Royal Caribbean Unreasonably Delays Reporting Overboard Crew Member from Vision of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Overboard Vision of the SeasOn December 8, 2017, a crew member went overboard from the Vision of the Seas cruise ship operated by Miami based Royal Caribbean Cruises. I reported on the incident at the time based on what passengers were stating about the cruise. 

The Vision sailed out of Galveston on December 4, 2017 on a seven day cruise, leaving and returning to Galveston, to ports in Progresso and Cozumel, Mexico.  During the return cruise to Galveston, a crew member could not be accounted for. He apparently checked into his job in the early morning hours but had disappeared from the cruise ship sometime thereafter. A ship-wide search was conducted without success.

I wrote at the time that there was no indication that the ship stopped or turned around to conduct a search in the water. Unfortunately, the scenario fits a typical pattern when a crew member goes over the rails un-witnessed late at night or in the early hours of the morning on a Royal Caribbean ship. Royal Caribbean has not invested in the available automatic man-overboard technology (using heat sensors, infrared, motion detection and/or radar technology) which can send a signal to the bridge, capture the image of the person going overboard, and track the person by radar in the water. Instead, the ship will eventually review closed-circuit television images, conduct a search of the cabin on the ship, often not perform a search at sea, and belatedly notify the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Royal Caribbean registered the Vision of the Seas in the Bahamas which is responsible for conducting investigations when passengers or crew members go overboard from cruise ships registered in that flag of convenience ("FOC") country. The Bahamas Maritime Authority ("BMA") just published its investigation into this man overboard situation on the Vision. You can read the report here

The BMA report offers a rare insight into how Royal Caribbean responds to and investigates man overboard situations. The report also attached internal security summaries and portions of Royal Caribbean's safety and quality ("SQM") manual which outline the cruise line's written policies and procedures regarding a "missing person." 

The report reveals that Royal Caribbean repeatedly failed to inquire into the missing crew member's whereabouts and failed to timely report his absence from the ship to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean register their cruise ships in countries like the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. labor regulations and U.S. income taxes. They are used to having FOC states look the other way and not criticize them in situations like this, but the BMA report reveals very disturbing information about the shoddy operations of this cruise ship.

The BMA report indicates that the crew member was a 24 year-old citizen of Mauritius. The report  mentions that the crew member was a facilities cleaner who worked at the pool area on deck 9. He woke up around 4:30 A.M. in a cabin which he shared with his girlfriend who was also from Mauritius. He reported to work at 5:00 A.M. He walked to elevators which took him to deck nine and then he took an elevator to deck five. He walked to the stern on deck 5, placed his cleaning bucket on the deck, climbed over the stern rail and then climbed back onto the deck, and then walked toward the port side where he apparently jumped overboard. 

Royal Caribbean Overboard Vision of the Seas

CCTV images (which officers on the ship first reviewed approximately eight and one-half hours later) show the crew member's movements on decks 9 and 5 but do not show the crew members actually going overboard because a floodlight blocked the CCTV camera on the port/aft side on Deck 5 with a view of the stern of the ship. 

There was no mention in the report of an automatic man overboard system which would have immediately sent a signal and alarm to the bridge that the crew member went over the rails. 

Royal Caribbean Overboard Vision of the Seas

Unlike other cruise lines (like NCL), Royal Caribbean does not monitor the CCTV cameras on its cruise ships. 

The BMA reveals the following chronology:

  • 04:30 - Crew member awakes and leaves cabin which he shared with his girlfriend; 
  • 05:00 - Crew member reports to work and his supervisor assigns him the deck 9 pool deck to clean;
  • 05:09 - 5:14 - Crew member shown on CCTV heading to and walking on deck 9 and then goes to deck 5 where he climbs over the stern railing near the crew life-raft canister area which does not provide direct access to the sea and then he climbs over the rail back onto deck 5;
  • 05:14 - Crew member walks to port side of the stern which has direct drop to the water and apparently jumps overboard (although CCTV camera is blocked);
  • 09:30 - Crew member fails to attend mandatory safety training;
  • 12:00 - Designated safety officer responsible for training goes to lunch without noting that the crew member was absent from training; 
  • 12:40 - Crew member's supervisor, the Facilities Head Cleaner, notes that the crew member is missing from his work station;
  • 12:45 - 1st Announcement made in crew areas;
  • 13:05 - Bridge was informed;
  • 13:16 - 2nd announcement made in crew areas;
  • 13:40 - 3rd announcement made in crew and areas;
  • 13:40 - 14:45 - Officers review CCTV footage; take statements from the facilities head cleaner and head cleaner; staff captain and master interview the crew member's girlfriend and isolates her in a different cabin with a security guard posted outside the door, and begins search of ship;
  • 14:45 - Security officer notifies Global Security department in Miami of a "possible missing person;"
  • 15:20 - Search of ship begins; 
  • 15:45 - Security Officer seals crew member's cabin, locks cabin door with padlock and "crime scene tape;" officers conclude that there is no clear view of crew member jumping overboard because the area of the railing is not covered by CCTV (blind area) but concludes that "CCTV clearly showed a CM …. entering the area where he possible jumped over board and did not return back;"
  • 15:47 - Master notifies U.S. Coast Guard in Galveston by telephone about "missing person" situation;
  • 16:49 - "Whole ship search" completed but missing crew member not found. 

Royal Caribbean Overboard Vision of the Seas

There are a couple of conclusions which can readily be made from this chronology:

It took seven and one-half hours before the supervisor noticed that the crew member was missing from his work station.  It took eight and one-half hours before the safety officer reviewed the CCTV images. It took over nine and one-half hours after the crew member went overboard (and two hours after the first public announcement of the missing man were made on the ship) before the security officer finally notified the security department in Miami that a crew member probably went overboard. It then took over another hour to finally notify the U.S. Coast Guard of the overboard crew member. At this time, it Royal Caribbean SQM Safety and Quality Manual was then over ten and one-half hours after the crew member went overboard. 

It appears that the officers on the Royal Caribbean ship were indifferent to whether the Coast Guard even conducted a search after this extraordinary delay.  The Security Officer wrote in his report (attached to the BMA report) that "we are not aware if a search was carried out by USCG."

The Royal Caribbean SQM (blurred in original) requires the master of the cruise ship to "immediately" notify the cruise line's security and marine operations departments by telephone in any "suspected overboard situation." Unless there is an actual and reliable sighting of the person going overboard, the SQM also prohibits the Master from turning the ship around to conduct searches in the water and even then only after the Master first notifies the cruise line's marine operations department in Miami. 

Notably absent from the flag state report is any mention of the fact that the cruise ship lacked an automatic man overboard system. The report's conclusions and recommendations do not discuss the obvious problem that the bridge was not immediately aware that the crew members went over the rails. The only conclusion of significance was that if the security "trainer had reported him absent when training was to commence (i., e., at 9:30, over four hours after the crew member went overboard) then his own work supervisor may have raised the alarm considerably earlier." The only recommendation in the report was to review "possible impediments to all cameras should be made and rectified where found." 

Vision of the Seas SQM Safety and Quality Manual Royal Caribbean 

This is hardly a reasonable conclusion or recommendation. Eliminating blind spots in CCTV cameras (to be reviewed only after-the-fact when crew members have already gone overboard long ago) or requiring diligence in requiring attendance in crew training (again with the hope that a person not attending a training session will somehow result in a supervisor learning that a crew member went overboard hours earlier) will not possibly achieve immediate notification of a man overboard. 

A couple of year ago, I wrote about the problem of crew members going missing from Royal Caribbean cruise ships without explanation. During a three year period between 2009 and 2012, at least thirteen crew members went over the rails of Royal Caribbean (and Celebrity) ships, including the Majesty of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas (twice), Radiance of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas. Oasis of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Summit, and Monarch of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas (two). Most of these cases were never investigated by the flag state, which, it seems, could not care less. 

Until the United States Coast Guard becomes concerned with the absence of automatic man overboard systems on cruise ships calling on U.S. ports and institutes serious action against the companies for the extreme delays in reporting overboard crew and passengers (like preventing the ships from sailing), cruise lines like Royal Caribbean will continue to act in this irresponsible manner.  

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Image credits: Bahamian Maritime Authority
 

Royal Caribbean Boycotts Rotterdam Shipyard After €1,000,000 Fine?

Three and a-half years ago, I wrote about a large fine leveled against Royal Caribbean for violating labor rules and regulations while the Oasis of the Seas was dry-docked in the Netherlands. Dutch labor inspectors had arrived at the shipyard in Rotterdam and found that numerous employees who were working on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship lacked proper residence papers and worked excessive hours (some up to 16 hours per day).

The Oasis had been undergoing maintenance and repairs while in dry-dock in Rotterdam when 45  inspectors from the Netherlands labor department boarded the ship. The inspectors determined that as many as 124 ship employees were not part of the regular crew and the cruise line should have Keppel Verolme - Oasis of the Seasapplied for work permits for them.

The finding of the Dutch labor inspectors ("arbeidsinspectie") led to a  €1,000,000 fine. This was an unprecedented action by a port state enforcing their local labor regulations against a large cruise company.

I asked at the time that "it remains to be seen whether Rotterdam receives any more work from Royal Caribbean in the future."

Upon notice of the fine, Royal Caribbean quickly decided that the dry-dock repairs needed for its sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, would be performed in Cadiz, Spain. Since then, Royal Caribbean has avoided any maintenance of its ships in Rotterdam. Just last month, Royal Caribbean sent the Brilliance of the Seas from Amsterdam to a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.  

Royal Caribbean had used the shipyard extensively in the past, including projects like stretching and installing a mid-body section in the Enchantment of the Seas back in 2005. 

The CEO (Kommer Damen) of the shipyard in question (Damen Shipyards, formerly Keppel Verolme), recently criticized the fine in a Dutch newspaper, Maritiemnieuws (auto translate via Google Chrome).  Mr. Damen was interviewed in the Dutch VNO-NCW opinion forum

Mr. Damen essentially stated that the strict enforcement of the labor regulations of the Netherlands caused the shipyard to lose up to "about 1 billion euros" over the past 4 years. Mr. Damen characterized the fine as "simply unwise policy." The opinion piece states that Royal Caribbean allegedly objected to and did not pay the labor fine.

Mr. Damen explained that, in his opinion, it is "entirely customary" for foreign shipowners to deploy their own ship employees ("riding crew"), as opposed to local employees employed by the shipyards, during maintenance projects. But, as Mr. Damen further argues, only the Dutch labor inspectors interpret and enforce the international regulations for labor on board ships in such a way that it is not possible to employ over a hundred ship employees not hired pursuant to the local labor laws. He cites the situation in countries such as Germany or France, where the the local inspectors permit the shipping companies to fly in extra crew for specialized projects taking place at shipyards. 

We originally reported that Royal Caribbean had employed over 100 ship employees (and as many as as 77 Filipinos) to work on the Oasis of the Seas project during the dry-dock in Rotterdam. The cruise line was reportedly working these crew members as long as 16 hours a day (far in excess of the Dutch labor regulations) and likely for a fraction of what would have been paid to Dutch workers.  

But when a labor fine results in lost revenue of a shipyard catering to the multi-million dollar business of a cruise line, its appears that labor inspectors will be forced to look the other way when ship workers work far-more-hours and for far-less-money than permitted by law. 

Have a comment? Please leave a message or join the discussion on our Facebook page where I ask the question: Do you trust the cruise lines and shipyards to look after the labor rights of crew members?

Photo credit: Damen Verolme Rotterdam YouTube - Videoclip - Keppel Verolme dry-docking OASIS OF THE SEAS

Passenger Charged with Raping Woman on Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity ReflectionThe Times of Malta reports that a 20 year old passenger from Scotland was charged today with raping a woman who he met on a cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection.

The newspaper says that the man allegedly raped the woman on the Celebrity cruise ship a year ago today. The man also faces charges of holding the woman against her will and committing "violent indecent assault" on the woman.

The young man and woman were on the cruise with their families. The alleged rape took place after the woman had her drink spiked.

Celebrity / Royal Caribbean registered the Reflection in Malta. The police is Malta issued an "European Arrest Warrant" to bring the alleged assailant to court. This is an unusual case insofar as most flag states, like the Bahamas, never issue warrants or even try to prosecute crimes committed on cruise ships flying flags of convenience. 

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Photo Credit: Celebrity Reflection cruise ship by Moonik - own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Case Study: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. - Avoiding U.S. Taxes, Labor Laws, Environmental Regulations & Criminal Accountability

Royal Caribbean Cruises - A Liberian CoporationToday I read an interesting case analysis from the Journal of Business Case Studies (May/June 2012), which studied the business model of the second largest cruise company in the world, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.   

The article is entitled "Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.: Innovation At A Cost?" (click on the pdf link)

The article focuses on Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. which was formed in 1997 when Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (founded in 1968) and Celebrity Cruises (founded in 1988) merged together. 

The article explains that the foundation of Royal Caribbean is the avoidance of U.S. taxes and regulation. It accomplishes this by:

  • Incorporating in a foreign country (Liberia, Africa), and
  • Registering its cruise ships in weak, poor and disorganized foreign countries (mostly Liberia and the Bahamas).  

By registering its corporation and ship overseas, it avoids U.S. taxes, labor and environmental laws, and criminal culpability.  U.S. executives are offered millions in bonuses while the cruise line itself pays no U.S. taxes, which is the key to its profitability. The Journal writes that Miami based cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean:

" . . .  take advantage of maritime laws to avoid paying U.S. taxes, gain immunity from American labor laws, avoid U.S. courts in workplace disputes, and fend off new environmental regulations, government records and industry reports show. They have done this by incorporating in Central America and Africa and registering their ships under the flags of foreign nations . . ." 

Although this theoretically gives tiny countries regulatory power over one of some of Florida's Flag of Convenience - Royal Caribbean Cruiseslargest corporations, the flag states " . . . are not only reluctant to discipline major contributors to their economies, but also do not have the resources to enforce regulations or even punish polluters."

Flying flags of convenience has historically been used to conceal criminal activities, and is now "used primarily for economic reasons and sanctuary from restrictive regulatory environments."

Tonight in England a documentary will air about the exploitation of crew members on the Eclipse cruise ship which is operated by Royal Caribbean's sister company, Celebrity Cruises, out of Southampton England.  Crew members work 12 hours a day (sometimes more), every day, every week for the length of their 6 - 8 month contracts with no time off. When injured, the crew members  are often dumped back in their home countries and paid only $12 a day and denied competent medical treatment.

You can trace the root cause of this abuse back to the earliest days of Royal Caribbean in the late 1960's when the cruise line decided to skirt U.S. laws by incorporating in the lawless country of Liberia.       

 

Don't miss:

"Celebrity Cruises Crew Member Controversy Brewing in Britain"

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

"Royal Caribbean Executives Get Richer While Crew Members Get Poorer"

 

Credit: Flags of convenience article - "Flags at Sea . . . "

Raped on a Cruise Ship Operated by an Italian Cruise Line and Flagged in Panama? Cruise Rape Victim Falls Through Jurisdictional Cracks . . .

A criminal trial against a South African man accused of raping a South African woman during a cruise ended when the trial court ruled that the alleged rape did not occur in the territorial waters of South Africa.

Sindhu Ramanandh Bhogal - Alleged Cruise Ship Rapenewspaper in South Africa published a disturbing story about the defense raised by the lawyers for a passenger who is accused of raping a woman after allegedly spiking her drink during a cruise aboard the MSC Sinfonia cruise ship.

The case involves South African national Anika Marks who sailed on the MSC Cruises ship in November 2009.  Ms. Marks was on what is described as a three-day business trip with work colleagues when another South African passenger, Sindhu Ramanandh Bhogal, allegedly drugged and raped her. 

The cruise ship regularly sails between Durban and Mozambique. On the cruise in question, Ms. Marks says that she had been dancing at a disco on the cruise ship when she went alone to an outside deck to smoke a cigarette. Bhogal was there and they spoke.  She left to go to the toilet, leaving her drink and cigarettes on the deck next to Bhogal.

After she returned, she smoked a cigarette Bhogal offered her and drank a drink he offered her.  Marks thereafter "lost control of her head and body" and then remembered walking down stairs with Bhogal behind.  The next thing she remembered was Bhogal on top of her, with her dress up and underwear off, and him raping her.

After two years of legal wrangling, defendant Bhogal's lawyers asserted a new defense - the South Anika Marks - South Africa - South Africa - Cruise Ship RapeAfrican state courts cannot try him for the cruise ship rape because the incident happened in   Mozambican waters.

Mr. Bhogal’s lawyer cited a provision in the South African Criminal Procedures Act that if the alleged crime occurs in international waters or another country's territorial waters, the South African state courts have no jurisdiction.

Because the MSC cruise ship is operated by an Italian cruise line and is flagged in Panama, technically only the country of Panama can prosecute crimes against a South African woman which occur outside of the territorial waters of South Africa.

I have never heard of Panama ever investigating or prosecuting crimes on Panamanian flagged cruise ships.  After all, cruise lines flag their ships in places like Panama to avoid oversight. That's where Carnival, for example, flags its vessels.  If you are a woman sexually assaulted on a Panamanian flagged cruise ship and your country does not permit criminal prosecutions of rapists in international waters, don't expect anyone from Panama to arrest the assailant.  You are in an international no-man's land. 

 

Photo credit:  INSLA

Your Tax Dollars At Sea - Who Pays When Things Go Wrong on Cruises?

This week the United States Coast Guard rescued two cruise passengers - one ill young man from the NCL Gem cruise ship sailing off the coast of North Carolina and a second young woman from the Explorer cruise ship who was suffering from an appendicitis attack near Key West Florida. 

When we report on these type of rescues, we sometimes hear from readers of Cruise Law News complaining that the cost of the medical evacuations should be borne by the sick passengers themselves. 

We especially hear these complaints when a passenger inadvertently goes overboard.  Was the passenger acting negligently or was he or she under the influence of alcohol (a major money Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire maker for the cruise lines).  If so, many people protest loudly and angrily that the cruise passenger should bear the extra fuel expenses and other costs incurred by the cruise ship and the Coast Guard searching for the missing passenger.   

Federal agencies are prohibited by law from seeking reimbursement of the costs associated with search and rescue of this type. 

So who bears the expense when the cruise lines act irresponsibly and the cruise goes terribly wrong?

Consider the fire last year aboard the Carnival Splendor which caused the cruise ship to lose power off of the coast of Mexico.  The Carnival ship was disabled due to the negligent design of the cruise ship itself which risked the lives of 4,500 passengers and crew.  As we reported before, the U.S. Coast Guard blasted Carnival for its defective engines and poorly designed safety instructions which caused several thousands of passengers to find themselves helplessly adrift at sea without lighting, air conditioning or hot water on the high seas. 

Carnival quickly considered legal claims against the companies which designed and manufactured the engines which failed.  Carnival did not hesitate making a claim against these companies for the revenues lost while the Splendor sat in dry dock being repaired.

But who paid for the enormous costs associated with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard responding to the emergency?  

You will recall that the U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, to the scene as the mostly U.S. passengers bobbed around on the high seas.  The Navy utilized four aircraft and helicopters to assist the stricken Carnival ship.  The Navy made twenty-four airlifts of food and provisions which its aircrew skilfully dropped onto the Carnival cruise ship to feed the passengers.  

How much did this cost and who was paying for it? 

I inquired around and the only knowledgeable source was the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization whose President, Ken Carver, had requested information from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request.

The U.S. Navy timely responded to Mr. Carver's FOIA request.  The Navy disclosed that it delivered 60 pallets, weighing over 37,000 pounds, of "bread, luncheon meat, pop tarts, canned crab, water and paper plates." 

Considering the cost of positioning an aircraft carrier, dispatching multiple aircraft and helicopters, and delivering tons of food and water to be dropped onto the cruise ship, the Navy stated that it spent $1,884,376.75 responding to the fire aboard the Carnival Splendor cruise ship.  

This figure does not include the costs incurred by the U.S. Coast Guard in responding to the crisis. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard has not yet provided any information in response to Mr. Carver's FOIA request dating back to earlier this year.

The Coast Guard's costs were undoubtedly another $2,000,000 or so in personnel and fuel costs for their vessels and helicopters.

There is a certain irony that cruise lines, which structure their businesses to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. safety regulations, are dependent on the generosity of our Federal agencies in responding to emergencies when they get themselves into a jam.  

Cruise lines incorporate in foreign countries like Liberia and Panama and register their cruise ships in foreign Aircraft Carrier Ronald Reagan - Carnival Splendorcountries like the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. laws and all U.S. income taxes. The cruise industry collects over $35,000,000,000 (billion) a year in income from mostly income-tax-paying-Americans, yet it avoids U.S. corporate income tax by incorporating itself and registering its ship abroad.

But when the cruise ships catch on fire and are adrift on the high seas, cruise lines like Carnival are the first to make a distress call to the United States and ask for favors from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. 

When cruise passengers were thinking of suing Carnival last year for the inconvenience caused by the cruise fire aboard the Splendor, I was the first one to say don't do it.  Many of the major news networks and newspapers picked up on the my don't-sue-Carnival message, like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fox News,  ABA Journal, Gadling, and the U.K's Mirror.

At the end of the day, it was not the cruise passengers who filed suit.  It was Carnival who made legal claims against the companies which designed and manufactured its engines.  Carnival made millions in the process.

Did Carnival, the only one suing, repay the U.S. government?  

Not a penny.

So who paid for all of the millions of dollars in emergency services expended by our U.S. Navy and Coast Guard arising from the negligence of the tax-avoiding, foreign flagged and incorporated cruise line which stranded thousands of tax-paying Americans on the high seas?

You, the American taxpayers.    

 

For additional information about the Carnival Splendor fire and cruise ship fires in general, consider reading:

Carnival Splendor CO2 Firefighting System: "A Recipe for Failure"

"Coast Guard Blasts Carnival Splendor for Fire Negligence"

Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything? 

  

Photo credit:  bottom photo / U.S.S. Ronald Reagan - providencefox.com

Like Cruise Ships, Foreign Flagged Oil Rigs Avoid U.S. Laws

Foreign Flags - Marshall Islands, Liberia, Panama The LA Times has an interesting article this morning revealing how drilling companies skirt U.S. laws by registering their oil rigs in countries like the Marshall Islands, described by the Times as a "tiny, impoverished nation in the Pacific Ocean." 

Drilling rigs are considered to be "vessels" under maritime law.  This permits their owners and operators to register them wherever they want in the world.  Like cruise lines which register their ships in Liberia, Panama, and the Bahamas, oil and gas companies and drilling contractors register their rigs outside the U.S. to avoid American safety laws and taxes.   

Congress will be conducting a hearing on the safety of these foreign flagged drilling rigs this Thursday.  The Times quotes James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as stating:  "Today, these oil rigs can operate under different, very minimal standards of inspection established by international maritime treaties."

Representative Oberstar is a friend of cruise passengers and crew members, having taken a leading role in passing the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act in the House of Representatives last year.  This law protects cruise passengers on foreign flagged cruise ships.  Take a minute and read: " Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4."

    

For additional information on the Marshall Islands vessel registration system, consider reading: "Growth Of The Marshall Islands Flag and American Bureau of Shipping."

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