, issues like this are not resolved by the smiling faces in the marketing department. They are shuffled down to the customer relations and risk management departments whose job is to deny, delay and defend.
Last week, I emailed Princess and asked for its side of the story. I hoped that I would hear good news, like it decided to reimburse the honeymoon couple their cruise fare. Then I could write a story with a happy ending. Instead, I have heard nothing, which seems to be the problem in the first place.
July 16, 2011 Update:
Princess Cruises is receiving alot of bad press about situations like this. Read: "Eunice Gayle Needed a Blood Transfusion, So Why Wouldn't Princess Cruise Lines Let Her Off the Boat?"
Here are a couple other articles about Princess Cruises' approach to dealing with customer complaints:
Photo credit: Courtesy of Diana Beene
When I was a kid, it seemed like the most popular movies were disaster flicks. Movies like the Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno which exploited the public with images of terror, fear, and panic.
Today, disaster movies are not limited to the movie theater. We are living in a iReport society where CNN, MSNBC and FOX News regularly broadcast iPhone videos of fires, floods, and bedlam, including cruise ship disasters.
Unfortunately, there will be stories in the future where cruise ships catch on fire, sink or are hijacked by terrorists. The cruise lines will frantically try and suppress the images and assure the public that everything is OK. But YouTube will be there to reveal the truth. And everyone will be watching the disaster.
I picked the top 5 "worst cruise ship disaster" videos. Nothing subtle here. Exploitational? Maybe so, but these are not low budget disaster movies. They are real. With real people aboard. Fortunately, in most of the incidents no one was killed or seriously injured. Take a look and see how Mother Nature can interrupt your serene cruise vacation:
Number 5: Stabilizers? What Stabilizers? Okay, I admit it. I have to take a Dramamine before I click the play button for this video. It shows what a cyclone can do to a cruise ship. I'm not sure which cruise ship this is or when or where this occurred. Does anyone know? Was anyone reading this on the ship? Let us hear from you.
Number 4: Keep this video secret! Don't let the lawyers see it! Last September the internet was a buzz with the release of CCTV films of the interior of the P&O Cruises' Pacific Sun, which ran into heavy weather in June 2008. P&O had also understated the effects of the storm on the cruise ship and passengers, and it was successful keeping the CCTV under wraps for over two years.
But the video finally made its way out of P&O's control this fall. When the truth came out, the video went viral! A number of passenger were injured. You can clearly see one young lady smash her face into a column at the 47 second mark.
Cruise lines are experts keeping video like this secret. The risk management departments of cruise lines hide these types of video from the public's eyes. This permits the cruise lines to contest the passengers' accounts of injuries and lets the defense lawyers claim that the passengers are exaggerating. Would you have believed what occurred in the video if you did not see it?
Number 3: Anyone for a relaxing cruise to Antarctica? The Clelia II cruise ship caught the country's attention when passengers on the National Geographic Explorer filmed it bouncing around by big waves and howling wind as it was trying to make its way back to Argentina from Antarctica. (Video by Fiona Stewart/Garett McIntosh (via jonbowermaster.com) 88 U.S. passengers were aboard as it limped back to port after a wave broke over the bridge of the vessel and smashed windows, interrupting communications and causing an electrical outage that reduced power to one of its engines.
Number 2: Death on the Louis Majesty cruise ship: The Greece-based Louis Cruise Lines ship was heading east to Genoa, Italy when waves struck the vessel and smashed windows in public areas, killing two passengers and injuring fourteen others.
The "Louis Majesty" used to be NCL's "Norwegian Majesty" and, before that, the "Royal Majesty" operated by Majesty Cruise Lines from 1992 - 1997. Long before I began representing passengers and crewmembers, I represented Majesty Cruise Lines (around 1995) when this cruise ship was based in Miami. I have been on this ship and in the area where the glass blew out. The Royal Majesty was considered a large cruise ship 20 years ago. A real tragedy, which could have been avoided if the officers aboard had instructed the passengers to remain in their cabins.
Number 1: And the winner is: the cruise ship Oceanos which sank back in 1991. Unlike the other disasters attributable to rough weather, this disaster was man made. The Oceanos was a Greek-owned cruise ship in a state of neglect, with loose hull plates, valves stripped for repair parts, and a hole in one of its "watertight" bulkheads. When the cruise ship began to sink, the cowardly captain and officers were the first into a lifeboat, abandoning children, women, and elderly passengers to face a certain death. But due to the courage of one of the ship's entertainers and a dramatic and nothing-less-than-miraculous rescue that followed, everyone was saved! A happy ending to a terrifying ordeal.
Do you have a video that should be in a top 5 or top 10 list of cruise disasters? Let us hear from you . . .
The spectacle of the Clelia II cruise ship (photo below left) bouncing around by big waves and howling wind as it was trying to make its way back to Argentina from Antarctica continues to capture the attention of the American public this week. The video of the stricken vessel on our Cruise Law's YouTube page has been viewed over 225,000 times in the last few days.
Unlike the images of Carnival's disabled-by-a-engine-fire Splendor cruise ship drifting peacefully off of the coast of Mexico several weeks ago, the photographs and video of the Clelia II show the violence of the Antarctic waters and provide a glimpse of the terror these cruise passengers must have been experiencing. Today USA Today's popular cruise blog, Cruise Log, carries the headline "Passenger on Storm-Tossed Cruise Ship Describes 'Terrifying' Ordeal."
A Near Death Experience?
The Philadelphia Daily News reports a passenger's account of the little cruise ship "violently shaking and twisting," with winds reaching 100 mph and waves 30 to 40 feet high. "I thought this was it," he said. "I never came so close to cashing it in." The passenger contemplated what would happen if the ship went down: "they'd never find the bodies. You couldn't even think about putting out lifeboats in that sea."
Who is responsible if one of these small expedition vessels sinks in the waters of Antarctica? The Clelia II ran into a bit of trouble a year ago when it scraped its hull on some underwater rocks. In November 2007, another expedition cruise ship, the Explorer (photo below right), sank in Antarctica and the passengers bobbed around in lifeboats. We discussed these events in an article earlier this year. Fortunately, the weather and seas were calm when the Explorer sank, and all passenger and crew members escaped with their lives. But if the Explorer had faced rough weather or if the Clelia II needed to be evacuated earlier this week, the consequences would have been disastrous.
When things go wrong in the freezing waters of Antarctica, one thing is certain - the ship operators, tour organizers, and travel companies begin to squirm.
When the initial reports of the plight of the Clelia II began to emerge, numerous news sources reported that the cruise ship was operated by Polar Cruises of Bend Oregon, including CBS' Early Morning Show. Polar Cruises' website represents on its web site that it vets the cruise ship and participates in the voyages and it seems (to me at least) to indicate that it controls and manages the Clelia II, all factors to be considered in determining the issue of the operation of the vessel. Its website is silent (except for a disclaimer added two days ago) regarding the identity of the owner or operator of the cruise ships it promotes on its site.
Polar Cruises - Not Us
When the story broke, Polar Cruises called and emailed us insisting that it did not operate the cruise ship. It left a comment on this blog indicating that it was just a "specialized travel agency" - a phrase never used on its own web site. It identified Travel Dynamics International as the operator and a Greek company, "Helios Shipping" of Piraeus, Greece, as the vessel owner. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a trade organization promoting the Antarctica tour operators, also subsequently identified Travel Dynamics as the operator of the Clelia II.
So is Travel Dynamics really responsible for the cruise?
Travel Dynamics - Read the Fine Print
Travel Dynamics' website, under "Responsibility" in its "Terms and Conditions" section, denies all responsibilities for the cruise and refers passengers to the ticket contract with the undisclosed vessel’s owner / operator which "constitutes the sole, legally enforceable terms of carriage." Travel Dynamics identifies itself only as an agent for the passenger, not the owner or operator, for all transportation. This is just the opposite of what IAATO is telling the public.
Grand Circle Travel - More Fine Print
In addition, a well known cruise community website and publication, Cruise Critic, indicates that the cruise ship had been chartered to another company called Grand Circle Travel. Grand Circle also denies all responsibilities. Its terms and conditions also refer to a separate owner and operator of the cruise ship but - like Polar Cruises and Travel Dynamics - it does not identify who these companies are.
Around and Around We Go
If any of the passengers aboard the Clelia II had been lost at sea, the families of the loved ones would face a hurdle to determine who was legally responsible. Was this a suitable vessel for these waters? Was the weather monitored responsibly? Who actually employs the crew?
The Greek vessel owner would undoubtedly claim that because it is a foreign corporation based in Greece, it is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the U.S. All of the companies which promote the Clelia II and sell cruises may, like Polar Cruises, subsequently claim that they are just travel agencies - notwithstanding far stretching representations to the contrary in their web sites. And all of the cruise defense lawyers would point to the legal fine print which purports to deny responsibility and liability for everything.
Can The Public Trust These Small Expedition Cruise Companies?
The "large cruise ship industry" (Royal Caribbean, Carnival) has faced accusations of a lack of transparency over the years. The problem lies in the disconnect between what the cruise industry says and what the public can readily see to be the truth.
These small cruise operators and their trade organization need to learn a lesson from the big ship owners and operators on what not to do in time of crisis like this.
For example, yesterday Polar Cruises was scrambling to distance itself from being perceived as a cruise operator (which is problematic when you call yourself "Polar Cruises"). It wrote a blog article "Polar Cruises Mistakenly Named as Owner/Operator of Damaged Clelia II." While trying to separate itself from the image of the floundering cruise ship, it still felt obligated to put its own spin on the incident, claiming that the damage was caused by a "rogue wave."
What a whopper! Millions of people have watched the terrifying video of the cruise ship being repeatedly pounded by one large wave after another. Obviously, this was no smooth sailing where a "rogue wave" came out of nowhere.
With questions about who was really operating the cruise, who actually employed the captain and crew, who was monitoring the weather conditions and navigating the vessel, legal mumbo-jumbo buried in fine print, and now a "rogue wave" defense announced by a "travel agency," the small cruise companies are headed into rough waters in the ocean of public opinion.
Read our prior article on the Clelia II: The Clelia II Skirts Disaster Again in Antarctica
Clelia II Fiona Stewart/Garett McIntosh (via jonbowermaster.com)
Over 200 passengers were rescued after an explosion rocked the Lithuanian passenger and car ferry, Lisco Gloria, which was on route from the German port of Kiel to Klaipeda in Lithuania. A fire then engulfed the ferry which had 236 passengers and crew on board. Over 20 people on the ferry reportedly were injured. Several nearby vessels rescued the passengers, many of whom were swimming in the water.
Video Credit: Reuters
In the last eleven months since I launched Cruise Law News (CLN), I have written what I thought were thoughtful and carefully researched articles about the cruise industry. But most of my most favorite blogs about the most important issues facing cruise passengers received little feedback and only a few hundred readers.
I have found that my most popular blogs involved cruise ship disasters.
That's right. Terror. Fear. Panic.
When I was a kid the box office hits included movies like the Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno. Thirty years later, my kids were raised on Titanic and Cloverfield.
So it should be no surprise that one of my most popular blogs over the last year involved an incident where Carnival's Ecstasy cruise ship made a violent turn in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico which emptied the swimming pool on the Lido deck, injured 60 passengers, and terrorized the remaining 2,000 passengers who feared that the cruise ship was about to tilt over and they were going to die.
Carnival claimed that the cruise ship made an evasive maneuver to avoid a loose buoy. But the passengers tell a different story. Take a moment and read the comments to Did Carnival's Ecstasy Cruise Ship Almost Hit A Sand Bar?
In addition to my blog, I have a YouTube page called, obviously enough, "Cruise Law," where I post cruise videos. The most popular video is "Wave Hits Louis Majesty Cruise Ship." A huge wave smashes into the cruise ship's bay windows, killing passengers and flooding the ship. Over 86,000 people have viewed the video since March.
Yes, the video is terrifying.
Exactly what most Americans raised-on-disaster-movies are looking for. Today, we are living in a iReport society where CNN, MSNBC and FOX News regularly broadcast iPhone videos of fires, floods, and bedlam.
One of the most popular cruise videos on YouTube shows a cruise ship being tossed around in a storm. It looks like the cruise ship is about to tip over at any moment. The video has over 2,500,000 views. Take a look below and you can see why it is so popular.
There will be many stories in the future where cruise ships catch on fire, sink or are hijacked by terrorists. The cruise lines will frantically try and suppress the images and assure the public that everything is OK. But YouTube will be there to reveal the truth. And everyone will be watching the disaster.
Video credit: CrystalBeast123
The Santiago Times reports "Luxury Cruise Ship Suffers Accident In Antarctic Peninsula."
The newspaper in Chile reports that the 100 passenger cruise ship Clelia II has been withdrawn from service following an accident that occurred over Christmas week.
The tour operator waited a long time before announcing the incident.
In a statement released two weeks after the near disaster, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators said that on December 26 the Clelia II arrived at Petermann Island, Penola Strait in the Antarctica Peninsula for a passenger landing when what is characterized as "a stronger-than-anticipated current pushed it toward the rocky shoreline."
Whether this is true is unknown - this is the trade organization's spin.
It took one and one-half hours before the Clelia II's sister ship, the Corinthian II, arrived and attached a stern line to rescue the Clelia II. If the incident was more serious, the passengers would be in quite a pickle.
The cruise line PR statement claims that "at no time during this incident was there a threat to human life; passengers and crew were never in danger."
Does this statement comfort you?
It scares the hell out of me.
I remember when the Explorer had a similar incident in Antarctica. The Explorer scraped its hull. The cruise line's PR people also claimed that everything was OK. But when the photographs (shown here) emerged from the incident showing the stricken cruise ship belly up in the ice in Antarctica with the passengers huddled in lifeboat terrorized, I realized that cruising in Antarctica was not your typical Caribbean vacation. And the cruise line PR people could not be trusted.
Numerous news sources subsequently pointed to the negligence of the captain, faulty equipment, failed inspections, a compromised hull - as well as negligent emergency protocols - as nearly causing a mini-Titanic disaster.
Trust me, PR statements by cruise lines are inherently self-serving and must be taken with a grain of salt - or a stiff scotch!
The good news here sounds like a lucky break for the passenger sand crew aboard the Clelia II.
It will be interesting to read the official investigation reports and determine whether there was really a threat to the passengers and crew on yet another disabled cruise ship in the freezing Antarctic waters.
December 8, 2010 Update:
The Clelia II is in trouble again - The Clelia II Skirts Disaster Again in Antarctica
Photographs Associated Press (AP)