Filipino Crew Member Killed on Emerald Princess

A number of newspapers are reporting that an explosion on board the Emerald Princess cruise ship claimed the life of a Princess crew member at a port in New Zealand earlier this week.

The incident occurred when crew members were reportedly using a cannister of nitrogen, for deploying a lifeboat, on one of the decks near the stern of the cruise ship.

A passenger on the ship was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying that “There was an explosion, it was pretty loud ... all I saw then was the gas bottle spinning on the (wharf).”

Filipino Crew Member Killed Emerald PrincessA photograph (right) posted on Twitter shows a large cylinder, which killed the crew member, lying on the wharf near the Princess cruise ship. 

What has not been widely reported is that the deceased crew member was a young Filipino man, married with two young children. 

The Filipino's death comes just a couple of days after Lizzie Presser's insightful article about the plight of crew members from the Philippines working on cruise ships was published. Titled Below Deck - Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t, the article explains how young men from the Philippines who go to sea on cruise ships to seek better lives for their families, face 12 hour work days for up to 10 months at a time and are prohibited from filing lawsuits in the U.S. They are subject to a draconian scheme of minimal compensation if injured on the job. If they are killed though the negligence of the U.S. based cruise line, their families receive a maximum pay-out of only $50,000 and only $7,500 per child.

The article quoted Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as saying "if cruise lines know their workers are kept from holding them accountable in court, they’ll have little incentive to provide them with a safe work environment.”

I was alerted of the death when a concerned passenger on the Princess cruise ship first alerted me to the tragedy:

"I'm currently on board the Emerald Princess at Dunedin. I was on board at the time the explosion happened that killed the crew member. He was a Filipino 33 yr old father of two small kids. I've been absolutely appalled to learn from crew (over 80% on this current cruise are Filipino) about their employment conditions. This entire industry seems to profit from the exploitation of workers from developing countries. And here we are with someone killed while doing their job on board."

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Photo credit: Twitter via Express newspaper.

Filipinos on Cruise Ships: Lost at Sea?

Yesterday, investigative journalist Lizzie Presser's article about the plight of crew members from the Philippines working on cruise ships was published. Titled Below Deck - Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t, the article follows the lives of several young Filipino men who went to sea for Miami-based cruise lines in order to provide a better life for their families. But when they were injured after working unreasonably long hours (12 hours a day for as long as 10 months without a break), the crew members found that they had no real legal rights to hold their employers responsible. 

Carnival Imagination - Filipino Crew Members This is an issue which I have written about regularly over the years, explaining the legal problems Filipinos face while working on cruise ships owned by companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean:

Filipino Labor Board Punishes Burned Crew Member.

Screwing Filipinos & Imprisoning Lawyers: Seafarers "Protection Act" Protects Cruise Line Employers.

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Photo credit: Kevin Kunishi via https://story.californiasunday.com

Arbitration on the High Seas

Investigative journalist Karen Foshay of KCRW published a muli-media presentation this week, chronicling the plight of seafarers who work long hours, away from their families and far from home, for a pittance.

When the crew members become injured, these "foreign" (i., e., non-U.S.) ship employees are barred from filing suit in the U.S. against their U.S.-based employers. Instead, they are forced to resort to filing arbitration claims where their disputes are resolved by arbitrators (usually paid for by the shipping company), in contrast to a judge and jury. 

The situation is particularly unfair to Filipino crew members who have to agree to a scheduled compensation scheme where they are limited to small pay outs when they are seriously injured due to the negligence of their employers.

Take a minute and read or listen to the the articles and watch the introductory video below. 

Her two-part special is entitled  Troubled Waters - a private justice system leads to secrecy and mistreatment on the high seas.

The investigation has two parts: Part one is titled the Secret World of Arbitration: 

 

Part two is titled Low Wages on the High Seas: 

 

Watch the video below:  Troubled Waters: KCRW Investigates Exploitation on the High Seas. 

 

Screwing Filipinos & Imprisoning Lawyers: Seafarers "Protection Act" Protects Cruise Line Employers

Filipinos are the most mistreated seafarers on the high seas. They work long hours every single day on tankers and cargo & cruise ships far away from their families for long periods of time for little money.   

When Filipino crew members are injured and disabled in accidents or due to the cumulative trauma caused by harsh long term work conditions, Filipinos are required to return home and accept the minimal payments outlined in a modest schedule of benefits published by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The skimpy benefits pale in comparison to compensation awards in the U.S. They are an embarrassment to the labor agency and employers of any civilized country.  

As you can see, a standard POEA employment contract  limits a maimed crew members who, for example, loses his or her entire hand, by amputation between the wrist and elbow joint, in a gruesome work-related accident, to a total maximum benefit of only $29,480. Such a paltry amount hardly compensates the crew member for his past and future lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish and disfigurement for the rest of his life.

Under the POEA, death benefits are as little as $50,000 plus $7,000 for each minor child, not Filipino Seafarerexceeding four in total. So the surviving family members of a crew member with two children killed at sea by the gross negligence of a cruise line employer receive a total payment of $65,000 including a nominal payment of $1,000 toward the family's funeral and burial expenses.

Once a crew member or or their families receive a death or disability payment, they waive the right to file a claim against the cruise line employer and operator of the cruise line. This is in violation of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Such low payments trivialize the worth of a Filipino life. It is an insignificant if not meaningless amount in the eyes of the billion dollar, non-tax paying U.S. based cruise industry. Compare, for example, the money collected by the far cat cruise executives here in Miami (like NCL executive Frank Del Rio who collected over $31,000,000 in 2015).  A common thought of a cruise line risk adjuster or P&I representative when a davit fails and a lifeboat from a cruise ship falls several stories into the sea is that it's cheaper to have a Filipino aboard who's killed than any other nationality.  

Further injustice occurs when crew members suffer from ill health such as high blood pressure, heart problems and other sicknesses caused by the stress of hard work and long working hours. Manning agencies and cruise line employers are increasingly refusing to acknowledge that the injuries and illness suffered by crew members are "work-related," a requirement for the payment of such benefits. Crew members must submit to an examination of a single doctor, retained by the employer, who often assign a low impediment percentage, resulting in a minimal benefit, or claim that the illness pre-existed the crew member's shipboard work, resulting in no payment.  Company doctors are known to work with an eye toward pleasing the employer and its lawyers, at the detriment of the injured seafarer.

Even when a crew member receives an award by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), maritime employers often choose to appeal the award and seek a deduction.

Several years ago, I wrote about the plight of a Filipino seafarer Lito Asignacion who worked as a Burn Unitsenior engine fitter on board a bulk carrier who sustained serious burns of his abdomen and legs when scalding water overflowed a tank do to unsafe working conditions on the vessel. The crew member underwent extensive and painful medical treatment in the burn units of West Jefferson Medical Center and Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Louisiana, U.S.A.  Asignacion was treated and underwent skin grafting burns of 35% of his body.

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

His employer argued that under the POEA, the burned crew member suffered a grade 14 disability which would entitle him to only 3.74% of USD $50,000. 

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

The labor board made a point of stating that the shipping company had offered the disabled crew member $25,000 “out of compassion and generosity," implying that the injured crew member had foolishly rejected the "generous" offer. 

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

This patronizing and inherently evil sentiment is alive and well in the cruise industry today. Insurance entities like protection & indemnity clubs in the U.K. who are responsible for minimizing payments by its rich shipowner members are taking steps to make it even harder for Filipino crew members to receive reasonable compensation for career-ending injuries and illnesses.

Recently, a claims director at UK P&I Club in a P&I Club publication praised the new Seafarers’ Protection Act. Ironically enough, the new law does not protect the Filipino seafarer from the greedy cruise lines, or the P&I companies and defense lawyers who do their bidding, but targets who UK P&I Clubthe P&I Club villainize as the "ambulance-chasing" lawyers who pursue "spurious claims." 

The claims representative, Tony Nicholson (photo left), argues that the new "Seafarers’ Protection Act is designed to protect Filipino seafarers and their families from the unscrupulous practices of such lawyers and came into force on 21 May 2016. Under the new law, any individual or group - whether lawyers or not - found to be soliciting directly or via agents will be imprisoned for one–two years and/or fined PHP 50,000–100,000 (approximately US$1–2,000)."

The UK P&I Club further proposes permitting maritime employers, which are ordered by arbitration panels to pay benefits to the disabled seafarers, permission not to pay the awards pending an appeal. This will encourage the wealthy employers and cruise lines to place financial pressure on the injured seafarers and force them to accept cheap settlements. 

As the sad case of Lito Asignacion demonstrates, the Filipino labor system already permits maritime employers and their insurance companies to abandon those seafarers who have sacrificed and suffered greatly for their families. Imprisoning lawyers who advocate greater rights for seafarers, and permitting maritime employers to withhold the payments of arbitration awards, make a further mockery of a system which works to protect the rich while screwing the injured and impoverished seafarer. 

August 19 2016 Update:  The Inquirer in Manilla publshed this article as an op-ed titled Seafarer ‘Protection Act’ shields ship owners, not seafarers.

Photo Credit: Top - By Maxime Felder - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia; bottom - UK P&I Club

RCCL to Hire 30,000 Filipino Crew Members Over Next Five Years

SeafarerThe Manila Bulletin reports that Royal Caribbean announced yesterday that it is "hiring a total of 30,000 Filipino crew members over the next five years" as the company "expands its fleet and routes to Asia."

The newspaper also states that the cruise line currently employees around 11,000 Filipinos as crew members.

Filipinos seafarers have a proud tradition of working at sea. Unfortunately, Filipinos have perhaps the fewest legal rights of any crew member working for a cruise line. That's because the cruise industry is enforcing arbitration which requires them to pursue their claims in Manila pursuant to the Philippines Overseas Employment Agreement (POEA) which places a cap on their damages when they are injured during their work.   

The compensation is ridiculously low. For example, a Filipino crew member employed on a bulk carrier as a senior engine fitter received sustained serious burns of his abdomen and legs when scalding water overflowed a tank. The crew member underwent extensive and painful medical treatment in the burn units of West Jefferson Medical Center and Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Louisiana, U.S.A.

The Filipino underwent skin grafting burns of 35% of his body.

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

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

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

The Filipino Labor Board agreed and awarded the crew member just $1,870. You can read about the case here

When Filipinos are killed at seas due to the negligence of the cruise line, the POEA has a cap of only $50,000.  

If Royal Caribbean hires some 30,000 Filipinos over the years, it will save many millions of dollars by sending them back to Manila when they are injured and forcing them to accept the limited compensation under the POEA.

Photo Credit: By Maxime Felder - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia

Honduran Police Arrest Bay Islands Resident in Murder of NCL Crew Member

A number of news sources are reporting that the national police and special forces in Honduras arrested a suspect last night for the murder of the Norwegian Cruise Line crew member in Roatan.

The Honduran newspaper Tiempo reports that an arrest of Guzman Ramirez has been made in the murder of NCL assistant cook "Jacob."

The suspect was hidden in the home of relatives, located in Coxen Hole, just 400 meters from the murder scene.

Guzman Ramirez Roatan MurderWhile capturing the suspect, the police seized a .38 caliber revolver, allegedly involved in the murder. (The newspaper states that the crew member had two gunshot wounds, one in the left arm and another in the chest).

The newspaper states that the suspect was detained for drug possession in January but was quickly released by the police. 

The Honduran police originally arrested two other suspects but released them.

The newspaper also states that the suspect is originally from the Bay Islands and is not from the mainland of Honduras as many people thought. Many people in Roatan have informed us that the Bay Islands are peaceful and their crime problems mostly stem from the mainland.  

You can see other photographs of the suspect and the arrest here - CAPTURADO HOMICIDA DE FILIPINO.

We were the first in the U.S. to report on this terrible crime. You can read the initial accounts here.

NCL quickly announced that it is pulling its cruise ships from Coxen Hole for at least a week. 

Royal Caribbean is continuing to sail to Roatan although passengers from that cruise line have been robbed at gunpoint.  

Carnival is still sailing to its facility at Mahogany Bay in Roatan despite cruise passengers been robbed at gunpoint

Honduras is one of only two countries (the Bahamas is the other) subject to a critical crime warning from the U.S. state department.  You can read the warning here. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world and has had such a record since 2010.

Will NCL's CEO Kevin Sheehan Pull the Norwegian Pearl, Dawn & Jewel Out of Roatan?

Last month Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) pulled its cruise ships out of Tunis after Tunisian officials at the port prohibited Israeli passengers from entering the country.  

It could have been confusion over visa and immigration issues, but NCL issued a stern public statement condemning what it perceived as discrimination against its Jewish clients. 

“We want to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests. We are outraged by this act . . . "

Yesterday we were the first to report that a Filipino crew member was shot and killed in Roatan. A bandito gunned the crew member down for his cell phone. The crew member bled to death on a main street near the port.

No, the crime was not unforeseeable. No, it was not rare. The U.S. State Department has issued a critical crime warning. Since 2010 Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world. The New York Norwegian Pearl Cruise ShipTimes wrote about crime problems in Roatan in January. We published articles this year like this and this about the escalating armed violence in Roatan against U.S. citizens. Women and children have been terrorized by armed criminals in this deceivingly idyllic island. Now a crew employee is dead. 

How will NCL react?

Will NCL be outraged?  Will NCL tolerate such violence? Will NCL send a strong message to Roatan?

Is a Filipino crew member killed in Roatan worth the same as two dozen cruise guests discriminated against in Tunisia?

I certainly think so.  

Roatan has done little to address the armed robberies against cruise passengers and tourists this year. Its reward of a paltry $5,000 (U.S.) for the bad guy responsible for the death yesterday seems awfully meager. I suppose that an island where a criminal will kill for a $250 cell phone will be motivated by a $5,000 bounty for the killer. 

NCL's CEO must act decisively. Sheehan must pull his ships from Roatan. A message must be sent that this is unacceptable. 

Anything less will be an in insult to the NCL crew members and to the memory of Filipino crew member "Jacob."

April 8 2014 Update: NCL just posted this on its Facebook Page:

"Norwegian Cruise Line is shocked and saddened by the tragic death of a crew member from Norwegian Pearl in Roatan, Honduras on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

Police reports indicate the crew member was killed during an attempted robbery while in Roatan. Local officials are investigating and have the alleged suspect in custody.

In an abundance of caution for our guests and crew, we have cancelled calls to Roatan this week for Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Jewel.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the crew member."

April 10 2014 UpdateHonduran Police Arrest Bay Islands Resident in Murder of NCL Crew Member

 

Read our prior article: NCL Crew Member Shot & Killed in Roatan, Honduras 

NCL Crew Member Shot & Killed in Roatan, Honduras

This evening we received reliable information that a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) crew member was shot and killed in Roatan, Honduras earlier today.

The crew member reportedly was from NCL's Norwegian Pearl cruise ship.

The only information we received is that a Pearl crew member named "Jacob" from the Philippines was killed by a gunshot today while the Norwegian Pearl was in Roatan today. The murder apparently occurred when the gunman was trying to rob the crew member of his cell phone a short distance form the cruise ship. 

NCL Norwegian Cruise Line Pearl This year we have posted two articles warning about the high crime rate in Roatan. We published the articles last month and in January:

Travel Crime Warning: Tourists Assaulted, Robbed & Terrorized in Roatan, Honduras

Crime in Roatan: Shots Fired, Armed Robbery of Carnival Cruise Passengers

The U.S. State Department issued a warning that the murder rate in Honduras is the highest in the world. 

Before I learned of the murder today, I received the following message on this blog: 

"Honduras is rated the number 1 murder country in Central America for a reason.  . . . People, just remember this, anyone who lives there or owns property there is going to paint you a rosy picture of this place because they can't leave or they have their money invested there. Avoid Roatan."

If you have information about this crime, please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Update: The Teledifusora Insular Facebook page identifies the Filipino crew member as Jacob Bagan. It states that the police are searching for someone called "Barrabas" who shot the man and then left his bicycle at the scene. The new mayor of Roatan offers a reward of 100,000 Lempiras (a little over $5,000 U.S.) for the capture of the murderer. There are numerous photographs on the Facebook page, including one of the deceased man that is graphic. Other newspapers are covering the story, including this one, which contains very disturbing images (warning). 

Below is a video from Roatan of the Mayor being interviewed.

April 7 2014 UpdateWill NCL's CEO Kevin Sheehan Pull the Norwegian Pearl, Dawn & Jewel Out of Roatan?

April 10 2014 UpdateHonduran Police Arrest Bay Islands Resident in Murder of NCL Crew Member

 

Photo credit: Wikipedia / Visitor 7  

Dead Filipinos, Dead Children & Other Cruise Line Madness

This week several people died during cruises on ships owned by Carnival Corporation.  A young seafarer died on the Carnival-owned Cunard Queen Victoria cruise ship.  A crew member from the Carnival Conquest was crushed to death at the port of New Orleans. And most tragically, a 6 year-old boy needlessly drown on the Carnival Victory in a swimming pool which, incredibly, did not have a life-guard.     

What do all of these seemingly unrelated incidents have in common?  

Because of antiquated laws and recent legal developments advanced by the cruise industry, the cruise Qwentyn Hunter - Carnival Cruise Shipline will escape virtually all legal accountability for the deaths.

Let's look first at the sad case of little 6 year old Qwentyn Hunter who died on the Carnival Victory last week. He died underwater in a swimming pool that Carnival decided not to supervise with a lifeguard for, what I believe to be, purely financial reasons.

A child on vacation dead at age 6.

Is it foreseeable that a child may drown in a pool?  Of course. We have written recently about a 4 year old boy who is severely brain injured after slipping under the water on a cruise ship Disney which also didn't bother to assign a lifeguard to the pool.    

Put aside the debate whether the boy's death was a lack of personal responsibility of the parents or a lack of corporate responsibility due to the the malfeasance of the cruise line (or both), what is the maximum exposure presented to Carnival?

The answer, sadly, is just the child's burial and burial expenses. How is that possible?

There is a law in the U.S. called The Death On The High Seas Act ("DOHSA").  

DOHSA is an archaic law enacted in 1920 which provides only "pecuniary" losses to the survivors of someone who dies on the high seas. "Pecuniary" damages means only those financial losses, such as lost wages or medical expenses, suffered by those who are dependent on the dead person. In cases of a dead child or a dead retiree, there are no lost wages and no one dependent on the child or retiree for support. In Qwentyn's situation, there are obviously no lost wages or medical expenses.  So all that the family could possibly receive in compensation after an expensive, long-drawn-out lawsuit is whatever it costs to bury a child these days.      

If the cruise line is negligent for a child's death in an unattended pool, it will pay a maximum of $10,000 or so if liability is proven. Big deal. From a financial perspective, the cruise line is ahead of the game by not paying millions to employ lifeguards on over a hundred Carnival cruise ships to keep the kids safe. Carnival's Micky Arison, worth around 6 billion dollars, gets to keep his bounty.    

Cruise lines love DOHSA. It exculpates the cruise lines when they act irresponsibly.  The cruise industry has lobbied hard against amending the law.  Read about that here and here. Don't miss reading: What Does BP, Al Qaeda and a Cruise Line Have In Common?  

Crew members who die due to the negligence of the cruise lines face the same hardship of DOHSA. 

But that's not all. The cruise lines have also fought tooth & nail to keep the claims of "foreign" crew members outside of the U.S. legal system and deprive injured crew members from having their cases heard by U.S. juries by insisting that they resolve their cases through "arbitration."  

Read about this injustice here. The Filipinos face a "schedule" of compensation depending on the Filipino Crew Member - Cruise - Burn Unitinjury. A lost finger, or hand, or an arm may result in an award of only $7,500 or $25,000 or $35,000. A death? $50,000, plus only $7,000 per child with a limit of 4 children. 

One of the worst cases involved a Filipino crew member who received 35% burns on his body in a clear case of the vessel operator's negligence. At the ship owner's request, the disabled and disfigured crew member's case was dismissed from the U.S. legal system and sent to Manila where a Kangaroo Court awarded the burned Filipino just $1,870.00 (US).

The cruise lines don't want you to understand what happens when the nice, smiling Filipino waiters or bartenders who serve your family are subsequently seriously injured or die on cruise ships. It is fundamentally different and absolutely unfair compared to when people are injured or die on land. 

And this is exactly how the multi-billion dollar cruise industry wants it.  

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Death on NCL's Norwegian Jade

Norwegian Jade Cruise Ship Katakolon GreeceAccording to a news account in Greece, a 25 year old Filipino crew member aboard the Norwegian Jade died when the cruise ship was in Katakolo, Greece.

In addition to the skimpy information contained in the newspaper, we learned that the incident occurred early this morning when cruise passengers were preparing to disembark for sightseeing ashore (including visiting the ruins of Olympia).

A mooring line snapped while the crew member was standing on a mooring deck platform (at the level of deck 7). The crew member was violently struck by the recoiling rope. He was knocked overboard and into the water at the port.  According to the news account, divers took several hours to retrieve the dead man's body in the murky water. 

The crew member was not fitted with either a harness or a life vest and he was not wearing a hard hat. (Some people say that his hard hat was subsequently found floating in the water).

This afternoon, the Norwegian Jade (previously named the Pride of Hawaii) continued on to its next port of call in Piraeus.  The Jade is flagged in the Bahamas.  It appears that the ship sailed without a representative of the Bahamas Maritime Authority conducting an inspection of the rope or analyzing the NCL Norwegian Jadeaccident and taking statements from the crew and witnesses.  The ship is now continuing to sail to Pireus this evening.   

Cruise lines like NCL have worked hard to strip crew members of their rights.  Crew members from the Philippines, in particular, are limited under the Philippines Overseas Employment Agreement (POEA) to very small death benefits even in cases like this where the cruise line failed to enforce basic safety procedures.  

You can read our article about the POEA here. NCL took the lead in enforcing unfair arbitration clauses which deprive seafarers of their rights under maritime law.

Without significant financial consequence to the cruise line in cases like this, there is no incentive to improve safety of the ship's hard working crew. 

If you have information about this fatality, please leave a comment below.     

Photo credits: Norwegian Jade - janiahola.fi; web cam - NCL; scene of accident - ekathimerini.com

NCL Norwegian Jade Death Greece

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