Ken Carver Honored for Cruise Safety

Merrian CarverKen Carver, Chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association (ICV), received the Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award from the U.S. Department of Justice during the annual National Crime Victims’ Service Awards ceremony on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Carver founded the ICV after his daughter disappeared from a Celebrity cruise ship during an Alaskan cruise in 2004. In 2006, he formed the ICV which is a grass roots, victim organization of families who have lost loved ones on the high seas or have been victims of sexual assaults and other crimes at sea.  

I remember when I first heard of Mr Carver. In 2005, the Arizona Central newspaper published an article titled Daughter Vanishes While on Alaskan Cruise by Robert Anglen about the disappearance of Mr. Carver's daughter, Merrian Carver, from the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship.

The facts described in the article were bad enough: a Celebrity cabin attendant noticed that Mirrian was missing early in the cruise but when he alerted his supervisors, they told him not to worry about her. In the process, Merrian's clothes and personal effects were quickly disposed of at the end of the cruise.  But the cover-up of the disappearance was even worse: neither the FBI nor local law enforcement officials were notified when there was no sighting of Merrian at the end of the cruise. Celebrity Cruises lied to Mr. Carver about its policies which required it to keep CCTV tapes for at least 30 days; when Mr. Carver asked for tapes within that period, Celebrity falsely told him that none existed. 

The cruise line gave Mr. Carver about as much attention and respect as someone complaining about losing a piece of luggage during a cruise. He told the Arizona Central: "We've learned that if something Ken Carver - International Cruise Victimshappens on a cruise, you are on your own," he says, choking back sobs. "No other parents should ever have to go through the crap we've been through. We don't know if Merrian is alive or dead. We don't know if there was an accident or murder or suicide or something else. . . . It is a very sad story."

After reading the blockbuster article about the terribly sad story, I felt compelled to read first-hand the facts alleged in a lawsuit which Mr. Carver was forced to file to try in Miami-Dade County to try and find out what happened to his daughter. I was also curious which law firm Celebrity Cruises retained to represent it in the lawsuit. 

The clerk requires anyone asking for a copy of a court pleading to fill out paperwork identifying the name and address of the person requesting the file. When I looked at the clerk's forms, I could see the names of the defense lawyers who had previously requested the file and would be involved in the case.

Coincidentally, later in the week, I bumped into these lawyers on the sixth floor of the courthouse while attending a hearing in another case. I mentioned to them: so you guys will be defending the tragic case of the father whose daughter disappeared during the cruise to Alaska?" The lawyers first denied knowing anything about the case, but when I told them that  the clerk information confirmed their involvement, one of the lawyers remarked: that's a bullshit case; we're going to have it dismissed

I'll remember this rude conversation and the defense lawyers' smug attitude for the rest of my life. I recall thinking at the time that this was not going to end well for this cruise line or their heartless defense lawyers. 

Later, during one of many television specials about Merrian's disappearance, one of the defense lawyers said to Chris Cuomo, who was working for ABC News at the time, Merrian probably committed suicide. Of course, there was absolutely no evidence of this, but this didn't stop the defense lawyer from saying it. The smear tactic was clearly the result of the nasty attitude of the cruise line lawyers and their client. But it raised the obvious question that if it was somehow true that Merrian ended her own life, why wouldn't the cruise line simply tell law enforcement and Mr. Carver and timely provide evidence supporting this conclusion? 

I'll also never forget when I first met Mr. Carver. He attended the first Congressional hearing in Washington D.C. before the U.S. Senate on December 13, 2005, following the disappearance of George Smith III from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas. I was representing Mr Smith's wife at the hearing and was seeking information from an equally recalcitrant cruise line. Mr. Carver introduced himself at the hearing, smiled and asked me do you want to help me pass a cruise crime law? 

Quite frankly I didn't know exactly what Mr Carver was talking about. I thought to myself that any kind of law requiring the cruise line to report crimes, an issue the cruise industry always sought to suppress, was unprecedented. 

But a month later Ms. Carver created the ICV. And with the assistance of hundreds of crime victims who joined the ICV, and the convening of several more Congressional hearings addressing crimes and disappearance on cruise ships, Mr. Carver was successful in having Congress enact the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. His proposed legislation, requiring the disclosure of missing Ken Carver ICVpassengers, the reporting of crime on cruise ships, and the requirement for ships to be equipped with rape kits and anti-retorviral medications to automatic man overboard systems, passed the Senate and House on a nearly unanimous basis. 

Mr. Carver's goals were to create transparency in crime and missing passenger reporting and install man overboard systems on cruise ships. The cruise lines fought back vigorously. The cruise industry treated Mr. Carver like a villain and essentially painted a bulls-eye on his back. The cruise lines spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to oppose Mr. Carver's proposed legislation. But ultimately Mr. Carver prevailed.

Over the past dozen years, I've seen dozens of cruise executives and cruise line defense lawyers come and go - as well as PR crisis managers and lobbyists in the cruise industry trade organization. Many have left the industry. But Mr. Carver is still standing. Cruising is safer today because of him.

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Opinion Piece: Don't Join Our Organization This Summer

Don’t Join Our Organization This Summer, by Kendall Carver

More than 10 million Americans will set sail on a cruise vacation in 2016. Many of these travelers will book their trips through U.S.-based travel companies—expecting not only top-notch service, but also safety and accountability in the event of an emergency.

Yet American travelers aren’t guaranteed either: The cruise industry routinely circumvents basic safety Merrian  Carver - International Cruise Victimsprocedures for expediency’s sake, prioritizing profits over people.

I know firsthand. My daughter, Merrian, disappeared from a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska in 2004, yet cruise officials acted like nothing had happened. Merrian’s steward aboard the vessel reported her missing for five days to his supervisor, but was told to “just do your job and forget it.”

That’s right: Royal Caribbean made no attempt to contact either the authorities or Merrian’s family when she turned up missing and had not used her room. Once the cruise line was contacted about Merrian’s disappearance, it took Royal Caribbean three days to confirm that she had even been on the cruise first place. Confirming that Merriam didn’t use her room after the second night onboard took even longer. By then, the trail had gone cold. Requests for interviews by the private investigator hired by our family, were denied, as was access to the ship's video camera system. Cruise officials even limited the amount of time that he could spend on the ship.

Our persistence in the face of negligence revealed a shocking detail: My daughter had been reported missing daily for the last five days of the cruise and nothing was done to search for her. More than a decade later, I still do not know how she died.

Unfortunately, my tragic story is not uncommon. The family of Larry and Christy Hammer—two Americans who lost their lives aboard the Amazon River boat Estrella Amazonica in April—are similarly grasping for answers. Theirs is the most recent demonstration of the cruise industry’s shocking disregard for passengers.

According to reports provided to us by the family, the Hammers were killed by a fire in their cabin. There were smoke detectors but no alarms in the cabins onboard the Estrella Amazonica—a boat proudly designed, built, and co-owned by the U.S.-based travel company International Expeditions Larry and Christy Hammer - International Expeditions (IE), according to the firm’s website. With no alarm to awaken them, the Hammers were overwhelmed as they struggled through the poisonous gases flooding their room. It took the crew more than 20 minutes to extract the Hammers from their burning cabin.

Similar to my family’s quest for answers, the Hammer family has resorted to independent investigators. The likely fire source was a power strip supplied by the boat—which lacked both surge protection and safety and flammability ratings. The fire alarm system and crew’s response to the emergency is also in question.

International Expeditions continues to deny the Hammer family’s pleas for information. Immediately following the incident, Van Perry, IE’s president, rushed to Peru to monitor the ship inspection. Within three days, he declared the ship “cleared as safe for travel” and personally re-boarded passengers onto the boat. When the Hammer family asked Mr. Perry for the supporting basis of his statements, he deflected and refused to provide information. Through interviews with independent investigators, the Hammer family was shocked to later learn that local authorities denied clearing the vessel as safe or having identified the source of the fire.

American travelers who put their trust in travel companies like Royal Caribbean and International Expeditions should tread carefully. Just because they’re based in the United States doesn’t ensure Ken Carver - International Cruise Victimspassenger safety or accountability when tragedy strikes.

To confront the cruise industry’s recurring problem of neglect and indifference, victims’ families organized the International Cruise Victims Association. Members’ tragic stories, posted to the organization’s website, attest to a devastating pattern.

My parting words are “be careful”—or else our organization becomes yours.

Kendall Carver is the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association.

You can read about the Royal Caribbean cover up of Merrian Carver's disappearance here

Photo Credit:

Merrian Carver (top) and Ken Carver - Ken Carver

Larry and Christy Hammer - Kelly Lankford & Jill Malott via KSHB
 

International Cruise Victims: Advocating for Cruise Victims for 10 Years

Washingtom DC Cruise Law NewsLast week we attended a reception at the Capital buillding in Washington D.C. with over 30 congressional offices in attendance, honoring the International Cruise Victim ("ICV")  organization.

The ICV was founded in January 2006 following the Congressional hearing in December 2005 regarding the disapperances of Merrian Carver from the Celebrity Mercury and the murder of George Smith III on the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas. 

In attendance at the reception were our friend and former client Laurie Dishman and her Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) who was a co-sponsor of the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety  Act.  Also in attendance were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Congressman Jim Hines (D-CT), from the Smith family's home state. Senator Blumenthal was an original supporter of the pending Cruise Passenger Protection Act, He stressed the need for fair, accurate and accurate information regarding crimes on cruise ships.

Appearing at the reception were Georgia and Dean Ananias who barely escaped the sinking of the Costa Concordia with their two daughters in January 2012. Their remarkable story is on the ICV website. They wrote S.O.S. Spirit of Survival: One Family's Chilling Account of the Costa Concordia Disaster. They survived physically but heard the screams and witnessed many crew members and passengers needlessly die. 

One mother talked about the sexual assault of her teenage daughter in which the FBI botched the investigation including not prosecuting the rapist and leaving the rape kit on the NCL cruise ship.  

Another family, the Ricci family, in attendance discussed the medical delay and neglience of Carnival cruise line which refused to send their daughter, Christina,  a young healthy woman,who hit her head and experienced strokes on the Victoriy, ashore to a medical trauma unit via a medevac helicopter resulting in her untimely death. 

The reception was moderated by ICV president Jamie Barnett who also lost her daughter, Ashley Barnett, aboard a Carnival cruise due to medical negligence.

ICV Chairman Ken Carver testified at a hearing regarding the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime entitled "Transportation.Maritime Transportation Safety and Stewardship Programs." Mr. Carver addressed, among other issues, the cruise industry's refusal to fully implement the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act with an effective date of January 2012 and the need to pass the Cruise Passenger Protection Act . You can read his testimony here.  

 Video credit: ABC News 7 Los Angeles via Jamie Barnett

You can see photographs of the reception here.

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International Cruise Victims (ICV) Expands in Europe

The International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization just announced that it is expanding in Europe.

The ICV is a grass root non-profit organization operated by victims of crimes and families who have lost loved ones at sea. The ICV and the families have been successful in the scheduling of 8 Congressional hearing in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives regarding issues of cruise ship crime, fires, sinkings, and man overboard situations 

Here is the press release:    

"To better serve victims and friends in Europe, International Cruise Victims maintains a separate organization known as International Cruise Victims – UK. During the past several months this organization has gained more and more press and notoriety.

ICV-UK is headed by Captain Michael Lloyd (photo right). He is a well-known authority in the Maritime Captain Michael LloydIndustry, having written several books and major papers aimed at improving cruise industry safety standards. He serves on the Executive Committee of ICV and is Executive Vice President of ICV-UK.

His major presentations include a recent one on March 2nd given to high level maritime executives at the Wellington in London on the need for proper safety issues concerning THE ABANDONMENT OF LARGE PASSENGER VESSELS.  His most recent presentation is titled THE INVESTIGATION OF INCIDENTS AND CRIME AT SEA. In addition, he has authored major papers on the need to improve safety standards for victims on the High Seas.

ICV is also pleased to announce that Captain Colin Smith will be joining our organization as Vice President with ICV-UK and working with Captain Lloyd to support our efforts in the European arena. Colin, who has a Master’s degree in Human Rights at sea brings to ICV an additional professional background of having served in various positions in the shipping industry.

Colin will be working with and supporting victims as well as assisting Michael with efforts to create laws which would protect passengers and improve cruise industry safety standards. ICV, an Associate member of Victim Support – Europe, now has the talent and resources to move forward in the EU in support of victims and policies to improve the safety standards of the cruise line industry.

Ken Carver – Chairman; Telephone 602-852-5896

Jamie Barnett – President; Telephone 818-355-6462

ICV's Ken Carver Outlasts Cruise Industry

Ken Carver Cruise VictimsKen Carver is the unlikeliest of people to become the founder of a grassroots victims' organization. Mr. Carver is a conservative businessman and the past president of an insurance company in New York City. 

But in 2004, his daughter disappeared from a Celebrity cruise ship during a cruise she took to Alaska. No one should have to cope with the disappearance of their daughter on a cruise vacation, but Celebrity Cruises put Mr. Carver through living hell when he searched for answers. 

Celebrity learned that Mr. Carver's daughter, Merriam, disappeared early during the cruise. But the cruise line did nothing. It didn't notify the FBI or the Alaskan State Police. It didn't preserve evidence or security video.  It disposed of Merriam's clothing and personal items. It stonewalled Mr. Carver and lied to him.  Mr. Carver had to hire investigators and lawyers and spend $75,000 to try and find out what happened to his daughter. 

Mr. Carver attended his first Congressional hearing about the problem of passengers disappearing at sea in 2005. He has been involved in an additional seven Congressional hearings, in an effort to make cruising safer. He co-founded the International Cruise Victims organization in January 2006. 

Mr. Carver's goals were to create transparency in crime and missing passenger reporting, install man overboard systems, and implement rape protocols and evidence handling procedures on cruise ships. The cruise lines fought back vigorously. The cruise industry treated Mr. Carver like a villain and essentially painted a bulls-eye on his back. The cruise lines spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to oppose Mr. Carver's proposed legislation.  But ultimately Mr. Carver won.

Congress recently passed a cruise safety law which requires cruise lines to publicly disclose all crimes on a new Department of Transportation website.  Mr. Carver was previously successful in having the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act passed into law. This law requires cruise lines to install automatic man overboard systems on their ships. 

Over the past decade, I've seen dozens of cruise executives come and go - cruise presidents, PR crisis managers, and lobbyists in the cruise industry trade organization. Many have left the industry. But Mr. Carver is still standing, and cruising is safer because of him. 

If you have a comment, please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Video Credit:  Local 3 Phoenix AZ Family 

Jay Leno Mentions International Cruise Victims!

The International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization formed in 2006 in response to the problem with crime and unsolved disappearance of passengers and crew members on cruise ships around the world.  ICV CEO Ken Carver's daughter disappeared on a Celebrity cruise ship which the cruise line covered up. ICV President Jamie Barnett's daughter died due to medical negligence. Other members of the ICV consist of women sexually assaulted and families who lost loved ones at sea.

The ICV was desperately needed because there is no federal oversight of the foreign flagged and foreign incorporated cruise industry.  As Senator Rockefeller said to the cruise lines last year "You Are A World Unto Yourselves."      

The ICV membership has increased substantially over the years with members literally around the world.

Recently, Jay Leno mentioned the ICV during his monologue with the audience responding with applause. 

 

Chairman of International Cruise Victims Discusses Cover-Up By Royal Caribbean & Celebrity Cruises of His Daughter's Disappearance

Merrian Carver Cruise Ship Cover UpCoast to Coast Radio has a rather fascinating interview with Ken Carver, the Chairman of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization.

Mr. Carver talks about "odd and mysterious disappearances on-board cruise ships and how the industry stonewalls investigations of crimes on the high seas. He recalled how his daughter, Merrian, disappeared from a cruise in August of 2004, which led him on a quest to find out what happened to her. Carver detailed how the cruise ship company forbid its employees from discussing the case with his investigators and repeatedly lied about video tape evidence which would have shed light on Merrian’s fate. Based on his research, Carver revealed that Merrian’s story is not unique and that once every two weeks someone disappears from a cruise ship.

Carver also shared a number of other troubling details about the cruise ship industry, such as that they “take the legal position that they are under no obligation to investigate a crime,” whether it be a disappearance, sexual assault, or robbery. Additionally, the companies and their ships are registered in Ken Carver International Cruise Victimsforeign countries, which makes criminal investigations the responsibility of those host nations and allows for the companies to avoid paying any U.S. taxes despite utilizing up to 21 different American government agencies.

Furthermore, Carver lamented that many former high ranking FBI and Coast Guard officials later find employment with cruise ship companies and, thus, those agencies frequently work against efforts to hold the industry accountable for these crimes."

Take a minute and listen to this information.

Mr. Carver discusses how the Miami-based cruise lines Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises lied and stonewalled to cover-up the disappearance of his daughter.

The website of the ICV is here.

The interview starts at 1:19:35.

  

 

Founder and CEO of International Cruise Victims Discusses Cruise Line Cover-Ups

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsFormer insurance company president, Ken Carver, discusses the disappearance of his daughter, Merrian Carver, from the Celebrity Cruises ship, the Mercury, and the lies and cover-up by the cruise line which followed.

Ken is the founder and the CEO of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) which he formed in 2006 with a few other families who had lost loved ones at sea.  

The ICV is now truly an international organization with members in twenty-four countries around the world.

You can read about Ken and the remarkable story of the ICV here.

The audio can be listened to here.     

Cruise Crime Debate Continues

The recent articles about the FBI assisting the cruise lines in covering up ship crimes has sparked a re-newed interest in the safety of cruise passengers on the high seas.

Fox News published an article this morning "How Safe Is Your Cruise Ship" mentioning the cruise lines' talking points that cruise ship crime is "extremely rare."  For a different point of view, Fox News interviewed cruise expert Ross Klein who has testified before Congress that a cruise passenger "is twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship than on land."

Fox News also mentioned our law firm's experiences representing cruise sexual assault victims, including children.

The debate whether cruise ship crime today is "rare" or "routine" consists essentially of opinions without a quantitative foundation because the FBI is hiding the actual crime statistics from the public, as Ken Carver, CEO of the International Cruise Victims Organization discusses in the video below.

It should be up to the public, not a corporation with a conflict of interest, to determine exactly what is "rare" or "routine" based on the actual crimes statistics which are currently being hidden. .

 

Cruise Ship Disappearances Continue, Families Stay Vigilant

Fariba Amani - Missing - Cruise Ship DisappearanceA newspaper in Canada published a couple of interesting articles this weekend about a story that won't go away - the disappearance of passengers and crewmembers from cruise ships.

The Star newspaper published Families Search for Cruise Ship Passengers Lost at Sea which discusses the circumstances surrounding the disappearances of Canadian citizen Fariba Amani who vanished from the Celebration cruise ship as it was returning to Florida from the Bahamas.  Ms. Amani was cruising with her boyfriend, in what is described as a difficult relationship, who could offer no explanation for his girlfriend's disappearance at sea in the middle of the night.

The article also mentions the plight of Son Michael Pham, from Seattle, whose parents disappeared from a Carnival cruise ship in the Caribbean. Hue Pham, 71, and his wife, Hue Tran, 67, had been married 49 years and were with their daughter and granddaughter when they disappeared from the Carnival Cruise Line ship Destiny in 2005.

The article also touches upon the story of a woman, Arlene Pretty, who was drugged during a cruise aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship.  By the time she returned to her cabin, she was staggering. Within minutes her legs went numb and she couldn’t breathe. She was rushed to sick bay, where she was stabilized and where blood and urine samples were taken from her.

“The FBI refused on two requests to take the blood and urine samples and have them tested,” she says. “My samples are still on the ship, going to the Caribbean every 14 days, or they probably just got rid of them . . .   What happened to me was absolute hell,” says Pretty, who has been on 19 cruises. “I thought I was going to die."

Merrian Carver - Missing - Cruise Ship DisappearanceThe Star newspaper also published another article The Mystery Surrounding Two Cruise Ship Deaths

Merrian Carver disappeared while cruising on the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship. "Security on board these vessels is severely lacking," Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims, is quoted as saying. His daughter, Merrian, went missing on a cruise ship sailing from Vancouver to Alaska in 2004, when she was 40.  Celebrity thereafter engaged in a cover up of the disappearance.

The other disappearance mentioned in the article involved George Smith, who vanished from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Sea cruise ship in the Mediterranean in July 2005.  The Smith family and their counsel in Connecticut are continuing to search for answers.

All of the stories contain common themes -  indifference of the FBI, lack of cooperation by the cruise lines and families who continue to search for answers against all odds. 

Cruise Law & International Cruise Victims Return to Washington DC (Again)

International Cruise Victims - Cruise Ship Safety  I returned to Miami from Washington DC this afternoon after attending the cruise safety hearings convened in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week. 

These hearings were the sixth and seventh Congressional hearings regarding the issue of cruise ship dangers I have attended since 2005.   

I met my friends and former clients in DC from the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization: ICV CEO Ken Carver, ICV President Jamie Barnett, and ICV Board member Laurie Dishman who has traveled to DC over 30 times.  

Professor Ross Klein was invited to speak at the Senate hearing and he objectively laid out the cruise industry's history of cruise ship collisions, groundings, sinkings and fires. His written submission is the most impressively thorough and complete list of cruise ship related maritime disasters I have ever seen. Professor Klein's hard work and detailed analysis of cruise ship mishaps contrasted sharply with the self-serving opinions of the cruise line advocates who talked in conclusory phrases ("cruising is incredibly safe").   I will be linking to Professor Klein's research as soon as he uploads the information to his website.

During the hearings I met a half-dozen survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster, who traveled from Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts.

The hearings left me with a realization of the polarization of our Congress, and perhaps our country.

The meeting in the Republican controlled House on Wednesday was not unlike a big cocktail party. The cruise line representatives & cruise industry lobbyists back-slapped and joked around with Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen like it was their five year college reunion.  The Republicans extolled the cruise industry's great "entrepreneurs" without even a fleeting thought or concern of the cruise industry's disastrous effect on the environment, or the cruise industry's exploitation of foreign crewmembers, or the fact that the cruise industry pays virtually no U.S  taxes although it relies heavily on U.S. agencies to conduct its business.    

Contrast this freak show with the serious attitude of the Senate hearing on Thursday, which was presided over by a well respected Democratic Senator like Jay Rockefeller who has dedicated his life protecting the coal mine workers from his state of West Virginia and consumers across the U.S.

As long as there are responsible consumer-oriented leaders like Senator Rockefeller in Congress, the victims of cruise ship malfeasance have a fighting chance to force the cruise industry to be accountable when they injure and kill passengers and crew and destroy our environment.   

Congressional Hearing Cruise Safety - Costa Concordia

Photograph above:  ICV President Jamie Barnett, ICV Director Laurie Dishman, Cruise Expert Professor Ross Klein, Costa Concordia survivor, Jim Walker, ICV member Shari Cecil, and ICV CEO Ken Carver.  

Lost at Sea: Australia's Dateline Features Cruise Law & International Cruises Victims

Dateline Lost at Sea Cruise Disappearances and Cruise CrimeAustralia's popular television program Dateline aired a cruise special today about missing passengers & crewmembers and crime at sea.  

The program starts with the case of missing Disney youth counselor Rebecca Coriam who disappeared from the Disney Wonder cruise ship last year.  Her parents Mike and Ann Coriam were interviewed and express their thoughts about how the case is being handled.

The program also features the case of missing Holland America Lines (HAL) passenger Blake Kepley who vanished from the HAL's Oosterdam.  

The CEO (Ken Carver) and President (Jamie Barnett) of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) are on the program.  Mr. Carver lost his daughter Mirian Carver on the Celebrity Mercury and Ms. Barnett's daughter Ashley died during a Carnival cruise.

I am interviewed and I discuss the problem of cruise ship crime and the cruise industry's lack of transparency.

Take a minute and watch the program below: 

 

Disappearance of Passenger From HAL's Oosterdam Reveals Cruise Line, FBI and Coast Guard Shortcomings

CBS television station in California aired an interesting program this week regarding the unexplained disappearance of a young man from a Holland America Line cruise ship last summer.

Blake Kepley, age 20, vanished from the HAL Oosterdam last July during a cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

The disappearance occurred when my family was vacationing near Seattle.  I wrote about the incident in my blog article:  Back From Vacation - Safe, Sound & Thankful

Months after Mr. Kepley's disappearance, his mom finally received a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard investigative report.  But it reached no conclusions.   It contained just one blurry surveillance image of a person walking on deck in the early morning hours when her son went missing.  The person's face was blacked out, and the names of witnesses who claimed to have seen Mr. Kepley on the ship were also redacted.

Holland America Line claimed that there was no surveillance video available to explain what happened.

No one should disappear from a cruise ship without closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras recording what happened, says Mr. Kepley's mom.

The case has the attention of the President of the International Cruise Victims organization.  Ken Carver lost his daughter on a Celebrity cruise ship in Alaskan waters and faced the indifference of the cruise line who did not even report her missing. 

Mr. Carver also discusses the problem of the FBI not releasing accurate number of cruise ship crimes, and the U.S. Coast Guard not implementing provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act designed to protect cruise passengers. 

 

Victim Support UK: Cruise Ship Crime is "Hidden Scandal"

When the official "investigation" over the disappearance of their daughter by a single policeman in the Bahamas went nowhere, and Disney Cruise Line left them with no explanation, the Coriam family turned to two organizations for help - Victim Support and the International Cruise Victims.

Ann and Michael Coriam will tell you that these two organizations have been there at every step for their family as they seek answers regarding what happened to their daughter Rebecca, a Disney youth counselor who disappeared from the Disney Wonder in March of this year. 

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog are familiar with the International Cruise Victims ("ICV"), a U.S. non-profit organization founded by Ken Carver after his daughter mysteriously disappeared a cruise on the Celebrity Mercury.  The ICV is responsible for creating awareness of Victim Support - Rebecca Coriamdangers on cruise ships which the cruise industry would prefer the public not to know.  Due to the ICV's hard work, last year President Obama passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.

You may not be as familiar with Victim Support, a non-profit organization based in the United Kongdom which  provides free and confidential help to victims of crime and their family across England and Wales.  It also speaks out as a voice for victims and campaigns for change. 

The hard work of Victim Support has been recognized of late, with the Daily Mirror in the UK publishing an article yesterday referring to the goals of this charitable organization.  The article states:

"The charity has two major concerns: holidaymakers are twice as likely to suffer sexual assault when on a ship, and crimes are not investigated properly.  Cruise firms want to protect their image and say almost all the missing people fell overboard.  But others suspect a more sinister reason for the disappearances and the charity wants better investigations into previous cases, as well as more measures taken to stop them happening.

The charity’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said: “How crime on cruise ships is investigated and how victims are dealt with are a hidden scandal.  Many victims are left without protection and little prospect of securing justice.”

Victim Support is now calling on the International Maritime Organization ("IMO") to take urgent action to improve the prevention and investigation of crimes on cruise ships.

You can read more about Victim Support's campaign to make cruising safer here.

Disappearance of George Smith - The International Cruise Victims Organization Is Born!

George Smith Disappearance  In December 2005, Congress convened its first hearing on the issue of the safety of U.S. passengers on foreign flagged cruise ships.  The hearing came about primarily due to the efforts of several families who had lost loved ones from cruise ships on the high seas, under suspicious circumstances. 

George Smith's family was instrumental in bringing a great amount of much needed publicity to the issue of passenger "disappearances" and the shoddy manner in which cruise lines respond to such tragedies.  George III and Maureen Smith and their daughter Bree Smith of Greenwich Connecticut contacted Congressman, Chris Shays (R-CT).   

The Smith family joined forces with the father of a young woman who also "disappeared" from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises.  Ken Carver, a former president of an insurance company in New York, lost his beloved daughter, 40 year old Boston resident Merrian Carver, who went missing under suspicious circumstances during a cruise to Alaska aboard the Mercury cruise ship.  

The cruise line tried its best to cover the incident up.  It didn’t report Merrian missing to either the FBI or the Alaskan State Troopers, even though the cabin attendant reported her missing early in the cruise. The cruise line either gave her personal items away or put them in storage. 

When Mr. Carver asked for an explanation, Royal Caribbean responded by lying to Mr. Carver and disposing of evidence.  Mr. Carver didn’t go away.  The story went public.  The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story, revealing the hideous manner that this cruise line acted when people disappear at sea. 

Mr. Carver's situation is simply the worst conduct I have ever seen by a cruise line.

One of Mr. Carver's daughters had been an intern of Congressman Shays when Mr. Carver had lived in Connecticut.  Mr. Carver's story was featured on CNN's Anderson Cooper's show.  The  producer for the program, CNN's David Fitzpatrick (a resident of Connecticut), recommended to Mr. Carver that he call on Congressman Shays and tell him about the way the cruise line treated his family. 

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsAs a result of the convergence of tragedies suffered by the families of George Smith and Merrian Carver, Congressman Shays convened a hearing to study the problem of passengers disappearing on cruise ships and the manner that the cruise industry treated the surviving the surviving family members.  He opened the hearing by stating:

"The bottom line is we are suspicious, candidly, that there's some huge problem in the cruise industry.  We think that people are not aware of some of the challenges and some of the potential problems they encounter."   

Mr. Carver attended the December 2005 hearing.  I attended the hearing with my client Jennifer Hagel.  Mr. Carver introduced himself to me at the hearing.  He asked me if I was interested in supporting legislation making cruising safer for the public?  I saw a conviction in Mr. Carver's eyes six years ago.  I realized that he was serious.  

Mr. Carver realized that he could not fight the cruise industry alone.  He thereafter created an organization called the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, effective January 1, 2006.   As a former executive, Mr. Carver had the leadership and management skills to create a highly effective organization.  Like the many other ICV members, Mr. Carver also had a passionate dedication to his daughter and a desire to protect other families from going through a similar nightmare. 

Mr. Carver was responsible for convening four additional Congressional hearings, taking the ICV organization internationally, and organizing a team of victims who were responsible for the enactment of the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

George Smith, Merrian Carver and other victims may be gone from this lifetime, as we know it.  But their legacies continue today. 

The cruising public is safer for the efforts of their families.  

 

This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later.  Do you have information which may solve this case?   Please let us hear from you. 

Philippines to Adopt International Cruise Victim Legislation to Protect Passengers and Crew

A newspaper in the Philippines reports that legislation has been introduced in the Philippines to protect passengers and crew of cruise ships from sexual and physical assaults while at sea.

Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from Pampanga sponsored a bill which requires passenger and cargo ships to adhere to specific requirements to protect of passengers and crewmembers.

Macapagal-Arroyo - Philippines Cruise Safety LawThe legislation is patterned after the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Law which was signed into law last year by President Obama.  The cruise safety law was the result of the efforts of the International Cruise Victims organization.   

Representative Macapagal-Arroyo said that the leading crimes on cruise ships operated by cruise lines based in the United States are sexual and physical assaults.  “These crimes at sea can involve attacks both by passengers and crewmembers on other passengers and crewmembers,” Macapagal-Arroyo said.

“House Bill 4608 is being introduced to follow the footsteps of the U.S. and more importantly, to enhance safety of passengers and prevent incidents of a similar nature from happening,” Macapagal-Arroyo said.

The bill follows the U.S. law by requiring ship rails at least 54 inches in height, peep holes and security latches on cabin doors, fire safety codes, and the integration of  technology that can be used for detecting passengers who have fallen overboard. The new bill also requires anti-retroviral medications and rape kits to be available on ships. 

Crimes must be noted in the the vessel's logs and reported to appropriate authorities.

The introduction of this law in the Philippines demonstrates the expansive reach of the International Cruise Victims to protect passengers and crew around the world.

 

Photo credit: bansangpilipinas.com

Fox News Focuses on Dangerous Cruise Ship Medical Care

Fox News 11 (Los Angeles) has published a special investigation into the quality of medical care aboard cruise ships.  The article is entitled "Cruise Ship Medical Care Under Scrutiny."

The article and video below focus on the fate of cruise several passengers, including the daughters of Ken Carver (Merrian Carver), and the daughter of Jamie Barnett (Ashley Barnett), whose parents are left to tell their stories.

Ken Carver is now the Chairman of the International Cruise Victims organization (ICV) which he founded over five years ago following the disappearance of his daughter.  When he tried to investigate what happened, the cruise line (Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruises) engaged in a cover-up.  He created the ICV to organize the families of hundreds of passengers who are victims of cruise ship malpractice, crime and lack of responsibility.

Jamie Barnett lost her daughter due to the medical negligence of Carnival which defended the delayed and bad medical treatment by claiming that the cruise ship doctor and nurses were "independent contractors" for whom Carnival was not responsible.  Ms. Barnett's experiences with Carnival led her to join the ICV.  She is now the president of the ICV.  

Mr. Carver and Ms. Barnett have both testified before legislative bodies in an effort to improve safety aboard foreign flagged cruise ships.  They last appeared before a California Assembly just two weeks ago in a successful effort to introduce a bill to make cruising out of California safer.

In watching the video, remember that if the cruise ship doctor kills or maims a family member during a cruise, the cruise line will deny all liability and you will be faced with trying to seek compensation against a foreign doctor living somewhere in Africa or South America.  Unlike the U.S. doctor who appeared on behalf of the cruise industry in this video, over 95% of cruise ship doctors are not educated, trained, or licensed in the U.S.  

 

 

May 13th Update:  After this aired, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the trade organization for the cruise industry, telephoned Fox News 11, and complained that the U.S. cruise doctor CLIA arranged for the video should have been given more air time. 

November 11, 2014 Update: Breaking News! Cruise passengers are now permitted to sue the cruise lines for medical negligence. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that cruise lines are no longer permitted to assert an "immunity defense" when their ship doctors and nurses commit medical malpractice. Read: 11th Circuit Rejects Cruise Lines' Immunity Defense to Medical Malpractice Claims. Contact us for further information.

 

Credits:

Fox News 11 (Los Angeles)

Reporter Christine Devine

Video Producer Heidi Cuda

Five Year Anniversary of Time Magazine's "Crime Rocks the Boats"

We are approaching the five year anniversary of the March 2006 Congressional hearings into the issue of crimes on cruise ships.  Due to the efforts of the newly formed International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, Congress convened a hearing in March 2006 to investigate the disappearances of cruise passengers and the sexual assault of women during cruises.

Merrian Carver - Missing - Celebrity CruisesThe cruise industry was caught flat footed.  The ICV organization, led by President Ken Carver (below, right), introduced the compelling stories of victims of shipboard crimes and mistreatment by the cruise lines.

Mr. Carver's daughter Merrian Carver (photo left), disappeared from the Celebrity cruise ship Mercury.  Her stateroom attendant knew she was missing and was instructed to do nothing.  Celebrity Cruises thereafter engaged in nothing less than a cover up, including members of senior management.  

George Smith IV (photo below left) disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas.  The cruise line quickly characterized the incident as an accident and destroyed evidence. 

A bartender sexually assaulted Janet Kelly during a cruise from Southern California to Mexico (a confidentiality order prohibits the mention of the cruise lines or cruise ship).  The cruise line did nothing to assist in proving a case against its own crew member, but eventually fired him.  He ended up serving drinks on a Princess cruise ship shortly thereafter until we tracked him down and had him fired again.    

The stories of these victims  were compelling.  The cruise industry had little response.

We represented Mr. Smith's widow Jennifer Hagel and introduced her to another client of the firm, Janet Kelly.  They appeared on national television together (photo below, middle right) and were featured in an article by Time magazine called "Crime Rocks the Boats."  This hearing and the attendant press surrounding the hearing in Washington were an important step toward convincing our U.S. Congress to enact legislation to protect the cruising public.  Last year President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Ken Carver - International Cruise Victims - Cruise Ship Crime Safety and Security Act into law.  The public can thank Ken Carver, Janet Kelly and Jennifer Hagel - among many others - for their dedication and advocacy for creating public awareness of the need for legislation to oversee the foreign flagged cruise industry.   

Here is Time Magazine's article, unedited, written by Julie Rowe:         

"Like so many other tales of cruise-ship crime, Janet Kelly's story begins with a cocktail and ends with a confidentiality agreement. Six years ago, on the last night of a Mexican cruise returning to Los Angeles, the Arizona businesswoman stopped at a poolside bar before dinner. The bartender, who in the days prior had been friendly but not overly flirtatious, handed her a fruity concoction that had an unwanted kick. Kelly, who is convinced that the drink was drugged, says she felt her legs go rubbery and her mind turn to mush as the bartender led her to an employees-only restroom and raped her before she passed out cold.

After flying home the next day, she went to a hospital and was tested for evidence of sexual assault. The FBI, which is the lead agency for investigating incidents involving U.S. citizens on the high seas, took several weeks to interview the bartender, who claimed what happened in that bathroom stall had been consensual. After her criminal case landed in the "he said, she said" file, Kelly sued the cruise line, which promptly fired the bartender for misconduct (even consensual sexcapades between crew members and passengers are officially verboten) and sent him home to Jamaica. Several months later, she discovered through private investigators that he had been hired by another cruise line.

What's unusual about Kelly's story--aside from the rehiring of the bartender, who was booted once again after his new boss learned he had falsified his employment records--is that she is able to tell so much of it. Unlike many other cruise-crime victims, Kelly, 49, settled her lawsuit with an agreement that allows her to talk about her experience, although she can't name the cruise line or the size of the settlement. This week she will testify before a congressional committee as it debates whether there needs to be greater federal oversight of the booming cruise industry, which served 11.2 million passengers last year, up 63% since 2000. Although the vast majority of passengers are American, cruise ships steer around most U.S. laws by registering in foreign countries. Because of murky jurisdiction issues, the companies report crimes to the FBI on a voluntary basis.

In the wake of several recent missing-persons cases aboard cruise ships--at least 28 in the past three years--lawmakers are trying to determine whether those incidents and other crimes at sea get reported accurately, let alone investigated and prosecuted. The politician leading the charge, Congressman Chris Shays, represents the Connecticut district that had been home to hunky George Smith IV - Missing - Disappearance - Cruise Ship  honeymooner George Smith, whose mysterious disappearance from a Royal Caribbean cruise in July was initially dismissed by the ship's captain as an accident or suicide, despite signs suggesting foul play. Among the dramatic elements that have emerged in the case: Smith drank absinthe, which may cause hallucinations, a few hours before he vanished in the Mediterranean; a giant bloodstain was found below his balcony; some of his drinking buddies, who deny any wrongdoing, got kicked off the boat a few days later after a female passenger accused them of rape.

The media frenzy surrounding the ongoing Smith investigation has dredged up other unsettling cases. One concerns Merrian Carver, a sometime investment banker from the Boston area who disappeared in 2004 during a weeklong Celebrity cruise to Alaska. Her cabin attendant has testified that when he reported his suspicion that she was no longer aboard three days into the voyage, he was told to keep putting fresh chocolates on her pillow. At the end of the trip, his supervisor placed Carver's belongings in storage without notifying her family or the authorities.

The supervisor was fired for what a company spokesman insists was a rare breakdown of a solid reporting system. But Shays isn't sold on that. He is trying to determine whether cruise lines are keeping some crimes off the books. "There's a huge incentive to downplay any incident, to sail on," says the centrist Republican. "Is going on a cruise the perfect way to commit the perfect crime?"

The few statistics available aren't too comforting. No one tracks the total number of incidents cruise ships report to U.S. law-enforcement agencies. The FBI opened just 305 cruise-crime investigations from 2000 to September 2005, suggesting that either those floating hotel-casinos are some of the safest places on earth or this caseload is just the tip of the iceberg. Evidence supporting the latter: the FBI generally won't look into an onboard theft unless the items stolen are worth more than $10,000.

Other countries appear to put even fewer resources into investigating cruise-ship crime. For instance, Reginald Ferguson, assistant crime commissioner for the Bahamas, in which many ships are registered, says his office has examined "maybe one or two incidents involving U.S. citizens over the last three or four years."

That means the only authorities most cruise-crime victims can turn to are the ship's security personnel, who have a strong incentive to protect the industry's fun-in-the-sun image. "The cruise line controls the scene of the crime, controls the witnesses, controls the evidence," says Miami attorney James Walker, who represented Kelly. "It's all being filtered through the company's risk-management department." Court documents seen by TIME back up that contention. In one case, a passenger who was examined on board for evidence of gang rape sued the cruise line after ship security, by allowing housekeeping to repeatedly steam-clean the carpet, failed to preserve the Janet Kelly - Jennifer Hagel - Cruise Crimealleged crime scene. In another case, a passenger accused of sexual assault testified that a ship security officer coached him to state that "no sex was performed by anyone." Cruise lines, says maritime lawyer Charles Lipcon, "are silently working against the victim. They're busy trying to make sure criminal cases don't see the light of day."

Perhaps that's the reason only 7% of the 135 federal investigations into sexual assault over the past five years were prosecuted. Why were 93% of the cases dropped? Says Bill Carter of the FBI: "By the time we can get to [the victim and witnesses], a period of time has passed, people's memories change, they were intoxicated, or there is a lack of evidence because it was cleaned."

Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, insists that the low incidence of reported crimes reflects the generally safe environment on the ships. Despite cases like Kelly's, he notes, cruise employees are vetted more rigorously than hospitality workers onshore and undergo a background check by the U.S. State Department. Royal Caribbean reported that its violent-crime rate last year was 15 incidents per 100,000 people on board. "We're approximately 30 times safer than American communities in general," says the company's head of fleet operations, Captain Bill Wright, who maintains that Royal Caribbean discloses every incident, even petty thefts, to authorities.

In response to the congressional probe, Crye says he and several cruise-line officials met with the FBI, the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection last month to "shore up any perceived deficiencies in reporting." At the same time, FBI assistant director Chris Swecker says he is considering development of a program to train cruise-industry security chiefs to improve evidence collection by using such tools as rape kits and blood tests for date-rape drugs.

But to Kelly and other victims of cruise-ship crimes, changes like those won't address the larger issue of whether the industry can be trusted to police itself. A recently formed activist group called International Cruise Victims is pushing to place the equivalent of federal air marshals on cruise ships.

That is undoubtedly an uphill battle, given the resources the industry has to oppose it. Carnival, the world's biggest cruise company, netted a record $353 million in the last quarter alone. And the George Smith case didn't stop Royal Caribbean from ending the year with a record profit of $716 million. The industry can use those deep pockets to stave off concerned lawmakers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, from January 2004 to July 2005, the cruise industry spent $2.9 million on federal lobbying, nearly $1 million more than Wal-Mart did during the same period. That may be why, according to Congressman Shays, "there's never been any real oversight. Ever." Kelly, for one, is prepared to take on the industry--and endure intense scrutiny along the way--because, she says, "you just keep thinking about the next poor sucker who climbs aboard."

Crime Rocks the Boats - Cruise Ship Crime  

Credit:  Julie Rowe, Time Magazine 

AOL News: New Law Targets Dangers Aboard Cruise Ships

AOL News has an interesting article about cruise ship dangers.  Written by Tori Richards, the article is entitled "New Law Targets Dangers Aboard Cruise Ships."  It features Ken Carver, the President of the International Cruise Victims organization.

Here is the article reprinted from AOL News:

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 28) -- Missing persons. Assault. Child molestation. Rape. Death. Those are some of the extras the cruise ship lines don't tell you about.

The industry suffered a black eye for the recent nightmare cruise aboard the Mexico-bound Carnival Splendor, but that's just a small sampling of the safety issues plaguing one of America's favorite vacation modes, victim advocates say.

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety ActAll sorts of dangerous incidents happen on ocean liners. But beginning next year, portions of a new federal law will give the FBI authority over crimes that occur on ships that have docked at U.S. ports.

"It's like a town serving unlimited drinks with no police," Kendall Carver said of the cruise industry. His 40-year-old daughter disappeared from a Celebrity cruise ship in 2004.

"Every two weeks someone goes missing from a cruise ship somewhere in the world – and those are only the ones we know about," Carver said.

Last year, the FBI received reports of 349 incidents on cruise ships. It opened investigations into 32 cases involving "serious crimes" -- including one death, three missing people, 20 sexual assaults and six assaults with great bodily injury. The names of the cruise lines involved were not available, nor were statistics from this year, an FBI official told AOL News.

A database of FBI reports from December 2007 to October 2008, available on the Sun-Sentinel website, shows 363 incidents. The vast majority were on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises.

None of this surprises Carver, who hears of incidents like this frequently as the founder of the non-profit International Cruise Victims which represents hundreds of people and is now in 20 countries.

Carver told AOL News he started the organization after spending years trying to find his daughter, Merrian Carver. During that time, he said, he ran into a cover-up by the cruise line, missing evidence and employees who were ordered not to talk.

The case has since been settled for an undisclosed sum, but Carver is still waiting for the answers he was looking for.

Merrian lived in Massachusetts and her father found an ally in the state's U.S. senator, John Kerry. They discovered that there were no laws pertaining to crimes aboard ships at sea. Soon they began to lay groundwork to change that.

"My daughter was the subject of five Senate hearings," Carver said. "The cruise lines spent $11 million in lobbyists to defeat this, but we still won even though we are just a group of regular citizens."

President Barack Obama signed the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act of 2010 on July 27.

"This law will finally do away with the murky lines of jurisdiction that have put American cruise ship passengers at risk in the past," Kerry said in a statement. He also noted Carver's help in getting the legislation passed.

It will be 18 months from the date of signing before the law is fully implemented. However, parts of it will be enforced in stages. Beginning early next year, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation must have guidelines to carry out enforcement. By summer, training standards must exist for ship personnel.

The law requires:  

  • Peep holes and security latches on all passenger and crew doors
  • Electronic video surveillance that documents crimes to be made available to law enforcement
  • Passenger security guides with information on reporting crimes to U.S. law enforcement
  • Limits on crew access to passenger cabins
  • Staff with knowledge and equipment to perform rape exams
  • Free and immediate access to law enforcement
  • Prompt reporting of crimes, which must be contained in a log

"It's too soon to tell if it will matter," said Mike Ehline, a Los Angeles attorney who handles lawsuits against cruise lines. "I'm still getting the same types of issues with the cruise lines refusing to hand things over. They always have some excuse – like the video was out that day, it got lost, or it was erased on accident."

A Carnival spokesman did not want to comment on the new law. However, noting the high number of incidents reported on the Sun-Sentinel website, he said that Carnival carries more guests than any other cruise line with an estimated 3.9 million passengers this year.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for crime and any and all allegations reported to us by guests or made known to us via any other channel are reported to the FBI," Carnival's Vance Gulliksen said.

No one from Royal Caribbean was available for comment Friday.

According to language in the new law, "It is not known precisely how often crimes occur on cruise vessels or exactly how many people have disappeared during ocean voyages because cruise line companies do not make comprehensive, crime-related data readily available to the public."

It states sexual assault and physical assault as the leading crimes investigated by the FBI on cruise ships and it's difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence and conduct an investigation.

"Before, cruise lines would just say 'We are registered in this island or that, and we don't have to do this,'" Carver said. "Now, they will be banned from coming into our ports if they don't."

 

Story credit:  Tori Richards, AOL News

Photo credit:   Denis Poroy, AP (via AOL News) 

International Cruise Victims Discuss Latest Cruise Ship Fire

A number of news sources covering the stranded Carnival Splendor cruise ship have featured members of the International Cruise Victims organization (ICV).  
 
Public Radio:  Today, KPCC South California Public Radio interviewed the Chairman of the ICV, Kendall Carver (photo below), and me regarding the issue of cruise passenger safety issues. Listen here  Here is the text from the public radio station:
 
"Two tug boats are slowly towing the Carnival Splendor cruise ship and her 4,500 passengers towards San Diego today. The 952-foot ship, which left Long Beach on Sunday for the Mexican Riviera, has been adrift since an engine room fire early Monday. Rather than lavish meals, passengers are surviving on Carnival Splendor - Cruise FireSpam, Pop Tarts and canned crabmeat flown in by helicopter. Friends and families of stranded passengers are concerned because communication with their loved ones has been severely limited. It’s expected that the Splendor will arrive in port in San Diego late Thursday. Critics say there are serious safety lapses throughout the cruise industry and this accident was waiting to happen. What’s being done to protect passengers?"

 

Guests:

Kendall Carver, Chairman, International Cruise Victims

Jim Walker, Maritime attorney based in Miami and editor of “Cruise Law News”

Photo credit:  Kevin Gray/U.S. Navy via Getty Images (via KPCC South California Public Radio)


L.A. Times:  The L.A. Times also featured ICV members Ken Carver, my client Lynnette Hudson (photo bottom) whose father Richard Liffridge was killed due to a fire on a cruise ship operated by a Carnival subsidiary Princess Cruises, cruise safety expert Mark Gaouette and me in an article "Stranded Cruise Ship Offers Lesson in Huge Vessels' Vulnerabilities."   Here is the text:

"They're called "floating cities," massive cruise ships that resemble skyscrapers and offer all the amenities of high-end resorts — spas and casinos, Broadway shows and amusement parks, fine dining and luxury shopping.

But the Carnival Splendor also offers a cautionary tale about just how vulnerable these mega-ships can Ken Carver - International Cruise Victims be. Left powerless by an engine fire shortly after embarking on a seven-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera, the Splendor is expected to be towed into port in San Diego late Thursday. If the ship cannot make sufficient speed under tow, it is possible it will be taken to Ensenada, company officials said.

An early morning fire in the generator compartment Monday knocked out several of the ship's operating systems and left the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew members without air conditioning, hot food and telephone service. Even the flush toilets were down for a while.

With communications largely cut off, it's unclear what kind of hardship passengers have had to endure. But Carnival Chief Executive Gerry Cahill acknowledged in a statement that passengers were dealing with an "extremely trying situation."

"Conditions on board the ship are very challenging, and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring," he said.

The "gourmet delicacies" of the " Manhattan chic" Pinnacle Steakhouse were replaced by 70,000 pounds of bread, canned milk and other emergency supplies, which were flown from the North Island Naval Air Station at Coronado to the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and then helicoptered out to the Splendor, stranded 160 miles southwest of San Diego. The company is paying the military for the food and supplies, officials said.

"There are significant risks as these ships get bigger and bigger," said Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims. "This one held over 4,000 people. The new ones owned by Royal Caribbean hold over 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members, over 8,000 people. A fire on a ship like that would be disastrous."

The Carnival Splendor experienced its problems relatively close to several major ports, making rescue possible in only a few days.

"If it was hundreds of miles out, and you had a fire that wasn't suppressed, and you had rough weather, you'd have a complete disaster," said Jim Walker, a Miami-based attorney who specializes in cruise line litigation.

Although the $40-billion cruise ship industry — and its vessels — has been growing, it has been dogged in the last decade with controversies over passenger health and safety. Carver helped start International Cruise Victims after his daughter, Merrian, disappeared while on an Alaskan cruise in 2004.

The organization has pushed for stiffer laws regulating the cruise ship industry; just four months ago, President Obama signed into law tougher new rules for reporting crimes at sea, improving ship safety and training staff to collect evidence of crimes. The changes will go into effect in 2012.

But the new law makes only passing mention of fire safety issues, even though "the most serious event that can happen on a cruise ship is a main space fire, which is what happened on the Splendor," said Mark Gaouette, former director of security for Princess Cruises and author of the recently released "Cruising for Trouble."

On a Navy ship, Gaouette notes, every person has a fire-fighting role, and the crew is trained constantly in how to respond to a fire. On a cruise ship, "two-thirds to three-quarters of the population are passengers. They become problems and liabilities in a major fire. They have to be shepherded to safe areas."

Statistics are hard to come by for incidents on cruise ships, but Gaouette said the website cruisebruise.com lists eight major fires on cruise ships in the last five years, compared with just three in the previous seven years.

"As cruise ships become larger and their number increases on the high seas," he said, "the threat of fire and other risks to passengers will increase proportionally."

On the Splendor at 6:30 a.m. Monday, the 3,299 passengers were evacuated from their cabins and told to go to the ship's upper deck. They were later allowed to return. By afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters and an HC-130 Hercules helicopter to the ship's aid. The Mexican navy sent aircraft and a 140-foot patrol boat.

The Coast Guard has remained in contact with the ship throughout the ordeal, officials said. Whether the ship goes to San Diego or Ensenada, the company has promised to transport passengers back to Long Beach.

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines has promised a full refund for passengers and a complimentary future cruise equal to the amount paid for this voyage, which was scheduled to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. The company announced that the Nov. 14 seven-day cruise from Long Beach to the same ports has been canceled.

"The safety of our passengers and crew is our top priority, and we are working to get our guests home Lynnette Hudson - Richard Liffridge - Cruise Ship Fire  as quickly as possible," said Cahill of Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival Corp., which also includes such lines as Princess Cruises and Holland America and has 98 ships worldwide, reported revenues of $13.2 billion in 2009.

A spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Assn. did not respond to requests for comment. The organization's website says the U.S. Coast Guard calls cruising "one of the safest modes of transportation, and the industry is constantly striving to improve its safety procedures. Over the past two decades, an estimated 90 million passengers safely enjoyed a cruise vacation."

But that is little comfort to Lynnette Hudson, whose father died of smoke inhalation during a fire on the Star Princess, which is operated by Carnival, in 2006. It was his first cruise, she testified to Congress, and he was celebrating his 72nd birthday.

Hudson pushed for the more stringent standards that were signed into law this summer and is still fighting for stiffer laws. "I think if there's a major fire on a cruise ship, they're not prepared," she said in an interview. "They don't have sufficient training."

 

For additional information, consider reading: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

 

Photo credits: 

Ken Carver   KPHO Channel 5 Phoenix

Carnival Splendor U.S. Navy via L.A. Times

Lynnette Liffridge (pointing to sprinkler installed after her father's death)  Jim Walker

Congresswoman Matsui and Laurie Dishman Take on the Cruise Industry

In July, President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act.  On the President's right side in the Oval Office was Sacramento resident and my friend, Laurie Dishman.  On his left side, Laurie's Congresswoman, Doris Matsui.

Laurie Dishman - Congresswoman Matsui - Cruise Safety Law The new cruise law involves a remarkable story about the bravery of Laurie Dishman.  Laurie went on a Royal Caribbean cruise in February 2006 to celebrate her 35th birthday and her long friendship with her childhood friend, Michelle.  But instead of a fun cruise, a janitor with prior complaints of sexual harassment who was working as a part time security guard sexually assaulted Laurie in her cabin. 

When Laurie reported the rape, the head of the security department came into her cabin and sat on the bed where the rape occurred.  He handed her a statement form to complete and left her in the crime scene.  When Laurie was finally permitted to see the ship doctor, he handed her trash bags and told her to return to the cabin and collect her bed linens as evidence. 

Royal Caribbean thereafter refused to provide Laurie with copies of her own shipboard medical records or provide her with the name of the cruise line employee who raped her. 

In response to this outrageous treatment, Laurie reached out to her Congressional representative in California, Doris Matsui.  Congresswoman Matsui answered Laurie's plea for assistance, and called for a Congressional hearing to investigate the problem with crimes like this on cruise ships.

Congresswoman Matsui Goes after the Cruise Lines

Congresswoman Matsui began an investigation into the cruise industry.  She did not like what she found.  Royal Caribbean would not initially even commit to installing peep holes in the passenger cabin doors.  But Congresswoman Matsui was committed to helping Laurie and she found a number of allies in the House of Representatives, like Ted Poe from Texas, who are strong supporters of victim rights.  A sub-committee was formed to look into Laurie's case and other similar sexual assaults.  The sub-committee invited Laurie to testify about her ordeal.  But the cruise industry pushed back and tried to strike Laurie as a witness at the Congressional hearing.  From the time of the crime until the last hearing, the cruise lines spent $11,000,000 lobbying against the legislation.

As you will learn from the radio show the "Travel Guys Radio,"  the cruise line tried to wear Laurie down, but Laurie traveled from California to Washington D.C. 21 times at her own expense to tell her story in support of the new cruise safety law.  She appeared on the major television networks, cable news, and radio stations - and was interviewed by newspapers throughout the U.S.  

The "Travel Guys" interviewed Congresswoman Matsui who describes Laurie's bravery and the problems other crime victims experienced on foreign flagged cruise ships ("the cruise line didn't help her at all .  .  . ").  The interview of Congresswoman Matsui starts at 10:20 and ends at 20:10

Click here to play the radio interview: 

 

Laurie Meets President Obama in the White House 

Four and one half years after the crime on the high seas, Laurie was invited with Congresswoman Matsui to the White House by President Obama to watch him sign the new cruise law into effect.

Congresswoman Matsui - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety ActLaurie's interview starts at 21:20 and ends at 30:00.

You can hear how Laurie went from a victim to a victim's advocate in order to protect others.  As Congresswoman Matui explains, "without Laurie Dishmans in the world this would not have happened." 

 

For information about the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, consider reading:

Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4

Senate Unanimously Passes Cruise Safety Law

International Cruise Victims Celebrate New Cruise Safety Law in Washington D.C.

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Finally Making Waves   

A Cruise Defense Lawyer's Summary of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

 

Consider joining the International Cruise Victims organization.  Make a difference! 

The Compelling Story of Jamie Barnett - Living Through the Loss

I instantly took a liking to Jamie Barnett when I first met her.  

In 2007, Jamie traveled to Fort Lauderdale to attend a meeting between the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") and the cruise industry trade association, the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA").  Jamie had flown in from Los Angeles for the meeting.

Jamie Barnett - Ashley Barnett - Living Through the LossJamie, a Mississippi-native-turned-L.A.-resident, traveled to Florida as part of the ICV group to convince the cruise industry to agree to safety measures to protect passengers sailing on cruise ships.

You see, Jamie's daughter, Ashley, died on a Carnival cruise in 2005.  Her story is on the ICV's web page - "What Happened to My Daughter?"  Jamie's daughter, beautiful Ashley, was a happy, vibrant young woman when she boarded the cruise ship.  A day later she was dead and alone in a morgue in Mexico. 

Tragedies like this can destroy most folks.  But Jamie has been a force to be reckoned with, as they say.  She took Carnival on for the medical negligence of their medical staff.  Although she can't talk about it because of a confidentiality order - she made the cruise line pay because of their medical malfeasance.

But lawsuits can accomplish only so much.  Compensation and a pound of flesh if you are lucky.  The real battle is fought and won by moving past the lawsuit and investing your energies to protect others.  Like, as Jamie has done, forcing the cruise industry to implement steps to protect the next Ashley Barnett who steps on a cruise ship. 

Jamie's story is told on CBS' 48 Hours Mystery - Dark Waters.  Jamie explains how the loss of Ashley motivates her to protect other moms who kids may sail on the next cruise from hell.  What you will see, hear and feel watching this seven minute segment should provide you with some insight into Jamie's passion - it is quite overwhelming.

Ashley Barnett  Jamie meets with the mother of George Smith IV, who suffered a similar tragedy three months before Ashley's death when she lost her son during a cruise.  The grief of these parents brings meaning to those who crusade for safer cruises. 

Jamie is now the President of the New York chapter of the ICV.  Unlike the cruise industry employees who slog through a 9 - 5 job promoting the business of cruising, Jamie and others in the victim's organization, who have lost children on cruises, live and breathe the urgent need to improve the cruise industry 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  And they will do so for the rest of their lives. 

Jamie's dedication led to the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, which will protect millions of passengers who climb aboard cruise ships each year.  The new cruise safety law will be signed by President Obama in the next few days.  

Jamie has a blog, called "Living Through the Loss," which is a very personal expression of Jamie's struggle facing the horror of losing her daughter while finding strength in the process to help others.

Last week, Jamie attended a reception in the Capital Building in Washington to celebrate the passing of the new cruise safety law.  The reception was attended by members of the ICV, Congressional leaders, and the media.  Jamie shares her fight for the new law over the past four years in the video below:  

 

 

Another video by Jamie on behalf of the International Cruise Victims is available here.

 

Credits:

Mom and daughter           Jamie Barnett

Ashley Barnett                    CBS 48 Hours

Video                                    Jamie Barnett

International Cruise Victims Celebrate New Cruise Safety Law in Washington D.C.

Yesterday evening, the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization hosted a reception in Washington D.C. to celebrate the passing of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act.

The reception was held in the Capital building and was well attended by Congressional leaders and their staff, members of the ICV, members of victim and rape crisis non-profit organizations, and the press. 

The highlight of the reception included the appearance of Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D - CA) who introduced the new cruise safety bill in the House of Representatives after her constituent, Laurie Dishman, was a victim of a violent crime on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  Congressman Ted Poe (R - TX) also attended and spoke at the reception.     

ICV President Ken Carver spoke to the group and chronicled the formation of the ICV and the struggle against the cruise industry over the past  five years to get the cruise safety law passed. 

Consider reading Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4 to learn more about the efforts to pass the new cruise law. 

Congratulations to Congress and the ICV members for their dedication and hard work!

Enjoy the photographs of the reception below:

 

  Congresswoman Doris Matsuit - David Fitzpatrick - Ken Carver

Above: Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA - D), CNN's David Fitzpatrick, and ICV President Ken Carver.

Below: Ken Carver with former New York Times and LA Times Editor Douglas Franz.

 

Ken Carver - Douglas Franz

Below: Ken Carver and ICV members and supporters.

 

Ken Carver - Laurie Dishman - International Cruise Victims

Cruise Crime and the Indifference of Travel Writers

This was a historic week in the world of cruising.  

Congress passed the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act, which will help make cruising safer for U.S. families.  Cruise lines will be required to install peepholes in cabin doors, maintain anti-retroviral medications and rape kits for victims, improve crime evidence handling procedures and - for the first time in the history of the cruise industry - report crimes to the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI.  

Travel Writers - Cruise - EthicsCongress also passed the "SPILL Act" (H.R. 5503) which removes the limitation of liability  for shipping companies, and amends the Death On The High Seas Act (DOHSA) to permit families to recover compensation when they lose a loved one on the high seas - whether it is on a drilling rig or a cruise ship.  In so doing, Congress finally repealed an archaic and wicked law that has inflicted additional pain on cruise victims for the past ninety years.  

These pieces of legislation are the results of the dedication and hard work of families of U.S. citizens killed in international waters, including members of the International Cruise Victims (ICV).  The ICV is a grass roots, non-profit organization comprised entirely of volunteers who have been a victim of a crime on a cruise ship or lost a loved one during a cruise.

These two new laws are truly historic. But you would never know it by reading the hundreds of cruise websites and travel-writer blogs.    

There are literally thousands of travel agents and travel writers who I follow daily on Twitter.  But not one blogger mentioned either one of these new bills.

The problem is that many of the travel writers and most of the cruise bloggers are shills for the cruise industry.  They sell cruises or advertise cruise banners on their web sites.  Many cruise lines invite them on all-expense-paid cruises in exchange for favorable cruise reviews.

The exception is Arthur Frommer, of the famous Frommer's Travel Guides, and his daughter Pauline Frommer who covers travel stories in her blog "Daily Briefings."  Ms. Frommer covered the cruise safety law in an article entitled In the Wee Hours This Morning, Cruising Just Got a Heckuva Lot Safer.  Mr. Frommer re-printed his daughter's article, and added a few personal comments, in A Cruise Line Safety Act Has Quietly Passed the House of Representatives.      

The Frommers explain the key provisions of the new law and recognize the remarkable efforts of the ICV over the past five years. 

Mr. Frommer acknowledges that "even the travel trade press has failed to take more than the barest notice of proposed legislation in Congress that would require the cruise lines to tighten up safety . . . "

The new maritime laws were passed only after years of resistance and millions of dollars of lobbying by the cruise industry's trade organization - the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) - which is comprised of 16,000 travel agents.  CLIA has a cozy relationship with many travel writers who choose not to offend the CLIA cruise lines by writing anything negative about the foreign flagged cruise industry.  We have touched upon this subject in Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News.

CLIA unsuccessfully worked behind the scenes lobbying against the SPILL Act in an effort to deny the widows and children of the oil workers killed in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster from receiving compensation - a disgusting spectacle we reported on in Cruise Industry Joins Forces With BP to Deny Death Compensation to Grieving Families

So it should come as no surprise that most travel writers and the CLIA cruise bloggers chose not to touch these stories.

But it is refreshing to see travel writers with integrity and ethics like Mr. Frommer and Ms. Frommer write about the cruise safety law which will protect the cruising public.   

July 7, 200 Update:

TNOOZ (Talking Trave Tech) has an interesting blog about my blog: "Are Travel Writers Shills For The Cruise Lines?"  A number of travel writers are commenting.

Senate Unanimously Passes Cruise Safety Law

Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a safety bill for cruise passengers which will require cruise ships to reports crimes on the high seas to the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The bill will require the cruise industry to comply with a number of security provisions including specific rail heights, peep holes, warning devices, and cabin security measures.  The requirment that cruise lines must inform the FBI of disappearances and sexual assaults is important, because Cruise Lines Often Don't Report Crimes.

The bill is called the "Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act" (H.R. 3360).  It was authored by Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA).  Congresswoman Matsui (photo left) began convening hearings on the Cruise Safety Law - Doris Matsui - Laurie Dishmanissue of cruise line when her constituent, and our client Laurie Dishman (pictured with her father Bill), approached her after being sexually assaulted aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2006.

The cruise safety bill is the result of the dedication of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) (photos of members below). We reported on the ICV's hard work last fall - Congress Passes Cruise Crime Law.

The House of Representatives passed the bill last November. We reported on this historic development last year in Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4.

Congresswoman Matsui commented that the safety bill "is a critical and common-sense fix which will provide safety and security to Americans who go on cruise vacations without realizing they are not protected under U.S. laws when they leave its territorial waters."

“H.R. 3360 will improve the safety and security of all cruise ship passengers traveling in and out U.S. waters,” said Rep. Matsui. “Current law doesn’t pass the test of providing common-sense security measures to the traveling public to help protect them from crimes committed aboard ships or to adequately prevent individuals from going overboard. Moreover, current law does not provide the support victims and their families need in the event of a disaster. This legislation is critical to providing the security and safety measures that all Americans need and deserve, no matter if they are on land or at sea.”

International Cruise Victims - ICV - Cruise Safety LawSenator John F. Kerry championed the cruise bill in the Senate.  His constituent, Merrian Carver, disappeared under suspicious circumstances from the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship.  The cruise line, Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruises, did not alert law enforcement. Her father, Ken Carver, mounted an investigation which exposed a cover up.  Mr. Carver then created the ICV to assist other passengers victimized on cruise ships.

Take a moment and read and watch the video: Ken Carver Fights for Cruise Ship Safety and Ken Carver Pushes For Cruise Law After Daughter "Disappears" From Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship

Senator Kerry issued a statement on the passing of the safety bill: “Murky lines of jurisdiction are no longer an excuse for risking the safety of millions of Americans who will board cruise ships this year. I applaud my colleagues for helping to ensure that security, safety, and accountability be strengthened to hold criminals accountable and end the cycle of serious crimes on these vessels.”

Ken Carver - International Cruise Vcitims - Cruise LawMr. Carver commented "When the cruise safety legislation is signed into law, it will serve to protect Americans across the nation during what ought to be relaxing vacations. Without Congresswoman Matsui's efforts in the House and Senator Kerry's efforts in the U.S. Senate, this legislation would not have moved forward.”

After minor differences between the House and Senate version are reconciled, President Obama will sign the bill into law by July 4th! 

Congratulations to the ICV for taking these steps to protect familes on cruise ships.  Cruising will be safer due to your efforts. 

 

For additional news coverage, read: 

"Senate Passes Historic Cruise Safety Bill: Smith Family Applauds Measure" from the Greenwich Post. 

Cruise Safety Bill Heartens Greenwich Victim's Family - regarding family of George Smith IV.

"Cruise Ship Crime Law Closer To Reality"  WCVB TV5 (ABC) - Boston.

"Senate Passes Cruise Safety Bill, 5 years After Greenwich Man's Disappearance" from the Greenwich Post.

"Senate Passes Cruise Ship Safety Measures" from the South Florida Business Journal.

Ken Carver Pushes For Cruise Law After Daughter "Disappears" From Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship

A local news station in Phoenix, Arizona,  ABC-15 (KNXV), is reporting on the latest efforts by Kendall Carver to protect families who cruise in international waters.

In a video interview entitled "Valley Man Pushes for New Laws after Daughter Vanishes,"  Mr. Carver explains that his 40-year-old vanished on the second day of a seven-day Alaskan cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises' Mercury cruise ship back in 2004.  The cruise ship covered the incident Merrian Carver - Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship - Disappearance up and then lied to Mr. Carver.

ABC-15 reports that for more than a year, Mr. Carver says the cruise line "provided little information.  He hired private detectives, lawyers and spent quite a bit of money searching for any indication as to what happened.  Eventually, he said they found an employee on the boat who had some information."

"We deposed the steward to find out that he had reported our daughter missing daily for five days on that ship and his supervisor told him to forget it and do his job," said Carver.  "They had not notified the FBI, they had not notified anybody, in fact, they gathered her belongings and got rid of them."

Carver says what many people may not know is that the cruise ship industry doesn't even have to report crimes ranging from theft to a disappearance.

"You can get the crime report for any city in the country, by zip code, by name, but you can't get that for cruise ships," Mr. Carver told ABC-15.

To push for new laws and help victims of cruise ship crimes, Carver formed the organization - International Cruise Victims (ICV).  He has been working on this cause everyday for the past five years.

"We have hundreds of volunteers, with next to no money and as of this week we are now in 20 countries around the world," said Carver.  "It's one of those things as a father I couldn't walk away from, I still want answers and people need to know what's going on."

As a result of the ICV's efforts, a cruise law - called the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009 - passed the House of Representatives last year.  The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate this year.

"This would make it mandatory that they immediately advise the FBI," said Carver.  "They (travelers) don't realize when they get onto these ships they're going into a foreign country."

To learn more, read about the story of Merrian Carver on the ICV website. Please consider joining  the ICV and making a small donation to keep the grass root organization operating.

The ABC-15 video with Mr. Carver is below:

 

 

For additional information about Ken's fight to protect the cruising public, consider reading:

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter's Disappearance

 

 

Credits:

Photograph of Mirrian Carver        Ken Carver  

Video        ABC-15 (KNXV) Phoenix, AZ  (Christopher Sign reporting)

Would You Ever Cruise? - The Inevitable Question

Today we have another guest blog by Caitlin Burke who is a member of the International Cruise Victims organization and is interning at our firm.  Caitlin's blog last week  - Better Safe Than Sorry - Spring Break Safety Tips - was named one of Lexblog's Ten Best Blogs of 3,000 law blogs for the week! 

Caitlin's Cruise Blog:

So it's safe to say I've been entrenched in "cruise law" for the past 7 months.  Technically it's been 1 year and 9 months if you count when I first became a member of International Cruise Victims and began working on my thesis.  Point being- I've been working in the "cruise law" world for quite some time, and am intrigued by the number of times I am asked the same question - 

Caitlin Burke - International Cruise Victims - ICV Presentation"Would you ever cruise?"  

I have made multiple presentations at universities and conferences, and following each and every presentation someone raises their hand to ask the notorious "would you ever cruise?" question. 

I have undoubtedly had plenty of opportunities to tweak or shorten my answer to avoid extending an already exceedingly long conversation. So, in an attempt to squash future inquiries regarding my personal cruising practices (and hopefully conjure personal reflection and feedback from others), here are my thoughts on why I would and would not cruise: 

(Note: I have been on one cruise in 2008, shortly before I began my senior thesis - "Qualitative Study of Victimization and Legal Issues Relevant to Cruise Ships")  

My Answers: 

1.  I currently choose not to take cruise vacations. 

2.  It's not because I am terrified of what might happen to me. Yes, crime aboard cruise ships and in foreign ports is a large concern. But considering my day-to-day work (and general personality) it's likely I would be overly paranoid and overly cautious. (Better Safe Than Sorry) 

Merrian Carver - "Missing" - Celebrity Cruises3.  I understand the appeal of cruising and agree that it can be "the best bang for your buck." However, I personally cannot support an industry that I know acts unethically and immorally, with  disregard for their crew members and passengers. 

I know that my perspective might be slightly biased, and I willingly admit to such accusations.  But putting my biases aside, the history of the cruise lines' distasteful behavior is inarguable.  And if you care to argue in the cruise lines' defense I encourage you to read the following stories: 

The story of Merrian Carver (right), a "missing" passenger and the cruise line's desperate attempt to cover her disappearance up. 

A 13-year-old girl on the Disney Wonder, sexually assaulted by a 24-year-old man who threatened to throw her overboard if she cried for help. 

A woman, Laurie Dishman (below), celebrating 30 years of friendship raped by a security guard employed by the cruise ship. 

To clarify - I am not against the idea of cruising and truly believe it can be an incredible and enjoyable experience.  My hope is that the cruise lines begin to take responsibility, demonstrating Laurie Dishman - Royal Caribbean Cruisesan ethical business model that shows concern for their passengers and crew members aboard their ships. 

Once I see this industry turn around, you better believe the sunscreen, bathing suits, and flip flops will be packed. Until then, I'll stick to the companies I know and trust and steer clear of  the high seas. 

Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credits: 

Photograph 1           Ken Carver

Photograph 2            Sacramento Bee

 

Cruise Law Visits Stetson College of Law to Discuss Crime on Cruise Ships

Today we had the honor of being invited to speak to the maritime law society at Stetson University College of Law

Stetson Law Stetson has the oldest law school in Florida, founded in 1900.  Its campus is located on the beautiful Mediterranean style architecture campus in Gulfport, Florida.  

I discussed the topic "Crime on Cruise Ships," and explained the epidemic of cruise crimes on cruise ships over the past decade.   

Assisting me with the presentation was Caitlin Burke (bottom right), an intern at our firm.  Ms. Burke graduated from the University of Florida where she majored in Recreation, Parks and Sport Management.  Ms. Burke wrote a senior honor's thesis entitled a "Qualitative Study of Victimization and Legal Issues Relevant to Cruise Ships."  Caitlin was also a guest blogger last year when she authored Why Cruises are NOT the Best Vacations with Kids.

Stetson has a well established introductory maritime program and a well organized Maritime Law Society.  The event was well attended.  Assistant Professor Christine Cerniglia (bottom left) - who previously handled maritime litigation in New Orleans for several years - attended the power point presentation with her students.

In the past decade there have been hundreds of sexual assaults and unexplained disappearances of passengers and crew members from cruise ships.  The issue of the safety of passengers and crew has been highlighted by the International Cruise Victims organization and five Congressional Maritime Lawyer Jim Walker - Cruise Law - Crime on Cruise Shipshearings on cruise lines crimes in the past five years.

The students appeared interested in many of the issues we have discussed in prior articles on this blog:

The "disappearance" of Merrian Carver on the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship.

The death of cruise passenger Dianne Brimble.

The battle for safe cruises fought by Ken Carver and the International Cruise Victims organization.

The issue of crimes against children on cruise ships.

The disappearance of crew member Angelo Faliva.

We received a nice email from Ceara Riggsthe President f Stetson's Maritime Law Society, while we were driving back to Miami: 

"Thank you very much for driving all the way from Miami to speak at our meeting this afternoon! You had many interesting stories to share and your experiences really seemed to engage and captivate everyone in attendance.

It was very insightful to hear that even though we’re only law students, we can start making a difference.

It was especially beneficial to hear from Caitlin, as well, because she could share her own experiences and how she tries to make a difference in this industry. Thank you again and we hope you will be able to visit our campus again in the future!"

Thank you Stetson Law for inviting us!  We will be back . . . 

 Stetson Assistant Professor Christine Cerniglia - Caitlin Burke      

Prayer Garden Statue Dedicated to Merrian Carver

Merrian Carver - Prayer GardenThe Paradise Valley United Methodist Church in Arizona dedicated a bronze statue in remembrance of Merrian Carver, the daughter of Carol Carver and International Cruise Victims president Ken Carver.

We have written about Merrian's "disappearance" in 2004 during a cruise to Alaska, and Mr. Carver's five year battle to reform the cruise industry: 

Ken Carver Fights for Cruise Ship Safety 

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter's Disappearance

The local newspaper in Paradise Valley, the Town of Paradise Valley Independent, ran a story about the dedication entitled "Paradise Valley Church Members Dedicate Statue."  The statute is called the "Gift of Life" based on a poem written by Merrian called "The Butterfly."

Senator Kyl from Arizona and Congresswoman Matsui from California submitted letters of thanks and recognition for the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Carver and the International Cruise Victims for working to improve the safety of the cruising public. 

Congresswoman Matsui who introduced the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009, wrote:

The beautiful bronze statue being dedicated today, depicting a young woman, book in hand, enables Merrian's spirit to live forever in this picturesque garden outside of the church that was such an integral part of her life . . . 

Prayer Garden - Merrian CarverI want to take this opportunity to not only congratulate you on the completion of this monument, but also to recognize the tremendous efforts of those who have been personally impacted by crimes committed on cruise vessels.  Despite facing insurmountable losses, brave men and women have tirelessly worked toward ensuring that other do not have to endure the pain caused by these senseless acts.

As the author of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety act, I admire the strength and unwavering commitment of Ken and Carol Carver and so many other members of the International Cruise Victims Association, who have tirelessly worked as passionate advocates for recent victims and who have so clearly articulated the need for higher safety standards on cruise vessels.  Their stories have captured the eyes, the ears, and the hearts of lawmakers who begun considering legislation intended to ensure the safety and security of all cruise passengers . . .

Ken and Carol Carver - with Bob Scheelings, Scupltor, "Gift of Life"The statue was created by talented artist Bob Scheelings, who is pictured here with Mr. and Mrs. Carver.

At the moment when the stone foundation for Merrian's statue was being laid, Mr. Carver received an email from Washington. 

The communications director and legislative assistant for Congresswoman Matsui announced that the House of Representatives was voting on the cruise safety bill and expected the bill to pass overwhelmingly. 

Mr. Carver was in the prayer garden when he realized that five years of dedication on behalf of his daughter were culminating in the passage of the safety bill to protect other families. 

Those of you of faith know that there are no coincidences like this in life . . .    

 

 

Credits:

Photographs    Courtesy of Carol and Ken Carver

Other photographs are available on my Flickr page - Dedication of Prayer Garden Statue - Merrian Carver. All photographs are courtesy of the Carver family.

Ken Carver Fights for Cruise Ship Safety

A local news station in Phoenix Arizona, KPHO, aired an interview with Ken Carver whose daughter, Merrian, "disappeared" on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises.  KPHO's story is entitled "Valley Father Fights For Cruise Ship Safety." 

The video of Mr. Carver's interview can be viewed here.

The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story about Ms. Carver's "disappearance" and the cruise line's attempted cover up. 

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsTragedies like this would destroy many parents who lose a child under these disturbing circumstances.  But Mr. Carver channeled his energies into creating the International Cruise Victims ("ICV"), an organization of cruise victims and friends who are fighting for mandatory reforms to the cruise industry.

Mr. Carver, a retired insurance executive, is leading the fight. Two weeks ago the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass the Cruise Security and Safety Act of 2009.  The new safety law will require cruise lines to report crimes to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard and implement other security measures.    

The new law is now awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Carver obtained the support of Senator John Kerry to introduce the cruise safety bill in the U.S. Senate. 

We have reported on the ICV's hard work which led to the passage of this new law in a previous article: "Congress Passes Cruise Crime Law." Are you a member of the ICV?  If not, consider joining.

You can contact Mr. Carver at kcarver17@cox.net

 

Photo credit      KPHO, Phoenix, Arizona

 

 

Congress Passes Cruise Crime Law

Today, the House of Representatives passed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009.  This is a remarkable event.  For the first time in the history of the cruise industry, cruise lines are now required to report crimes which occur on cruise ships to the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI.  There has been an epidemic of rapes on cruise ships over the years, and the cruise industry is notorious for its lack of transparency and its cover up of such crimes.

This is quite a milestone. No one in South Florida has the courage to take on the cruise industry and enact legislation like this. Victims had to look 3,000 miles away from Miami - the Cruise Capital of the World -  to a leader in Sacramento, California to get the job done.

Thank You Congresswoman Matsui and the International Cruise Victims Association

The bill is the result of the hard work of the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") association, led by Laurie Dishman Doris MatsuiKen Carver whose daughter Merrian disappeared on a cruise ship operated by Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises. The legislation was introduced by California Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) whose constituent, Ms. Laurie Dishman was sexually assaulted on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  Ms. Dishman is a client and good friend of the firm.  She has worked tirelessly with the other ICV members to make sure that legislation like this is enacted to protect the traveling public.

The new cruise law also requires that rape victims on cruise ships be promptly given anti-retroviral medications in order to prevent the victims from developing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. 

Our firm is representing a woman who was recently raped on a Princess Cruises ship.  The ship doctor and the Princess Cruises fleet medical department refused to provide the victim with such medications.  The cruise line's recklessness needlessly endangered the young woman's health and life. Now, there will be culpability when cruise lines act irresponsibly following a cruise ship crime.   

The ICV issued a press release today:

Press Release of the International Cruise Victims     

international cruise victimsThe International Cruise Victims Association (ICV) applauds House passage today of critical language authored by Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui (D-CA) ensuring the safety of cruise ship passengers on the high seas. Matsui’s Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009, included in H.R. 3619, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010, requires cruise lines to report all crimes aboard cruise ships to both the United States Coast Guard and the FBI. The first measure of its kind, this legislation represents a historic step toward securing the safety all passengers need and deserve.

“I recognize today as a milestone in our fight for justice,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “I originally became involved in this issue because of a young woman, Laurie Dishman, from my hometown of Sacramento. Laurie was sexually assaulted while on a cruise ship, and was left to fend for herself. international cruise victimMy legislation will not only help protect and empower future victims, but it contains important reforms that will help change the culture of the cruise industry and prevent future attacks from happening.”

ICV has been advocating for these measures to be adopted since 2006, participating in countless meetings with members of Congress, and three Congressional hearings. The hearings were held at the urging of Rep. Matsui, with the support of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced corresponding legislation in the U.S. Senate, which also held hearings, and the bill was passed unanimously out of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Now that the bill has passed the House, the bill will need to pass the full Senate before being sent to the President to be signed into law.

international cruise victimsAs this crucial legislation moves forward, it serves as a sign to many among the ICV’s community of followers that progress is being made toward ensuring the safety of Americans abroad. The measure approved today is a major victory in the fight for cruise passengers’ rights. ICV President Kendall Carver expressed his hopeful outlook as the legislation has been approved by committee in the Senate. “Adoption of this bill would be proof to the world that our small group of volunteers with limited funds has been able to make a difference in the safety of Americans. When the Cruise Safety legislation is signed into law, it will serve to protect Americans across the nation during what ought to be relaxing vacations.”

“Congresswoman Matsui has taken the lead in the House on this issue, and her efforts have made the difference in moving this legislation forward,” Carver continued. “Her efforts are appreciated by myself and all other victims and their families that are members of International Cruise Victims Association. Without Ms. Matsui’s efforts in the House and Sen. Kerry's efforts in the U.S. Senate this legislation would have not moved forward and we are forever indebted to both of them. I look forward to the upcoming Senate floor vote and the President’s signature as soon as humanly possible.”

Currently, cruise ships operating under foreign flags of convenience are not required under U.S. law to report crimes occurring outside of U.S. territorial waters. Legislation approved today will ensure that crimes committed while aboard cruise ships do not escape the jurisdiction of international cruise victimsAmerican law enforcement. Title IX requires cruise ships to comply with design and construction standards, such as specific rail heights, peep holes, warning devices and cabin security measures. The bill also requires that vessels are equipped with a video surveillance system to assist in documenting and prosecuting crimes, and it requires vessels to maintain a log book to record reports on specified complaints. Finally, once enacted, vessels will be required to contact the nearest FBI office as soon as possible to report incidents involving homicide, suspicious deaths, missing U.S. nationals, kidnapping, assault, and other serious occurrences.

The International Cruise Victims Association, Inc. (ICV) is a not for profit corporation formed by victims and families of victims of cruise crimes.

 

Photo Credits      International Cruise Victims ("ICV")

1. Honorable Congresswoman Doris Matsui, Laurie Dishman, Bill Dishman

2. ICV members Mark Brimble, Ken Carver, Son Michael Pham

3. ICV members in Washington DC

4. ICV members Ron and Sue DiPiero 

5. ICV members Lynnette Hudson, Ken Carver      

 

Jury Reaches Partial Verdict in Dianne Brimble Case

Dianne Brimble cruise death trial - Mark Wilhelm ABC News reports that an Australian jury in the trial of cruise passenger Mark Wilhelm, accused of killing Dianne Brimble aboard a P & O cruise ship, has reached an unanimous verdict on one of two charges.

The prosecution charged defendant Wilhelm with manslaughter and "supplying a prohibited drug" (the date rape drug, GHB).

We have discussed this case in previous blogs:

Date Rape Drugs on Cruise Ships - the Death of Dianne Brimble

"Crawfishing" - Passengers in P & O Cruises Death Case Can't Remember A Thing

Another Crawfishing Witness in the Dianne Brimble Trial

Jury Is Out in Dianne Brimble Cruise Death Case

Dianne Brimble and the Lessons to Teach Our Young Men

It is conceivable that the jury all agreed that Wilhelm gave Ms. Brimble the date rape drug, but they cannot unanimously agree on the homicide charge.  The newspaper reports that the judge could accept a verdict of 11 - 1.  The seven woman - five man jury will continue to deliberate tomorrow. 

Ms. Brimble's former husband, Mark Brimble, heads the Australian chapter of the International Cruise Victims organization

For a reminder of the circumstances leading to Ms. Brimble's death, here is a video of the heavy partying aboard the P & O Cruises cruise ship:

 

 

Photo credit:

Photo of Mark Wilhelm    The Daily Telegraph

Date Rape Drugs on Cruise Ships - the Death of Dianne Brimble

A criminal trial begins this week in Australia in the case of cruise passenger Dianne Brimble, a passenger sailing with her children on P & O Cruises’ Pacific Sky in 2002. It has been seven years since Ms. Brimble’s ill fated cruise which ended with her death. A coroner determined the cause of her demise to be a date rape drug given to her by another passenger, Mark Wilhelm, who is now finally standing trial for her death.

There is a danger on cruise ships of being given a date rape drug by either a crew member or another passenger.

There are a couple of different date rape drugs. One is called “GHB.” The scientific name is Gamma Hydroxybutyric acid. It is also be called “grievous bodily harm.” Another is Funitrazepam, called Rohypnol or commonly known as “roofies.” These drugs are clear, tasteless, and odorless - similar to water. When combined with alcohol the drug will incapacitate unsuspecting victims and cause slurred speech, sedation, unconsciousness and death. Even without alcohol, Rohypnol is ten times stronger than Valium. Rapists use these drugs to knock their victims out.

These drugs are readily available in foreign ports, particularly in Mexico. Crew members or passengers going ashore can easily obtain “roofies” or “GHB” and bring the drugs back to the cruise ship.  One of our clients was given a spiked drink by a bartender on a cruise ship returning from Mexico. Interviewed by Time magazine in an article entitled "Crime Rocks the Boats," she reported "her legs go rubbery and her mind turn to mush as the bartender led her to an employees-only restroom and raped her before she passed out cold."

If proper blood and urine testing is not performed in a timely manner after the rape, the drugs will not be detected. Cruise ships are notorious for having ill equipped medical facilities and incompetent or indifferent staff. It is important for passengers to use the same safeguards you would use in a bar ashore:

  • Ask bartenders or bar servers to open your beverages in front of you.
  • Watch your drinks.
  • Don’t leave your drinks unattended when you go on the dance floor or to the ladies room.
  • Stay with your group of friends.
  • Realize that crimes occur routinely on cruise ships.
  • Have fun - but don’t let your guard down.
  • If you are a victim of rape, insist that the ship doctor take blood and urine samples immediately.

Ms. Brimble’s family joined International Cruise Victims (“ICV”) organization to bring awareness to the problem of cruise ship crime. Mr. Brimble is the President of the ICV chapter in Australia. Information regarding Ms. Brimble is available on the ICV website.

 

Photo Credits:

International Cruise Victims - photo of Dianne Brimble

"Suicide" - One of the Cruise Lines' Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea

For the past many years, I have watched cruise lines respond to each disappearance at sea by blaming the passenger.

Selling Dreams of Carefree Vacations

Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to create the illusion of carefree vacation getaways where hard working Americans can relax, let their guard down, and forget the worries of city life. Passenger "disappearances" are inconsistent with the cruise industry’s marketing image which sells tickets.

When a passenger "disappears," there are a number of possible explanations.  Was foul play involved?  Did the passenger act carelessly due to alcohol?  Was the intoxication due to the cruise line's negligence in over-serving the passenger to make the targeted profits for the cruise?  Or was the disappearance due to a plan by the passenger to end his or her life?   

The possibilities are many but the cruise lines' conclusions are few. Cruise ships are quick to attack the passengers’ character and to steer blame away from themselves when a passenger goes overboard.

Merrian Carver - Royal Caribbean Cover Up, Stonewalling, and the Big Lie

When 40 year old Boston resident Merrian Carver "disappeared" from the cruise ship Mercury operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary brand Celebrity Cruises, the cruise line tried its best to cover the incident up. It didn’t report Merrian missing to either the FBI or the Alaskan State Troopers, even though the cabin attendant reported her missing early in the cruise. Merrian’s Dad, insurance executive Ken Carver, began a serious investigation. Royal Caribbean responded by lying to Mr. Carver and disposing of evidence.  Mr. Carver didn’t go away and the story went public.  The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story.  In response, the cruise line reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a good excuse: " . . . there is very little a cruise line, a resort or a hotel can do to prevent someone from committing suicide." 

Aside of the speculation fueled by the cruise line's lawyers and PR team, there was no competent evidence whatsoever for Royal Caribbean's self serving announcement to the media. If it was a suicide, why did Royal Caribbean work so hard to cover the incident up and lie to Mr. Carver?  Indeed, there is now an issue whether a crew member was involved in Merrian's death.  

George Smith IV - Attack the Victim

I witnessed the same type of corporate thuggery while representing Jennifer Hagel whose husband George Smith of Greenwich Connecticut disappeared under suspicious circumstances during the couple’s honeymoon cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. For months the Hagel and Smith families patiently waited for information explaining the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the healthy and handsome 26 year old man.

But when their frustration forced them to the press for answers, the cruise industry’s response was quick and brutal. Michael Crye, representing the International Council of Cruise Lines ( the predecessor to today’s Cruise Line International Association - "CLIA") told an AP reporter investigating the story " . . . its difficult if someone chooses to do harm to themselves . . ."

Carefully Planned Hit and Run Attacks By Cruise Line PR Departments 

These type of statements are not random or insensitive rants from low level employees. The cruise lines' PR departments carefully craft the announcements and issue them only after being run through their legal departments. The Merrian Carver "suicide" theory was issued by the Royal Caribbean corporate communications director only after being reviewed by the cruise line’s outside legal counsel. When the cruise industry faced embarrassment over Royal Caribbean's mis-handling of George Smith’s death, out trotted Mr. Crye - the vice president of the cruise trade organization and himself a lawyer. Mr. Crye issued the he-did-it-to-himself statement on behalf of the entire cruise industry (CLIA's motto is "one industry - one voice"), without a shred of evidence justifying such a conclusion.

Amber Malkuch - Holland America Lines' Attack Is Business as Usual  

The recent disappearance of Washington resident Amber Malkuch shows that little has changed. Amber was 45 when she sailed on the Holland America Line ("HAL") cruise ship Zaandam. On August 3, 2009, Amber disappeared. The usual protocol when a passenger disappears should be for the FBI or the state law enforcement authorities to board the vessel at the next port and to conduct an investigation. The period of time leading up to the cruise ship's arrival at the next port is critical because the cruise line controls the scene of the disappearance, the witnesses and all of the evidence. Before the authorities can conclude whether the "disappearance" resulted from an accident (due to the ship's negligence, or the passenger's carelessness or intoxication, or a combination of factors), foul play or suicide, they must first review the evidence and interview passengers and crew members.

But on August 4, 2009, before the Alaskan State Troopers concluded their investigation, a member of HAL's PR department and CLIA's PR team, Sally Andrews, announced to the media that Amber probably took her own life. The "suicide" conclusion was picked up by all of the major news outlets and reported prominently on FOX News and other news stations.

This surprised not only Amber’s friends and family, but it dumbfounded the Alaskan State Troopers who had yet to review photographs and video, conduct interviews or analyze toxicology reports. The Anchorage Daily News reported "Troopers Miffed at Cruise Line’s Rush to Judgment." The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted a representative of the Alaskan State Troopers saying:

We’re the people actually looking into the exact cause of death . . . We’re the ones doing the interviews and looking at the evidence . . . And if we haven’t been able to make a determination, how can the cruise line who isn’t trained?"

Who Do You Trust?  The Alaskan State Troopers or the Cruise Line?

Does Holland America Line care about what the evidence reveals?  In the world of cruise line PR (perception vs. reality), what matters most to the cruise lines seems to be the public’s perception that cruise ships are safe rather than the reality that perhaps they are not.

Determining the cause of passenger overboards is the role of experts - the U.S. Coast Guard, the F.B.I., and other law enforcement authorities - not the cruise lines' PR departments.          

 

Photo credits:

Kendall Carver - photo of Merrian Carver

Kevin Wolf (AP) - photo of Maureen Smith, Michaeil Crye, Jennifer Hagel

Seattle Post Intelligencer - photo of Amber Malkuch

The Death on the High Seas Act - Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years

If you are retired or a child and die on a cruise ship due to the cruise ship's negligence, the cruise line will consider your life to be worthless under current maritime law.

Your family will face a law called the Death on the High Seas Act, commonly known as "DOHSA." In 1920, Congress passed DOHSA to provide for limited recovery when a seaman died at sea. Congress did not want widows to become destitute when their husbands died in international waters. So they passed DOHSA which provides that a widow can recover her husband’s wages and, perhaps, some money to bury him if his body was found.

DOHSA Provides No Recovery for Pain, Suffering, Grief, or Bereavement if You or Your Loved One Dies at Sea

Applied to cruise lines, DOHSA provides no recovery at all in many circumstances. Surviving family members may potentially recover only limited financial damages after proving the cruise line’s negligence caused the death. However, there is no recovery for the deceased passenger’s pain, agony and suffering before he dies. The surviving family members’ grief and bereavement are irrelevant. The children’s loss of their parent’s love, guidance and nurturing are of no consequence.

All of these damages may be recoverable if you die in a car accident or airplane accident en route to the port. But on the high seas, only financial losses such as lost wages or burial/funeral expenses are permitted.

For this reason, there is no basis for any recovery if the missing passenger is a retiree or a child. If the body of a retired passenger is not recovered, and there are no burial expenses, the family receives nothing. This is a hard pill for a grieving family to swallow. Most people who contact our office are dumbfounded when they learn this.

Cruise Lines Love DOHSA

Unlike companies ashore, cruise lines face virtually no financial exposure when their guests are killed or disappear. Even if the cruise line is clearly negligent or acts maliciously, DOHSA provides no recovery when the victim is a retiree or a child.  Cruise lines and their insurance companies profit greatly due to this ancient law.

Historically, DOHSA was applied to aviation disasters when airplanes crashed in international waters. The families of dead children or elderly (retired) parents were excluded from any recovery by virtue of DOHSA. But following the crash of a jet in the Atlantic full of US citizens (TWA flight 800), the American public became outraged by this injustice. In response, Congress excluded air travel from DOHSA. The same thing needs to happen with cruise travel.

Victims Fight for A Change

The International Cruise Victims organization ("ICV") has been trying to amend DOHSA to permit the recovery of fair compensation when passengers die during cruises. A cruise safety bill pending before Congress originally contained a provision to amend DOHSA so that there is no difference if an American citizen dies ashore or at sea. The cruise industry spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to eliminate the amendment. Ultimately, the cruise lines’ big bucks and PR machine won out.

As far as deaths on ships go, DOHSA is just the way it existed in 1920 – 89 years ago. In 1920, relatively few passengers cruised a year. Now the number is around 13,000,000. Congress never envisioned that DOHSA would bar all recovery for any of the million of retired passengers and children who cruise annually. The Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA") doesn’t tell its 13,000,000 customers or 16,000 travel agents that it lobbies each year to make certain that DOHSA remains in place.

A cruise line is the only place in the world where a child or retired passenger’s life is of absolutely no consequence in the eyes of the law. Die on a cruise ship due to bad medical care or disappear under mysterious circumstances? The cruise lines have spent millions of dollars to make certain that your loved ones don’t get a dime.