Earlier this year, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee convened a hearing about protecting cruise ship passengers. Senator Rockefeller planned to introduce legislation which required the cruise industry to report crimes and overboards which occur on cruise ships.
Under intense pressure before the Senate committee, the executives of the three major U.S. based cruise lines (Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean) promised at the outset of the hearing to begin to "voluntarily" report cruise ship crimes and man overboard situations. Was this an earnest commitment to transparency or a last ditch effort to stave off legislation?
My son and I were at the hearing. The first thing I thought was "sounds good, but what tricks are the cruise lines up to this time?"
Shortly after the hearing, the cruise line began to post their crime and man-overboard data.
Royal Caribbean was particularly sneaky. It chose to define man-overboards as excluding all crew members and included only U.S. passengers. In the process, Royal Caribbean summarily excluded eight men who were either crew members or were non-U.S. citizens who went overboard.
So instead of learning the complete story about people disappearing from Royal Caribbean ships, the public learned of only 27% of the truth (only 3 out of 11). This is exactly the type of deceitful conduct that Senator Rockefeller wanted to avoid.
So what tricks were played by Royal Caribbean's competitor, Carnival?
The ICV press statement today reveals that Carnival Corporation, which owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa, HAL, P&O Cruises, Princess and many others, combines all of its its cruise brand data in one tally in order to dilute the rate of crime on its cruise brand with the most crime.
Why does Carnival Corporation (the parent company) do this? Because it gives the false appearance that Carnival Cruise Lines is much safer than it actually is. Based upon research by cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein, Carnival Cruise Lines makes up less than half the total of the Carnival brands but accounts for a whopping 88% of all the crimes for the parent company, Carnival Corporation. (The conclusions are based on crime data obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request for the period covering October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008.)
The purpose of the cruise crime disclosure is to permit consumers to determine the safest / most dangerous cruise lines to take your family on cruises.
But the cruise lines are playing a big game. Trickery and dishonesty are the names of the game.
The Carnivals and Royal Caribbeans can't help themselves. They are incapable of telling the U.S. public the truth.
That's one reason why the House and Senate have introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act (H.R. 2800 and S.1340). And that's why you should insist that these bills are enacted into law.
This week marks the 4th year anniversary of starting my blog Cruise Law News (CLN).
I've written 1,585 articles, which averages out to be over one per day. We have received over 4,700 comments to our articles, mostly from U.S. readers. Google Analytics tell us over 1,000,000 different people have read over 3,500,000 pages of our blog in the last 12 months. The blog has come a long way since September 2009 when barely 5,000 people read CLN.
According to the AVVO ranking system, CLN is currently ranked the 10th most popular law blog in the U.S. Of the nine blogs more popular than ours, five are written by law professors and four are for-profit, monetized blogs which accept advertising which you will never see here. So you can make the argument that CLN is the most popular law blog written by one lawyer who actually practices law.
CLN reached an international audience when I started my Cruise Law News Facebook page last year and began posting the CLN articles on Facebook. The result has been fantastic. Around 70,000 fans follow us on Facebook. We are growing exponentially. We have more readers whose languages are primarily non-English than English readers.
The top countries where our CLNFacebook followers are from are India, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and then the U.S. The next five most popular countries are Turkey, Romania, Croatia, Italy and Chile.
The stories we cover here on CLN are genuine, dramatic and often disturbing. They are not fiction.
Several years ago, Kevin O'Keefe, the founder and CEO of Seattle-based LexBlog, which designed and hosts our blog, came to Miami to meet some of the Miami bloggers who are part of his network. During dinner, O'Keefe asked me why I liked to blog. Instantly I told him that a half-dozen of my clients have testified before Congressional committees in Washington D.C. about being victimized on cruise ships. Their stories, about ship fires, loved ones lost at sea, and cruise crime, are riveting. Their causes deserved a larger audience. And I wanted to tell their compelling stories and promote their causes on a national and international basis.
So why has Cruise Law News been so successful you may ask?
In Jonas Sachs' book Winning the Story Wars, the author explains that those who tell the best stories will be successful. Sachs defines "best" as those authentic stories which inspire compassion and hope and bring about positive social change.
Our stories are about the little man taking on the big corporation, such as $500-a-month cruise employees from India working over 360 hours a month standing up to the abuses of multi-national companies based here in Miami. We write about grass roots victims' groups enacting legislation over the fierce opposition and dirty tricks of huge, billion-dollar tax-avoiding cruise corporations. Many of our stories are about women, both passengers and crew, taking on the male-dominated cruise industry.
There are many social media experts who say that the key to a successful blog is to consistently and genuinely demonstrate passion about an issue. That's true. But it's not enough. Whether your blog sells a product or promotes a cause, an author needs a compelling story to tell.
That's where I have a distinct advantage over other lawyers and bloggers. I realize that the stories here on CLN are not mine. I am just a storyteller. The stories are the only reason my articles are widely read and CLN is closely followed. The stories are of our clients and friends who have endured unimaginable events while cruising, of all things. Stories like being sexually assaulted during cruise vacations, or losing a parent or a spouse or a child on the high seas. And in a time of despair and desperation, many of these nice people face corporate deceit or heartless indifference of the worst kind. These stories must be told.
There have been 8 Congressional hearings in the House and the Senate since December 2005 regarding issues of cruise passenger safety. One of the most talked about problems has been the issue of passengers going over-board from cruise ships.
Over the years, there has been a discussion about the problem and the necessity of requiring the cruise industry to install systems to detect when people go overboard from cruise ships.
The International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization has been responsible for bringing this issue to the public's attention. The CEO of the ICV, Ken Carver, lost his daughter, Merrian Carver, disappeared under suspicious circumstances from the Mercury cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises' subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. Although the cabin steward knew that Ms. Carver was no longer in her cabin early on during the cruise, his supervisor instructed him to do nothing about it. The cruise line never reported the incident to the Alaska State Troopers, or the FBI, or the flag state. Celebrity then discarded the majority of Ms. Carver's clothes and personal effects. You can read about the disturbing story here.
The cases of both Ms. Carver and Mr. Smith remain "mysteries."
Mr. Carver and the Smith family founded the ICV because their children disappeared at sea under suspicious circumstances with the cruise lines being uncooperative.
Subsequent Congressional hearings has focused on the disappearance of other cruise passengers. Although the cruise industry claims that it does not track man over-board cases, cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein has a list of over 200 people who have gone overboard from cruise ships since 2000. Of course, crew members in addition to passenger have disappeared from cruise ships.
In 2010, after years of opposition by the cruise industry, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act to address the issue of properly detecting persons who go overboard.
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) requires that ‘‘the vessel shall integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available.’’
Three years later, it appears that few cruise ships have been fitted with the required technology. (Editor;s note October 1, 2013: Since publishing this article, we have been informed that some Disney cruise ship have infra-red man overboard systems which are in compliance with the CVVSA, and these systems have been in place over a year). Cruise passengers and even a larger number of crew members have continued to disappear from cruise ships without explanation.
But instead of installing these systems, most cruise line are still having to review hours and hours of CCTV images after a report of a man overboard is made to try and figure out when and why a person went overboard. In the case of cruise passenger Jason Rappe who went overboard from Holland America Line (HAL) Eurodam cruise ship last year, HAL did not install the required man overboard system even though several cruise passengers recently disappeared on HAL ships.
The delay in determining when a person goes overboard increases the area which the Coast Guard is required to search by air and sea, and reduces the chances of locating and rescuing the person overboard. It also substantially increases the expenses borne by U.S. taxpayers. The Coast Guard expenses in the Jason Rappe search efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard were almost $1,000,000.
Another problem also exists. If a person can go overboard undetected, then people can just as easily come onto a cruise ship undetected - like terrorists, pirates or criminals.
Last year, Congress commented on the cruise industry's lack of progress in implementing the requires man overboard systems. Congress commented: "the degree to which the cruise industry has complied with this requirement is entirely unclear. There may be additional camera surveillance (but no indication that this is the case), however there has not been adoption of any of the active measures recommended by the International Cruise Victims Association in discussions with the industry prior to the legislation being passed. There are many systems available, many manufactured and marketed in the U.S., but none of these appear to be under consideration for adoption, no doubt because of the cost involved."
In addition, the the U.S. Coast Guard posted a Federal Register Request for Input from the maritime security Industry, and received a number of proposals, but there is no indication that these have been acted upon. Proposals were received from Seafaring Security Systems and Radio Zealand DMP Americas, along with supporting documentation which was posted on the U.S. Coast Guard website.
I have found only one cruise line which has agreed to install a state of the art man overboard on some of its ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) recently agreed to install a system by Seafaring Security Systems on two of its newest ships which are being built. The Seafaring company describes the "Varuna Man Overboard System," or V-MOB, as a "revolutionary system designed to enhance safety, security and situational awareness aboard ships." Here's the company's description of the product.
"The V-MOB is a unique integration of advanced cameras, sensors and a customized graphic interface that automates surveillance and detection around the ship’s perimeter, alerting the crew to anomalies such as man-overboard, fires, and unauthorized boarding.
When an overboard incident occurs, the V-MOB sensors detect it, GPS coordinates to the overboard site are recorded, and designated personnel are alerted via specific alarms. The V-MOB significantly enhances the opportunity for rapid rescue of overboard personnel.
The V-MOB system detects the presence of fire sooner than contemporary fire detection systems (recent testing provided alarms two minutes before existing fire detection systems) commonly found on ships, thereby maximizing fire suppression and extinguishing efforts.
The V-MOB system also detects unauthorized attempts to board from deck railing, alerting security personnel onboard the ship to provide critical response time to meet and deal with the threat in a timely manner."
Over 8 years ago George Smith went overboard from the Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in the Aegean Sea during his honeymoon cruise.
By all accounts, Royal Caribbean covered the true circumstances of the crime up. In the process, this less-than-honest cruise line sparked a national interest in what really happens on cruise ships which continues today.
A Congressional hearing was convened in December 2005 which focused the public on cruise ship crimes, disappearances at sea and how cruise lines like Royal Caribbean handle public relation nightmares like this.
Seven Congressional hearings later, the topic of cruise ship crimes, missing cruise passengers and crew members, and cruise cover-ups continues.
Senator Rockefeller has introduced new legislation designed to require greater transparency from the cruise industry. Sponsoring the bill is Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal who has stated that he is committed to requiring accountability aboard cruise ships.
The Greenwich Times reports today that "Family of Man Lost at Sea Backs Cruise Ship Bill." The Smith family states in a letter: "We have encountered nothing but obstacles from both Royal Caribbean and those individuals last seen with George on the cruise ship."
The time for a law requiring cruise lines to be honest is long overdue.
The video (below) includes an interview with me about the provisions of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010 (CVSSA) which permitted cruise ship crimes and man-overboard incidents to be concealed from the public. Only incidents which were reported to the FBI and then the FBI closed the investigation could be disclosed to the public.
The cruise lines were successful in inserting language to this effect into the CVSSA in order to conceal the vast majority of alleged crimes and overboards from the public.
Today the Washingtonian reported on a gigantic law firm, DLA Piper. chartering a gigantic cruise ship for a partner retreat. The 4,200-lawyer international firm selected Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas.
The Washingtonian calls the Piper firm a "legal behemoth" which has over 100 worldwide offices. It seems like only the partners are invited but that's enough to require a cruise behemoth like the Liberty of the Seas. The cruise will begin in Barcelona and the ship will then sail up the coast to Nice. Sounds nice.
The charter costs over $3,000,000 plus the costs of booze, excursions, and of course flying the partners around the world to Spain. I don't see these fat cats flying economy.
How can a law firm afford such an extravaganza? Don't worry. The firm represents mostly gigantic corporations as clients and has money to burn. The Wall Street Journal just reported that DLA Piper collected over $2,400,000,000 last year. Yes that's right, $2.4 billion.
I'll keep my personal opinions about this to myself for a change, but let me just say that there is a reason I chose to work at my own small firm and not at a gigantic law firm with so much money that it can go on a boondoggle like this.
This morning Cruise Law News hit a milestone when the 50,000th person "liked" our Facebook page.
The motto of this blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." One of our main goals is to educate the public about dangers and problems on cruise ships that the cruise industry would like to keep secret. So it's exciting to see that many people become a fan of our Facebook page.
We post most of our blogs on Facebook as well as links to other sites which write about newsworthy (and sometimes not so newsworthy) events in the crazy world of cruising. Unlike our other social media pages like Twitter which has almost exclusively a U.S. audience, our Facebook Cruise-Law-News page has primarily non-U.S. readers.
Who are the top readers outside of the U.S.? In order they are from India, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey, Croatia and Serbia, as well as many other countires.
Why the reference to "50,000 fans can't be wrong?" It's a take-off on the famous Elvis Presley album "50,000,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong." (OK so I'm only 49,950,000 behind Elvis).
Thanks to everyone who like our Facebook page, read our articles, and leave comments!
Today marks the 4th year Cruise Law has been on Twitter. Check out our page here. Over 10,000 tweets and over 10,000 followers later, it has been a fun four years. Tweeting is just micro-blogging in 140 characters and led me to create this blog Cruise Law News.
If you are not on Twitter you should be. It has led me to meet literally thousands of lawyers, travel agents, cruise industry people, journalists, travelers and crew members around the world. Lots of news about the cruise industry breaks on Twitter before the mainstream media knows what's going on.
Speaking of social media, we have been busy in the world of cruise law news this year. The Carnival Triumph fire and the "ensuing cruise from hell" were the latest cruise fiascos which focused the world on the unregulated foreign-flagged cruise industry.
Our firm and this blog were featured in over fifty television, cable news, & radio shows and internet, magazine and newspaper articles. Take a look here at a listing of some here of the programs and articles.
Cruise Law News (CLN), now over 3 years old, remains a top 10 law blog in terms of popularity. It is currently ranked #9 per the Alexa popularity rankings. The 8 law blogs ahead of us consist of 6 blogs which are commercial sites or are run by law professors. There's only one other law blog operated by a full time lawyer (China Law Blog) ahead of us. So we are the #2 law blog in the U.S. and Canada written by a full time lawyer.
Last month in the 28 days of February, readers visited some 415,960 pages of this blog. If we keep this pace up, we are approaching 5,000,000 page views a year!
Our Facebook page is booming, with over 45,000 likes. It is by far the most popular page by a law firm on Facebook.
Thanks for following us. If you have a question or want us to cover a particular issue or story, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want some some zinc, nickel and copper in your Alaskan salmon? Well, now you can.
Today the Republican controlled Alaska Senate voted 14 to 6 to approve a law proposed by Governor Parnell to abolish cruise ship wastewater standards enacted in 2006.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that the new law will allow the cruise industry to indefinitely discharge ammonia, a product of human waste, and heavy metals, dissolved from ship plumbing. Those discharges would have been banned in 2015 under a 2006 citizen initiative.
The new law dismantles a scientific advisory panel on cruise ship wastewater created in 2009.
Formerly the most progressive state in the U.S. protecting its waters from harmful cruise ship discharges, Alaska was intimidated by the cruise industry to roll back its environmental regulations to permit cruise lines to dump high levels of waste by-products and heavy metals like zinc, copper and nickel.
Ammonia contributes to algae blooms and harms shellfish. Copper, one of the heavy metals, has been shown to harmful to salmon.
Fishing groups, environmentalists, Alaska native organizations and residents of coastal communities spoke out against the new pro-cruise line law.
During Tuesday's floor debate, Senator Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, listed a series of pollution violations by cruise ships over the years, including 41 in 2009.
The following is a guest blog by fellow lawyer Charles Gourlis who works on cases with us against the cruise lines. Charlie is a bright, hard working fellow. We are glad to have him on our side.
First of all, let me extend a heartfelt thank you to Jim Walker for allowing me to guest blog on Cruise Law News. CLN is such an important resource for cruisers, crew members, the media, and the general public because it disseminates important stories about the cruise industry that often fly under the radar.
I’ve worked alongside Jim and his partners, Lisa O’Neill and Jonathan Aronson, a year-and-a-half and it still amazes me that some crew members receive such horrible medical care from the cruise lines. Some crew members receive adequate treatment, but many do not despite the maritime law's requirement that cruise lines treat their employees as if they were their own children.
What amazes me most is that in the great majority of cases, the cruise lines seem to lose track of their own employees. They simply let their injured crew members “fall through the cracks.” Regardless of whether the cruise line's medical departments are simply overwhelmed and need to hire more personnel to correct the problem, it is a fact that many injured crew members do not receive the prompt, adequate, and complete medical care that they need and are entitled to under the law.
It seems like the case that the cruise lines’ neglect of their injured crew members is rarely benign. I’ve witnessed crew member horror stories that are not reported on CLN which appear nothing less than malicious in nature.
Crew members from Jamaica, Honduras, India, and other nations sign on to work for the cruise lines because they hope for a better life. They sign up for the chance to better their lives, travel the world, and expand their horizons. None of them expect to get injured. I would venture to say that none of them expect to be abandoned back at home if and when they do become injured.
Crew members place their trust in unseen corporate suits half a world away and hope for the best. When they arrive in our offices with broken backs or out-of-control hypertensive, they all say the same thing: How can the "Company" abandon me after I have worked so hard and for so long? Doesn't the Company care?
This reaction is understandable given the backgrounds of most crew members we represent. Most come from societies where a person’s word is their bond. Most injured crew members don’t want to sue their employers; they just want to get healthy again.
Crew members generally idolize the “Company” in a way that most Americans can’t relate to. They sue only as a last resort. Which begs the question: given the reserve of goodwill built up in most crew members, why is it so difficult for the cruise lines to provide crew members with prompt, adequate, and complete medical care?
I would not have a job if the cruise lines treated their employees in the same way that they want to be treated. From what I have seen so far, it looks like I will be handling cases against cruise lines for a long time.
I'll continue to guest blog from time to time when work permits. Please leave your comments and questions below. I’ll be happy to respond.
For the longest time, our involvement with social media involved mostly this blog and our feed on Twitter, CruiseLaw.
What I have observed this year is that our Twitter feed (with over 10,000 followers) is largely followed by cruise passengers, travel agents and cruise line employees. Most of the people on Twitter who follow us reside in the U.S. In contrast, our facebook page is mostly "liked" by many thousands of crew members from around the world. We have made friends with lots of crew members from India, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Jamaica on facebook.
The other thing that I have noticed is that crew members and other friends from outside the U.S. are far more likely to interact with us on facebook. They leave comments on facebook. The people who read our articles and interact with us on facebook far outreach the number of people who socialize with us on twitter or contact us after subscribing to this blog.
For example, after a number of crew members went overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships a few months ago, I posted a couple of comments asking whether Royal Caribbean was working its crew members too hard. One of the posts was read by over 350,000 people on facebook. Another posting about the working conditions on Celebrity cruise ships was read by over 100,000 people. We also had many hundreds of comments to these articles, mostly by crew members who have first hand knowledge of what "ship life" is really like.
Crew members are the backbone of our law practice. Yes we have assisted many hundreds of cruise passengers over the years. But the majority of our clients are crew members (like the crew member above from Trinidad).
Whether they are crew members or not, the biggest supporters of this blog reside outside of the U.S. The last four people to "like" our page were "Raja" from India, "Natalija" from Croatia, "Novi" from Bosnia & Herzegovina, with "J.J." from South Africa being the 25,000th person to like our page. I have learned that the international community has a different perspective about things than Americans do. People outside the U.S. are far more sympathetic to the hard times many crew members face. Most Americans, on the other hand, just want a nice cruise vacation. Long hours and low pay are not their concerns.
Crew members often leave us messages on facebook, asking us for help or informal advice about their rights on cruise ships. Often crew members from places like India, Indonesia or the Caribbean islands have no one to turn to for information while working long contracts on the high seas far away from home. Problems with supervisors, long hours, bad medical care, prejudice & sexual harassment put crew members in a stressful situation. We are pleased to respond without any obligation. We hope that we can help you.
Our blog is read over a million times each year. Thanks for helping us spread the word on facebook. If you have information about working conditions on cruise ships and things that need fixing in the cruise industry, send us tips. We promise to maintain your confidentiality.
If you are a cruise ship employee, thanks for "liking" us on facebook and reading this blog. If it is helpful to you, recommend us to a friend. Share our articles with your past or present crew member friends. Help us get the word out about "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."
According to AVVO which ranks the popularity of law blogs, Cruise Law News (CLN) is currently the 9th most popular law blog in the U.S. You can read the list (updated daily) here. The list does not pretend to be a compilation of the "best" blogs. It is based primarily on the number of readers and the number of pages read for each blog, if I understand correctly how AVVO works.
That makes our blog the most widely read blog about our practice areas - cruise law and maritime personal injury law - in the U.S. Around 300,000 pages of CLN are read a month. We expect at the end of this year there to be well over 3,000,000 pages of CLN read just this year alone.
Being a widely read blog is admittedly a goal of CLN. The purpose of our blog is to educate the public about "everything cruise lines don't want you to know." There are a lot of problems, like sexual assault of women, molestation of children, and abuse of crew members, that cruise lines try and keep secret.
Thanks for reading our blog, and thanks for sending us tips about things that happen on cruise ships which the Carnivals and Royal Caribbeans prefer the public not to know.
If you want to track the popularity of websites and blogs, download the Alexa toolbar. Its simple and takes less than 30 seconds.
A couple of my friends on Twitter asked me about a maritime law blog in Miami which tweets under the Twitter handle @cruiseshiplaw. They were confused whether it was my blog, because it looked strikingly just like mine and had a similar name.
I clicked on the blog and, yes, it looks pretty much just like mine. A big white cruise ship in the upper right corner and the same blue theme.
Its a blog by my main competitor for cruise line clients. Very good lawyers no doubt. But why rip off my design?
I have an approach in life and in my blog to give credit where credit is due. So when I write about maritime lawyers in Miami winning cases against the cruise lines I credit them by name.
But this blog not only copied my design but actually writes about our cases. Look to the right and you can see the article "Carnival Cruise Lines May Be Liable For Child's Death." That's a precedent setting case against Carnival where we recently prevailed in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, which we wrote about earlier this month.
Ah another law firm sponging, mooching, free-loading and otherwise riding on our coattails.
I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Yesterday I mentioned our blog's three year anniversary. I was pleased to receive some positive comments back from our readers, particularly on our facebook page. Here is one comment that I received via email from a travel agent which I thought was nice:
"Congratulations on three very successful, provocative, educational and to say the least enlightening years. As a travel professional your articles have caused me to reconsider may things I advise my clients on when it comes not only to cruising but while taking land vacations also.
Thanks for all the good work."
One of our goals is to educate the public about some of the hidden dangers of cruising. So it's encouraging to hear from travel agents who read our blog and learn that they are mentioning some of the issues and safety points we discuss here.
But our anniversary also brought us hate e-mail as well.
When I read emails like the one below, I realize that there is no question that we live in a polarized society. Half of the public understands the need for lawyers to help weak & injured people, and to try and keep large corporations in line. The other half of the public views trial lawyers are a sign of the apocalypse:
"So why do we have to wait in line to sign the silly waivers to do anything like skate, climb or ride the flowrider? You Ambulance chasers make me ashamed to be an American! I've been on many cruises and they are working extremely hard providing an outstanding and safe product. You don't fool most of us -- we know it's all about money! Why don't you get a real job instead of feeding on the labor of others? I have had many conversations with workers on ships -- you know they think we Americans are a bunch of lazy bums looking to sue. It's true -- they laugh at our silly warning labels!
Thank you Mr Lawyer! Mr. Ambulance Chaser."
When I receive emails like this I have to stop and scratch my head. "Waivers" on cruise ships are against the law. There is absolutely no reason to ever stand in a line on a cruise ship to sign a waiver because they are null, void and unenforceable.
Why are they illegal? Because lawyers fought for injured passengers. In a case we handled, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal recently struck down a cruise line waiver which purported to strip passengers of their legal rights before they can participate in activities like zip lines, wall climbing, flowriders, rock climbing and skating.
Cruise lines hire large teams of lawyers to advance their legal interests. Any case filed against a Miami-based cruise line will be assigned to a team of lawyers and legal assistants - a partner, senior associate, junior associate and a paralegal or two.
In big cases, cruise lines hire a proverbial city of lawyers. Costa cruise line hired dense lawyers in Rome, Genoa, New York, London, Washington DC and Miami to represent it following the Costa Concordia disaster.
An average passenger or crew member does not stand a chance against a large corporation like Carnival or Royal Caribbean unless they hire a lawyer.
Yes, there are some silly warning signs on some products which are not needed. We can all agree on that and have a good laugh. But if you are a victim of a crime or serious injury during a cruise and don't hire a lawyer, it will be the cruise line who will be having a laugh at your expense.
This month marks the three year anniversary of my blog, Cruise Law News ("CLN").
I started this blog in September 2009 with the goal of writing about "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." There has been a lot to write about.
Shipboard rapes. Molestation of children. Mistreatment of foreign crew members. Overboard passengers and crew. Cruise line cover-ups. You can read it all here.
Three years later, CLN has now published over 1,100 articles and received over 3,200 comments from our readers. The CLN Twitter feed has over 10,000 followers, plus those who subscribe to the blog via email, RSS feed, or Google reader.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about CLN lately is the explosion of our readership on our Facebook page. Over 18,500 people have "liked" CLN's Facebook and are spreading the word.
All of the drama following the Costa Concordia disaster has driven our readership up considerably. So far this year, 724,328 people have read 2,575,675 pages of Cruise Law News.
Being popular is nice, but being influential in shaping cruise news is where the real satisfaction comes from. The national and international press have carried our message to the public You can read about the over 35 major newspapers, television and documentaries which have mentioned our firm and/or cited our blog this year, below.
Just this this week Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel quoted CLN in an article about the latest passenger overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. While Royal Caribbean was boasting that it "immediately" notified the Coast Guard, we pointed out that in truth the cruise line waited over 2 hours to do so. A few days later we were the first in the U.S. to report on a crew member who disappeared from another Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Serenade of the Seas.
The Concordia fallout led to two Congressional hearings this year which we attended and blogged from Washington D.C. about the cruise industry's strategy to bamboozle the public about the safety of cruising. (Photo above right, with members of the International Cruise Victims' organization).
"Jim Walker’s Cruise Law News adds a sobering tone to what can be an industry that sometimes gets a bit wrapped up in itself, asking and answering tough questions about current maritime matters. First on the doorstep of cruise lines when things go wrong, Walker also does not hesitate to jump into the conversation when passengers have unreasonable demands."
This year we have been very vocal about the sad state of affairs of the cruise industry post Costa Concordia, as well as the plight of families of missing loved ones on cruise ships. Below is a video from Australia's Dateline regarding the disturbing disappearance of Disney youth counselor Rebecca Coriam from the Bahamian-flagged Disney Wonder. This is a case where, in my opinion, the Bahamian police and the Disney corporation have stonewalled the grieving family at every turn.
A heartfelt thanks to the readers of this blog. Many thanks to those I don't know but who send me anonymous tips about things that the cruise lines are trying to cover up.
Finally, thanks to everyone who helps me write about "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."
One of the things about being a maritime lawyer in Miami is that when a cruise ship catches on fire or sinks, the networks will come calling for you to appear on TV.
The cruise lines usually run and hide until the drama is over. But the Miami based maritime lawyers will appear on all of the major networks as well as CNN, MSNBC and FOX News.
I have been on TV more times than that I can count - Larry King a couple of times, Fox News' Sean Hannity, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper & Erin Burnett, MSNBC, CNN Money, Court TV, ABC's 20 / 20, Nancy Grace, Dateline, Greta Van Sustern, Joe Scarborough, 48 Hours, and so forth and so on. There are a couple of other maritime lawyers in Miami who also appear regularly when things go wrong on cruise ships.
I suppose it's great publicity. There you are on national television. Wow, you must be smart or famous or important or something. It looks very official. There you are with the cable news logo behind you with your face on one side of a split screen with a big time television interviewer on the other side.
But the truth is a little different. Unless you are actually on the production set across from the interviewer (like Larry King Live, which was great fun), you are usually being interviewed at a remote location where you are stuffed into a little closet of a room with a microphone under your tie and an audio piece in your ear with a big camera pointing at you and a tiny TV monitor in front of you.
Perched on a little uncomfortable seat staring at a 13 inch monitor trying to think of something intelligent to say to several million viewers is not always easy.
It can be disorienting the first time you do a remote interview. There is an audio delay of several seconds between when you or the interviewer talk and when the voices are heard on television. So you run the risk of confusing yourself if you watch the monitor. There you are talking away but the monitor shows you just sitting there. You have to understand that what you are watching is a couple of seconds behind real time.
I have to admit that I love it. It comes naturally to me. There is no shortage of cruise news and I have no shortage of opinions.
But the production is all smoke and mirrors.
So when you see me next time on TV, don't be impressed. Remember that I am sitting on a stool somewhere in a tiny room alone trying to hear the question through a crappy little plastic earpiece while looking at a tiny little TV screen.
Cruise Law News has been on line since September 2009. We have several thousand people who subscribed via e-mail, RSS or Google Reader. A little over !0,000 people have followed us on Twitter over the last three years. Most of the subscribers and Twitter followers are from the U.S. with many travel agents, cruise planners, and regular cruisers reading the blog.
But our readership has changed dramatically over the last several months. In June, I started posting information regularly on Cruise Law News' facebook page. I've added lots of stories and photos which are not in my blog.
Since June, over 13,000 people have liked us on facebook. The majority of the new readers are from Europe, South America and India. From Europe, we have seen an unprecedented number of people from Romania, Serbia and Croatia liking us. Many are crew members or former crew members. We receive more comments to our face book page than on my blog.
"There are a lot of web sites around with cruise information. The king daddy of all is probably Cruise Critic, with tens of thousands of members, ship reviews that even offers the ability to price cruises from a variety of sources, a great first step before contacting a travel agent for serious planning. USA Today brings the power of a major international publication to cruise information with Gene Sloan at the helm covering breaking news alike a blanket. But some smaller, lesser-known sites are making a big impact with unique content worth a look, if not a bookmark, free subscription and daily visit."
Chris' first pick is Phil Reimer’s Ports and Bows. Mr. Reimer is the cruise expert for newspapers in Canada. I have to check him out.
Number 2 is Doug Parker’s Cruise Radio. Doug hosts a fast paced and popular weekly Internet cruise radio broadcast with co-host Matt Basford. These guys have invited me on their show a couple of times when they want to tell their lawyer jokes.
I'm last of the three, but beggars can't be choosers. Here's Chris' write up of my blog:
"Jim Walker’s Cruise Law News adds a sobering tone to what can be an industry that sometimes gets a bit wrapped up in itself, asking and answering tough questions about current maritime matters. First on the doorstep of cruise lines when things go wrong, Walker also does not hesitate to jump into the conversation when passengers have unreasonable demands."
Thanks for the mention Chris! This is the first time in many years anyone has said that I'm sober . . .
Designed to require greater transparency from the cruise lines in reporting shipboard crimes, the new cruise safety law was watered down to require the disclosure of only those alleged crimes which the cruise lines reported to the FBI and the FBI then closed.
This altered language was designed to cover up the majority of crimes on cruise ships. Before the new cruise safety law came into effect, the FBI was known for its disinterest in investigating crimes on cruise ships. For those few crimes it investigated, the FBI solved few of them. It also seemed to never close their files even when in truth it was not doing anything to investigate the crimes. By altering the language of the law, the cruise lines knew that it would keep the actual number of crimes under wraps.
The cruise lines deny that they were involved in the cover-up. And so far Congressman Kerry's office (who was instrumental in passing the new law) is pointing to the FBI and Coast Guard as requesting the change. Here's what the L.A. Times is saying:
"The FBI and the Coast Guard had asked Congress for wording that means, under the law, that the public only is allowed to be told about the number of closed cases that are no longer being investigated.
That’s just about 180 degrees opposite what law enforcement agencies do on land: All reported crimes are public record, not just those under investigation or resolved.
See how insidious such a policy can be?
If we heard only about the LAPD’s closed cases, nobody would have heard of the Black Dahlia, and the recent murders of two USC graduate students from China might not be public knowledge. Women in South L.A. wouldn’t have been told to be on alert for the "Teardrop Rapist," who has raped nearly three dozen women in the course of about 15 years, one as recently as last month.
This kind of result is hardly what a law called the "Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act" sounds like it was meant to achieve. Turns out, the security and safety being protected here are the economic security and fiscal safety of cruise lines."
The question at this point is not whether there was a behind-the-scenes cover-up, but who in addition to the FBI and Coast Guard were engaged in the cover-up. Were the cruise lines and their trade organization, Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), involved? Of course, but they would never admit it. But why would the FBI alone take such steps, which as the L.A. Times concludes, were designed to protect the "economic security and fiscal safety of cruise lines" and not the passengers victimized on cruise ships?
With an industry known for its secrecy, it will take some time before the ugly truth comes out. But it eventually will. The public will then see that the cruise lines and their CLIA representatives worked overtime with federal agencies against transparency. For the time being, they were successful in thwarting the democratic process and turning the cruise safety law into a joke.
Salon Magazine published a blockbuster article today about how the FBI gutted a cruise safety law designed to protect the cruising public.
The article states that the grassroots International Cruise Victims (ICV) association worked for years with Congress to pass, on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act. The new cruise law required the FBI to post incidents of cruise ship crimes on an internet database maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
But shortly before the act passed into law, the FBI inserted language which watered the reporting requirements down to the point that the database is worthless. Before the law passed, each year hundreds of rapes and violent crimes on cruise ships were reported by the cruise lines. Now, only a handful are reported. For some quarters, nothing is reported.
Was the cruise industry behind the changes to the cruise safety bill?
The article points to the incestuous relationship between the FBI and the cruise lines which hire former FBI officials to maintain a cozy relationship with the FBI. Although the new cruise safety law was designed to force greater transparency from the cruise lines, the FBI's manipulation of the bill results in just the the opposite result - greater secrecy and opportunity for the cruise lines to cover the crimes up.
The bottom line? The cruising public is kept from reviewing the true crime statistics. And the cruise lines and some travel agents use the bogus database to advertise that cruising is safe!
The article quotes ICV CEO Ken Carver, President Jamie Barnett, (photo, in Washington D.C.) and board member (and our client) Laurie Dishman.
Cruise expert Ross Klein, who has testified before Congress several times, is also mentioned.
The article refers to a couple of articles from Cruise Law News as well.
The behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the FBI and its friends frustrated the democratic process and the hard work of the ICV organization. But one thing is certain, the ICV under the leadership of CEO Carver and President Barnett will keeping working until the original language is back in the cruise safety law.
Photo credit: Ken Carver and Jamie Barnett - by Jim Walker
Walker & O'Neill maritime lawyers in Miami handle cases exclusively cases against cruise lines.
Our firm has handled many high profile cases involving cruise ship fires, sexual assaults against women and children, and disappearances of passengers and crew around the world. We routinely represent passengers across the United States in serious injury cases, against Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
Jim Walker and Lisa O'Neill are both cum laude graduates from Duke University where they met 34 years ago. Jim attended Tulane Law School in New Orleans and has practiced maritime law since 1983. Lisa was a member of law review at the University of Florida Law School and has practiced law since 1985.
In the last couple months alone, the firm has appeared on numerous international television program and cruise documentaries. Jim was featured on ABC's 20/20 special on the Costa Concordia disaster. He appeared on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Sea" about passengers and crew members disappearing from cruise ships. Last month, Jim was featured on PBS's documentary "Disasters at Sea: Why Ships Sink" which looked at cruise disasters from the Titanic's sinking in 1912 to the current date. Here are what people are saying about Jim:
"Top Maritime Lawyer" - ABA Journal.
"Top Cruise Lawyer" - USA Today.
"Prominent Private Practice Maritime Attorney" - Fox News.
"Prominent Cruise Plaintiff Attorney" - Law.com (America Law Media)
In addition to a full time trial practice against cruise lines, the firm publishes this cruise law blog, which is the most popular maritime law and personal injury blog in the world (per AVVO / Alexa rankings). Cruise Law News ("Everything the Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know") has been described as a "Hard-Hitting Blog" by Miami's Daily Business Review.
If you or your family suffered a serious injury during a cruise, don't hire a lawyer who practices "cruise law" on a part time basis. Contact the Cruise Law attorneys in Miami and let us be your advocates.
If you have a situation to discuss, email us right away: email@example.com
NBC Bay Area reports that Congress is pointing the finger at the the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard for watering down a cruise crime law on behalf of the cruise lines to make it easier for the cruise industry to withhold statistics about crime at sea from the American public.
The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010 was intended to provide greater transparency regarding the number of cruise ship crimes which occur on cruise ships each year. The FBI has previously stated that over 400 serious crimes occur a year on cruise ships leaving U.S. ports.
However, last minute maneuvers by the FBI and Coast Guard on behalf of the cruise lines altered the bill so that only crimes "no longer under investigation” by the FBI would be reported in the public database.
Crimes not reported to the FBI, and therefore no longer under investigation, don't have to be disclosed to the public. This encourages the cruise lines to engage in cover-ups, which was the problem which the new law was intended to correct.
The result of the alteration of the law is that only a few crimes are reported to the public rather than the hundreds which actually occur.
Ken Carver, CEO of the International Cruise Victims Association, spent months trying to figure out how the bill was altered. He learned that the Senator who introduced the law, John Kerry, agreed to permit the law to be altered.
Mr. Carver said he's disappointed that the agencies he’d worked with to make crime statistics more transparent are to blame for the radical changes to the cruise crime law.
"We do feel betrayed there has been a close relationship built up over the years between the Coast Guard, FBI and cruise lines," Carver said. "Why did they want to change it so that instead of working to protect the U.S. citizens it protected the cruise line industry?"
When I created Cruise Law News back in September 2009, my goal was to raise awareness of safety issues on cruise ships. I wanted my articles to be interesting and, perhaps, provocative in order to spark debate about the cruise industry with the goal of making cruising safer for both passengers and crew.
Back then I really didn't care (and still don't today) whether readers agree or disagree with me. I care only that you have an opinion about issues like cruise ship crimes, people who vanish at sea, and exploitation of foreign crewmembers. These are dramatic issues and deserve an energetic debate.
My thought process about cruise issues has changed over the years. Some of my opinions have hardened, while other opinions have softened. I especially value the dialogue that I has developed with the "enemy" - those readers of my blog "in the industry" - cruise fans, cruise employees and travel agents. Not many cruise fans agree with me, but that's not my goal.
One thing I do like tracking is the number of people who write hate mail. I know that's a weird thing to do. The most hate mail comes after I write or appear on TV about crimes on cruise ships or in ports of call. It's the one subject that freaks travel agents out.
It's easy to spot the cruise line shills because they leave their IP address when they comment. I can't tell who reads my blogs but if you leave a comment here's a secret - I can see the IP address of your server. Its funny when an "anonymous" reader from Carnival or Royal Caribbean flames me (yes it happens). I know that I am on target.
Negative emails to me outnumber positive ones by a 3 to 1 ratio. Few people write just to say "good job, have a nice day." I find that many people in life are primarily motivated by anger when their interests are being challenged. If someone is going to take the time to write me, they are usually angry about something I wrote or said about their cruise line or their business of selling cruises. They are going to let me know about it.
"I don’t always agree with Mr. Walker’s views but of course that’s not the point. Cruise Law News highlights passenger safety and reminds us of the realities of cruising."
Thanks Ship Detective. You have precisely articulated the purpose of my little blog. For that I am appreciative.
Here's the article:
"As much as I avoid listening to attorneys who advertise or promote themselves publicly, I did subscribe to the Cruise Law News feed, published by Jim Walker, a maritime attorney based in Miami. I didn’t want to like this guy, Jim Walker, and in my mind labeled him an opportunist lawyer in-search-of business.
Now I’m feeling a bit of shame for not giving Mr. Walker the benefit of the doubt, instead slapping a negative label on him as a guy who wanted to dramatize every maritime incident just to stir the pot. After a few months of reading his posts, I found Mr. Walker to be level-headed, even-tempered and he encourages cruise ship passengers to question authority. The commentary is informative, sometimes dramatic, and applicable to the culture of cruising - something we highlight considerably on our website. I don’t always agree with Mr. Walker’s views but of course that’s not the point. Cruise Law News highlights passenger safety and reminds us of the realities of cruising.
Thank you Mr. Walker for your valuable insight. Your posts keep track of all the legal goings-on in the cruise industry and helps me tremendously with my daily search for cruise news.
So readers, stay informed and check-out the Cruise Law News blog. Knowledge is power!
The Seattle Times published an article today raising the issue of whether cruising is really safer, and crime reporting more transparent, following the passage of the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act which came into effect this year. The article is Concerns Linger About Cruise Line Safety.
The article was written by Christopher Elliott. Mr. Elliott interviewed me, Ken Carver - the Chairman of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, and David Pelkin - a spokesperson for the cruise line's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).
The CLIA spokesperson dodged the question. But my thoughts about the issue, as well as those of ICV President Carver, came through loud and clear.
The language of the new cruise safety law was watered down by the cruise lines to the point that reporting crimes alleged on cruise ships is less transparent than ever. Mr.Elliott writes:
"The International Cruise Victims Association's Carver is also skeptical of the crime statistics. He alleges that the actual number of crimes is hundreds of times higher. "That's the most disappointing part of the new law," he says. "The statistical database is largely incomplete."
The problem is a clever loophole in the law, which stipulates that the FBI doesn't have to include open files in crime statistics. As long as a case isn't closed, it doesn't get reported. "Many travel agents are now marketing cruises by referring their clients to the Coast Guard database for the proposition that there are virtually no crimes at all on cruise ships," Walker adds. "It makes a mockery of the law."
The Miami Herald reports today that Florida's cruise ports are booming.
A report from the Florida Ports Council shows that Florida leads the nation in cruise operations. 13.5 million passengers embarked on cruises leaving Florida in 2011. This figure accounts for 60 percent of all U.S. cruise embarkations.
The combination of the Port of Miami, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral lead the nation in cruise passengers. Cruise passengers also cruise from Tampa and Jacksonville.
The majority of these cruise are with Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean cruises lines. All of these cruise lines require that any lawsuits or sexual assaults which occur on cruise ships be filed in Miami Florida. All cruise lines have what are called "forum selection" clauses in the passenger tickets. The Miami based cruise lines like Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean list United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida as the only location where a lawsuit must be filed.
The United States Supreme Court addressed this issue and held that forum clauses in Miami are enforceable. In Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585, 593-96, 111 S. Ct. 1522, l527-28, 113 L. Ed. 2d 622, 631-33 (1991), a passenger from Oregon was injured during a Carnival cruise which left a port in California which sailed to Mexico. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the case which the passenger filed in Oregon.
This year there have been several well publicized lawsuits filed against Carnival, Costa and Royal Caribbean filed in either Houston / Galveston or New York. All of these lawsuits will be dismissed because they were filed in the wrong courthouse. Carnival and Royal Caribbean must be filed in federal court in Miami, and Costa cases (sailing from the US) must be filed in federal court in Ft. Lauderdale.
Our firm is one of the best known firms in the world representing passengers and crew members injured or the victims of crime on cruise ships sailing from Florida or other ports around the world.
Walker & O'Neill and their cruise clients have appeared in documentaries, television and radio programs and in newspapers about cruise accidents and crimes well over 100 times. Jim Walker and Lisa O'Neill are both cum laude graduates of Duke University. Jim graduated from Tulane law school in New Orleans. Lisa is a cum laude graduate from law school at the University of Florida where she was a member of law review. They have combined experience of over 56 years.
After publishing Cruise Law News for the past two and one-half years, I decided to create a second blog: "Maritime Lawyer." It will cover maritime issues and events which don't involve cruise ships. I registered MaritimeLawyer.com long, long ago and will be using that domain for the new blog.
My friends at LexBlog are going to create and host the new blog. The LexBlog people created this blog. It has been far more successful and influential than I ever dreamed possible. Per Alexa, Cruise Law News (CLN) is ranked number 12 in the U.S. / Canada in terms of popularity of law blogs. There is only one other law blog published by a practicing lawyer (another LexBlog client, China Law Blog) ahead of CLN in terms of popularity (for what that's worth).
This year alone, CLN has been cited by a diverse group of media organizations, from tabloid bloggers like Perez Hilton to serious journalists like the reporters at the Wall Street Journal, PBS and Newsweek. CLN has led me to appearing on CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett, ABC's 20/20, NOVA, BBC Radio and Australia's Dateline in just the last three months. Our articles range from serious investigations into news the cruise line don't want you to know, to mundane legal issues about cruise law, to the bizarre, odd & weird things that happen on cruise ships.
My new blog will take a look into the larger world of maritime law of which cruise law is a small part. If the story involves a cruise ship, you will find it on CLN. But if a tugboat, tanker, trawler, bulk carrier, sailboat, yacht or fishing boat is involved, Maritime Lawyer will cover the story.
I will be also posting my maritime articles on a new Maritime Lawyer facebook page. This will be the first article posted on that new page. I have 6 "likes" so far on the facebook page; pretty pitiful. Drop by, "like" us, and post a comment.
Let us know what type of maritime stories you want us to cover . . . .
One of the interesting things about having a website or blog is that it is easy to see how many people are clicking on your site and reading your stuff.
Google Analytics is an easy (and free) program that lets me see how many people visit Cruise Law News, how long they stay and how many pages they look at. It interesting to see where the readers are based and what page they look at.
The analytics program has been around for years.
For the first four months of this year, 392,335 unique visitors have made 470,053 visits and looked at 1,385,586 pages. The Costa Concordia disaster brought in a number of new readers.
All types of statistics are available. One of the more interesting statistics is how many people are reading Cruise Law News blog on a regular basis as opposed to randomly appearing from search engine results and quickly leaving.
22,904 people have read the blog 9 or more times in the last four months. So I have a small town of people who are reading it over 2 times a month.
The most interesting statistic is that 2,296 people have each read Cruise Law News over 200 times since the beginning of the year. That's more than once a day for the past four month. Many leave comments or call or email me with tips for stories.
I'd like to think that Cruise Law News is providing information and a perspective that you can't anywhere else. Maybe, maybe not. Our motto is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know . . . "
If you are a daily reader, take a moment and leave a comment about what you like (and dislike) about the blog. Are there topics about the cruise industry which I am overlooking? Are there regular readers who would like to write a guest blog?
Be sure to subscribe by entering your email address in the box at the left, or sign up for our RSS feed. Like our facebook page too.
As this year comes to a close, it's time to look back at some of events of 2011.
Last year started out with a bang. Our firm represented a seriously injured crewmember in a case against Royal Caribbean. Our client sustained a debilitating back injury, underwent an unsuccessful surgery, and needed a second surgery which the cruise line refused to provide. In January, a three member arbitration panel found that Royal Caribbean's refusal to provide the surgery "lacked any reasonable defense" and awarded the crewmember $1,250,000. You can read the decision here.
The award was featured in Miami's Daily Business Review, which you can read here. It is the highest reported arbitration award for an injured crewmember to date.
In ten days, we will begin a trial against Royal Caribbean on behalf of another crewmember who suffered a severe back injury, underwent an unsuccessful surgery and needs a second operation which the cruise line refuses to authorize. Sound familiar? Check back in a couple of weeks for the results of our first trial in 2012.
Shortly after the Royal Caribbean award, we received bad news when a federal judge in Miami summarily ended one of our cases against Royal Caribbean where a young woman was severely injured while receiving private lessons on a FlowRider and underwent four surgeries. The cruise line tried to end the case based on a "liability waiver" which passengers are required to sign before participating in FlowRider activities as well as rock climbing, skating and other activities. Liability waivers are illegal in maritime cases. To our surprise the court granted the cruise line's motion, notwithstanding a federal statute clearly stating that liability waivers on the high seas are unenforceable.
The decision sent a shock wave through the Miami maritime legal community because liability waivers in maritime matters have been unenforceable for decades. The defense lawyers for the cruise lines were giddy. They spoke openly of requiring cruise passengers to sign liability waivers for everything from playing shuffleboard to exercising in the gym to swimming in the cruise ship's pool. We appealed. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the lower court's ruling and held that cruise line liability waivers are illegal and unenforceable, even if they involve ultra-hazardous or inherently dangerous activities. The decision is a great result that will protect cruise passengers for years to come.
The past year included the usual number of stories of cruise ship drug smuggling, sexual assaults, shipboard malpractice, serious injuries and passengers and crew disappearing under suspicious circumstances - everything the cruise lines don't want you to know about.
2011 was the first full year where our co-counsel Jonathan Aronson worked with us on cases. Mr. Aronson was one of the best maritime attorneys in Florida who used to defend cases for Royal Caribbean until he switched sides to representing passengers and crewmembers. The cruise line spent a small fortune trying to disqualify him and our firm from representing clients against it. It lost. We won. And most importantly, our clients benefited from having an excellent and highly experienced maritime attorney join our team.
Our blog, Cruise Law News (CLN), enjoyed another popular year, ending up the number 11 most popular law blog per the Avvo/Alexa rankings. This month over 53,000 people read over 156,000 pages of CLN. Here are some of the cruise highlights and lowlifes CLN covered:
Its been another exciting week in the world of cruising.
Over 50,000 cruise passengers arrived or departed aboard eight ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale yesterday, setting a new world record for most people entering/leaving a port according to the Sun Sentinel. The newspaper reports that the Oasis of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Carnival Miracle, Grand Princess, Crown Princess, Eurodam and MSC Poesia were in port.
The Oasis of the Seas also made the news with a report that 54 passengers and 10 employees reported being sick with an undisclosed illness. The cruise line said that the cruise ship will undergo a "thorough cleaning" as a precaution before it's next sailing, whatever that means.
Speaking of undisclosed cruise ship illnesses, one passenger is dead and 80 sick on the HAL Veendam when it reached Brazil. HAL immediately said the death has nothing to do with the shipboard illnesses. HAL' s PR department must be some kind of experts in epidemiology and forensic medicine to make such a finding without even conducting an autopsy.
The LA Times reports that the U.S. Coast Guard medevaced a 77 year old passenger showing signs of a stroke. She was evacuated from the Carnival Spirit cruise ship by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from San Diego 230 miles southwest of San Diego on Saturday. You can watch the amazing video of the rescue here.
The usual number of cruise passengers were foolish enough to buy pot in the Caribbean where one island will sell you reefer and the next island will fine you several thousands of dollars which the U.S. tourists are happy to pay to avoid a year or two in jail. You can read about the fun and games here and here.
Cruise fans are still debating whether its safe to travel to Mexico, but no one in the U.S. except Cruise Law News is reporting on stories like this where 6 armed rob a jewelry store in Puerto Vallarta across from the cruise terminal when HAL cruise passengers are walking around in the shopping square. This comes couple weeks after a shoot-out in Cabo San Lucas, another story the cruise lines and travel agents won't mention.
Shhh, don't alarm the cruise tourists, its bad for business.
Turning overseas to the U.K., many British citizens are still fuming that Cunard decided to end its relationship with Britain and elected to register its cruise ships in Bermuda. Mail Online published an interesting photo today of the Queen Elizabeth no longer bearing the port of "Southampton" on its stern and about to be painted with "Hamilton," the capital of Bermuda.
Cunard claims that it did this in order for its ship captains to marry passengers at sea. Most people believe that Cunard choose a flag of convenience in order to avoid British and European wage and labor laws.
The Seattle Post reports that starting December 1st cruise ships will be prohibited from discharging wastewater into a protected marine sanctuary off the outer coast of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers 2,408 square nautical miles and provides a habitat to many species of fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Our family spent time kayaking up there last summer. Its great news that an environmental group is keeping the cruise ship pee and poop out of the sanctuary.
November has been a record month for Cruise Law News ("CLN"). Over 70,000 people read over 200,000 pages. Outside the U.S., the most readers of CLN are from (in order) Canada, the U.K., Australia, Mexico and India.
This year we stayed in Miami. Lots of family members and friends came over. Kids splashing in the pool is a fun backdrop to turkey day. We had a blast.
We have a lot to be thankful for, like my great aunt Anita, just 89 years old, and my in-laws Dr. O'Neill and Ms. O'Neill, who are approaching their mid-80's, and my Mom who is only 79, and is getting around pretty good now that she lives here in South Florida with us. The words lively, active, brisk, and vigorous come to mind whenever I see them.
We are thankful for our children who are healthy. My oldest son finished his second homemade skateboard and took off this afternoon with me yelling at him to buckle his helmet. My youngest son trounced me one-on-one in basketball. When I demanded a re-match, he shut me out in front of the elders who seemed to be cheering for the youngest in the family. I'm not even going to try and take my older son on. When did they get taller, faster, and can shoot better than me?
I am thankful for my wife (and law partner). I'm blessed to be with someone who's not only a heck of a lot smarter than me but who can cook for 23 without stressing out a bit. Yes, that's her, standing where she should be - in the middle.
I am thankful for my co-counsel Jonathan Aronson and his wife Ilene who have been a constant support for our firm, and me personally, day in and day out.
I am thankful for my brother and sister and their families, who couldn't be with us this year, but are in my thoughts every day.
We are thankful for our clients who live across the U.S. and all over the world. We are blessed to have clients from the U.K., Germany, Russia, Croatia, Serbia, India, Honduras, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Bahamas, South Africa and Mexico. (If I have forgotten someone's home country please email me and give me a hard time.)
Take a moment on this day of Thanksgiving and be thankful for your family and friends. Count your blessings.
This past month has seen a number of incredible stories about the cruise industry.
TOXIC CRUISE WATER? The Sunday Times in London published a blockbuster article about a British paint inspector, Brian Bradford, who was kicked off a NCL cruise ship after complaining about health risks which may be posed to cruise passengers and crew by a Hempel paint coating which was applied to potable water tanks on NCL and Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Whistle blower Bradford was hit with a "super injunction" to gag him from talking about the by the paint or discussing anything about his inspection of the cruise ships in question.
Its really amazing how corporations can endanger the public and then use their lawyers to cover the danger up.
The only ones to report on the story have been cruise expert Ross Klein in Canada and the British press. We are the only one talking about it here in the U.S. Most U.S. newspapers (the LA Times and NY Times being the exceptions) are in the hip pocket of the cruise lines. They accept cruise advertising revenue and publish colorful travel sections in their newspapers about the joys of cruising, but they look the other way when the cruise lines screw up. Our local newspaper, the Miami Herald, is absolutely the pits. But this story is far from over. It is only a matter of time before someone in the U.S. other than our small blog pays attention to it.
DISNEY COVER-UP? The other blockbuster article was by another British newspaper, the Guardian, which published a story about missing Disney Cruise youth counselor Rebecca Coriam. The article was featured in the newspaper's weekend edition with a photo of the Wonder cruise ship (below) on the cover. The article was written by U.K. journalist, documentary filmmaker, and best selling author Jon Ronson who sailed on the Wonder for a week to gather information. For a cruise line that supposedly caters to children and families, its disturbing to think that Disney is more concerned with its Magical Kingdom illusion than the distraught Coriam family.
ANOTHER CRUISE LINE HIDES BEHIND DOHSA: The most read article this month was from a guest blogger, a mother who wrote about the death of her three year old daughter in HAL's Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. Most cruise passengers do not understand that there is no recovery for pain, suffering, grief and bereavement when a cruise line's negligence kills a child.
JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL CRUISE VICTIMS ("ICV"): If these type of stories concern you, consider joining the ICV which is a grass roots victims' organization consisting of families of passengers and crewmembers who have been injured or lost at sea during cruises. You can read about the ICV here.
GOOD NEWS FOR CRUISE LAW NEWS ("CLN"): Our readership continues to grow. So far this month, over 44,000 unique readers clicked on our blog and read over 127,000 pages. If statistics mean anything, CLN ranks as the 12th most popular law blog according to AVVO/Alexa. I'm convinced that people flock to our blog because there simply is no place else to read stories about cruising that the cruise lines don't want you know about.
If you have a story you want us to cover, let us hear from you.
This month marks the two year anniversary of the first publication of Cruise Law News ("CLN").
My first blog was back on September 7, 2009. Since then I have written around 700 blogs about all types of disturbing and weird things that happen on cruise ships.
As I predicted two years ago, cruise lines and travel agents cringe daily at the articles. But hopefully, you have learned about issues that the cruise industry PR machine and the happy-go-lucky cruise fanatics don’t want you to know. And hopefully you are safer in the process.
In the past two years, the public has read over 1,300,000 pages of CLN. My little blog is currently ranked as the 13th most popular law blog per the AVVO / Alexa ranking system, for what that's worth. 1,630 people have taken the time to leave a comment, some negative and some pro.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Here are some of my favorite articles over the last two years:
Best article with the word "sex" in the title: Marketing "Sex at Sea" on Cruise Ships (includes my favorite photo of a cruise line executive, in bed with booze surrounded by women with the Royal Caribbean logo across their bikini tops??)
Cruise ship issues in Europe dominated the world of cruise news this week.
An explosion in the engine room of the Nordlys cruise ship, operated by Hurtigruten, resulted in a fire and the evacuation of the ship off of Norway. Half of the 200 or so passengers were evacuated in lifeboats and the other half got off the cruise ship when the vessel was towed to port. All passengers were safe but unfortunately two 2 crewmembers died and many were injured.
Whenever a cruise ship explodes or catches on fire, there is always a cruise / travel columnist who feels compelled to publish an article insisting that such cruise calamities are rare. This time it was Jane Archer, a cruise fan and columnist who writes for the Telegraph Travel. Her puff piece article Hurtigruten Fire: How Safe is Your Cruise? claims that "incidents like this are few and far between."
The problem with this claim is that just last year an engine room fire caused the evacuation of over 600 passengers and crew in Norwegian waters.
That incident involved the German cruise ship Deutschland. And just last November a cruise ferry, the Pearl of Scandinavia, erupted in fire off of Norway while filled with cars and passengers (photo left).
The other big development in Europe involved the parents of missing Disney Cruises youth counselor Rebecca Coriam meeting with the U.K. Shipping Minister to discuss enacting legislation to permit the U.K. to become involved in the investigation when British citizens disappear on foreign flagged cruise ship around the world. Mike and Ann Coriam of Chester England are understandably upset with the lack of information from the cruise line and the single policeman from the Bahamas who is charged with investigating the disappearance.
While the Coriam family was working to make cruising safer for the U.K. public, another cruise passenger disappeared from the Fred Olsen Balmoral cruise ship. Last year, the Balmoral was dubbed the "Cursed Cruise Ship of the High Seas" following a series of norovirus bouts which sickened hundred of passengers and crew. We reported on the unexplained disappearance of another passenger from the Balmoral last year. The Balmoral also narrowly averted disaster when it was attacked by pirates last year.
On a lighter personal note, the season finally started for my younger son's JV football team. Gulliver was trounced by rival Belen Jesuit, but my son got to play running back, split end and corner back. He ran across the field and got a big hit on Belen's running back at the one yard line to save the touchdown. Watch the play to the end!
The big news this week is the sad story of the sinking of the Bulgaria cruise ship on the Volga river. The 1955 era ship was considered a rust bucket. On the day in question, it sailed with a malfunctioning engine, listing to one side, and overloaded with passengers. When a storm turned the ship sideways, the captain could not right the vessel and it rolled and sank. Over 100 people perished, mostly women and children. The international press is calling the tragedy the Russian Titanic.
Royal Caribbean is placing pressure on the city of Key West to dredge and fill a path through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in order to widen the shipping lane into the harbor to accommodate its Genesis class of cruise ships, according to the Key Noter newspaper. If the channel is not widened, the cruise line threatens to bypass Key West and head straight to Mexico. However, dredging will destroy coral and sea fan resources. Currently, some 800,000 cruise passengers unload into Key West every year. Some residents expressed concern that adding even more cruise tourists from mega ships like the Allure and the Oasis will degrade the overall experience of visiting Key West and turn it into an "amusement park like atmosphere," transforming Duval Street into "redneck Disney World meets Myrtle Beach."
Regarding firm news, Cruise Radio interviewed me regarding a legal case. Cruise Law News is the number 15th most popular law blog per the Alexa / Avvo rankings. AOL Travel / Gadling published an article - "Death by Cruise Ship? It Can Come in Several Ways" which mentioned our firm. The article cited our series on the disappearance of George Smith and featured a video of me on the Scarborough show. Wow, did I lose a lot of hair in the past six years.
Yesterday I bought a Blackberry PlayBook. Small and compact and new to the market, the PlayBook is supposed to compete with the iPad 2. Its screen is only 3 and 1/2 by 6 inches. It has everything on it. I can blog, prepare legal pleadings, and email outside of the office. The PlayBook also has a camera which takes crystal clear photos and video.
This is the first blog I have written away from my office or home office.
I will be traveling on vacation with my family for the next three weeks and I wanted to be sure to have a notebook that was tethered to my Blackberry handheld and the office computers. The PlayBook seems to be the right choice. I tried the iPad 2 but it would not support my blogging platform. The PlayBook works great. I can use the touchscreen keypad or a larger wireless keypad.
Even though I will be on the road for the next three weeks, there will be no interruption of Cruise Law News articles. So please stay in touch. If you know about an interesting issue involving the cruise industry, please contact me. Let me turn your tip into a story that a hundred thousand people will read.
Things are suppose to slow down in the summer, but there are no signs of that yet.
Royal Caribbean recenty tried to muzzle a Miami lawyer who issued a press release about a cruise line case scheduled for trial in November. Gagging lawyers from talking to the pubic requires introducing substantial evidence establishing that the parties will not receive a fair trial. The risk of trying to quiet a critic runs the risk of looking like a bully. Not a smart move. The attack on the lawyer and his disabled client just focused the public's attention on the cruise line's strong arm tactics.
Whenever I see Royal Caribbean try and muzzle the press, I think back to 2005 and 2006 when this cruise line embarked on a media campaign following the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. We represented Mr. Smith's wife, Jennifer Hagel. Royal Caribbean sent its CEO Richard Fain (photo left) and high profile media lawyer Lanny Davis (photo below right) onto the cable news shows to influence public opinion.
Why should any local Miami lawyer be muzzled when this cruise line sends its CEO and high profile lawyers from Washington D.C. onto TV programs to discuss legal controversies?
Speaking of RCCL, the Oasis of the Seas intercepted 7 Cuban rafters, who are back in Cuba after the cruise line turned them over to the U.S. Coast Guard. Very strange that a company incorporated in Liberia which flies the flag of the Bahamas is acting like a branch of the U.S. Coast Guard responsible for sending rafters back to Cuba. This is the fourth time a Royal Caribbean cruise ship "rescued" Cubans fleeing to the U.S. in the last 6 months.
Princess Cruises' Sea Princess has been in the news, too. There have been reports of norovirus on the cruise ship during the last four cruises. The cruise line has again blamed the passengers for bringing the virus aboard and then spreading it around. The Centers for Disease control state that the most likely cause of norovirus in most cases is contaminated food or water, but cruise lines like Princess always blame the passengers. Those dirty passengers, if they would only wash their hands. Since when did cruise PR representatives rather than epidemiologists determine the cause of viral outbreaks?
Speaking of dirty, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 failed a surprise sanitation inspection conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC found the luxury liner to have "extremely dirty" water and tile in a pool, human hair in an ice machine, and chemicals stored near napkins, paper cups and utensils. The CDC report used the word "filthy" five times. Oh, that filthy Mary!
The Carnival Glory, meanwhile today scored her second perfect sanitation score - a 100. This time it was issued by Canadian authorities; the week before it was by the CDC.
This past week has been a busy time for our firm with many international news stories being published about the cruise industry.
Our firm is off and running with our advertising in Jamaica. We spent Sunday fielding questions from prospective clients in response to our ads in local Sunday newspapers. We are in discussions with advertisers in other Caribbean countries where injured and disabled crewmembers are abandoned by Miami-based cruise lines.
Our firm received a fair amount of press in the last week. We were quoted in the Los Angles Times (discussed below) regarding a major cruise story. The South Florida Business Journal and the U.K.'s Telegraph mentioned Cruise Law News' article about the bizarre 7 hour interrogation of British passengers by the U.S. Customs and Border police.
it seems like some over-zealous Federal agents in Los Angeles mistook the geriatric British passengers on the luxury cruise ship as al-Qaida terrorists and subjected them to a nightmarish situation where the 2,000 elderly passengers underwent detailed passport checks, extensive background interviews, and biometric checks, including fingerprints of both hands and retina scans after standing in the heat for 7 hours. You can read about the misguided way our Federal government treats tourists in my blog U.S. Customs Officials Take Revenge Against Elderly British Cruise Passengers?
Turning to more serious legal news, last Friday a Federal Court Judge in Miami rejected an attempt by Oceania Cruises to limit its potential liability at no more than $65,000 for alleged damages suffered by a 13 year old child raped on the Regatta cruise ship.
Can you imagine having your child raped during a vacation cruise and then have the cruise line try to limit its liability for damages to only $65,000? Only a cruise line could handle its PR like this. You can read about the case here.
The major event this weekend involved the Los Angeles Times' article about the sad tale and continuing mystery of missing youth counselor Rebecca Coriam from the Disney Wonder cruise ship. Written by Corina Knoll, the LA Times article is entitled "Bereft Parents' Loss is as Deep as the Ocean." It contains an iconic photograph (bottom) of Rebecca's parents, Mike and Ann Coriam, standing at the dock in San Pedro as the Wonder cruise ship sailed off for another cruise to the Mexican Riviera. The Coriam family returned to Chester England with no answers regarding what happened to their daughter. You can read our article here about the many questions which remain unanswered by this disturbing case.
It amazes me that parents on the next cruise would drop off their kids to the care of youth counselors on the Disney cruise ship, after one of the counselors "vanished" during the last cruise. How can a young woman completely "disappear" from the Magical Kingdom's cruise ship with no CCTV cameras capturing the events. Are there "blind spots" in the CCTV cameras coverage of the ship? Not a good idea on a cruise ship catering to family vacations with kids. Does Disney have a serious problem with its security cameras? Or do the cameras work just fine, but Disney is hiding information?
A disturbing issue with this latest cruise disappearance is that Disney Cruise Line is incorporated in the U.K. and Ms. Coriam is from England as well, but a single policeman from the Bahamas is involved in the "investigation" because the Disney Wonder flies a flag of convenience from that third world country. There is something wrong when a British citizen hired by a British corporation to work on a U.S. based cruise ship disappears, and no U.S. or U.K. agencies are allowed to board the cruise ship to investigate.
This suits Disney Cruise Lines just fine. They can work behind the scenes, as the policeman in the Bahamas sits in the police station in Nassau pretending to investigate what happened on a cruise ship sailing between LA and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Coriam family remains in England with no answers.
I suppose that our U.S. Federal agents in Los Angeles could do a better job investigating the case of missing British citizen Rebecca Coriam. But then again, they probably are busy harassing elderly British cruise tourists.
Today we began advertising in Jamaica, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. The ad below will begin appearing in some of the newspapers in Jamaica, and a variation will appear on some of the billboards in Jamaica.
I have been a lawyer for 28 years. I have never advertised on television, radio, newspapers or billboards. We have relied on our reputation developed over the years and recommendations from one client we have helped to the next potential client who finds himself in a similar situation.
I have always viewed "billboard lawyers" with disdain. Florida is littered with huge billboards looming over the highways advertising lawyers with 1-800 I N J U R Y telephone numbers.
I do not think I have ever seen any of these "billboard lawyers" actually in the courthouse. Probably because they don't really go to court or actually handle cases. Many of these lawyers take the calls from their 1-800 numbers and then refer the cases to other lawyers to handle. Lots of Americans point to the lawyer billboards as endemic of the so-called "litigation explosion" which many people think plagues the U.S.
Unlike the U.S., Jamaica has a culture where litigation is not encouraged. Plus there are virtually no Jamaican lawyers who advertise. Injured crewmembers are often from countries like Jamaica where few people file lawsuits, there is no legal advertising, and it is difficult to obtain basic information about your legal rights. Cruise lines often take advantage of this type of situation.
Over the next few months, Jamaicans will see our firm's name and photos on billboards, in newspapers, and on the radio throughout the country. We know first hand that there are many Jamaican men and women who dedicated their careers to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, only to be sent a one way ticket home and forgotten when they are seriously injured and can no longer work at sea. Advertising in Jamaica will help level the playing field against the cruise lines. We are educating these crewmembers regarding their right to obtain compensation here in Miami when they are disabled from cruise ship employment.
So, it is with mixed feelings that I am about to become a "billboard lawyer." But not just any "billboard lawyer." A Jamaican billboard lawyer.
But unlike U.S. billboard lawyers, you will see the lawyers in our firm in the courthouse here in Miami fighting for the rights of our clients who the cruise lines have abandoned in Jamaica.
June 28, 2011 Update: We modified our ad, with a non descript cruise ship and a different background.
This week I traveled from Miami to California to attend a hearing at the state capital building in Sacramento. California Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D - West Covina) had introduced legislation that will permit the State of California to prosecute criminals on cruise ships which call on California ports.
This is an important bill. In all states except Florida, only the FBI has jurisdiction to investigate crimes outside territorial waters and the crimes must be prosecuted only by the Federal government. Unfortunately, the FBI has a very poor track record investigating shipboard crimes and only a small fraction of such crimes are ever prosecuted.
California has addressed this problem by introducing a bill that will permit state prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against crew members and passengers who commit crimes against passengers on cruises which begin and end in California. In instances where the FBI or DOJ decline to become involved, the state of California can become involved and a state attorney can prosecute the crime.
I had the opportunity to review the bill and meet with Assemblyman Hernández. Issues were raised in opposition to the bill whether the bill was unconstitutional because it may violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly tread upon an area which was preempted by Federal law. My analysis led me to conclude that the bill was constitutional and a valid exercise of the state of California to protect individuals sailing from its ports.
Members of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization (photo left) attended the hearing. Charmian and ICV founder Ken Carver traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to discuss the disappearance of his daughter, Merrian Carver, during a cruise aboard a Celebrity cruise ship, and the failure of the Federal government to investigate the incident or prosecute the cruise line when it engaged in a cover-up .
Friend and former client Laurie Dishman (photo below) testified about her horrific experiences during a Royal Caribbean cruise, when a part time security guard (hired as a janitor/cleaner) raped her and then the cruise line forced her to remain in the crime scene for several hours. When she was finally permitted to go to ship infirmary, the ship doctor handed Laurie black garbage bags and told her to return to the cabin and collect her own evidence. Laurie explained to the Assembly how the Federal government failed her. The FBI closed its investigation within 8 hours after the cruise ship returned to port in Southern California and the Department of Justice declined to prosecute the case despite substantial evidence which should have led to a conviction of the cruise line rapist.
ICV President Jamie Barnett, told the Assembly about the circumstances of losing her daughter, Ashley, during a Carnival cruise and the indifference demonstrated by the FBI to her family's plight. (You can read about Jamie's efforts to protect the cruising public in The Compelling Story of Jamie Barnett - Living Through the Loss).
The assembly room was packed. You could hear a pin drop as Ken, Laurie and Jamie testified. Although there were technical legal concerns with the legality of the bill, the Public Safety committee of Assembly voted unanimously in support of passing the bill.
The experience reinforced a conclusion that I reached long ago. At the end of the day, legislators are less concerned with technical mumbo-jumbo legal arguments and more concerned with the compelling stories of victims appearing before them.
There are additional committees which will review the bill before it is passed into law, but this was a historic event nonetheless.
Congratulations to the ICV members and its supporting friends. A special thanks should go to Ken, Jamie, and Laurie for taking a leadership position in supporting this important bill which will make cruising safer.
Photograph credit: Jim Walker (sorry for the poor quality, photos taken on my blackberry).
California Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D - West Covina) has introduced legislation that will protect the rights of cruise ship passengers when a crime is committed against them during cruises. If passed into law, Assembly Bill 1060 will permit the State of California to prosecute criminals on cruise ships during cruises which start and end in California ports.
Cruise passengers have faced difficulty obtaining justice after they become a victim of a crime. Historically cruise lines refused to report crimes to law authorities. Crimes victims, particularly women who were raped during cruises, were left to report the crime themselves. Trying to figure out who to contact when you have been victimized in the middle of international waters was a daunting task. When cruise ships reported shipboard crimes, the reports were often late, incomplete and misleading. When passengers complained about the non-reporting or shoddy reporting, the cruise lines' response was to say "hey, we don't to report crimes in the first place."
Due to the efforts of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, cruise lines are now required to report shipboard crimes which occur on cruise ships which call on a U.S. port. Last year, President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act which requires cruise lines report crimes during cruises to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard.
The problem remains, however, with investigating and prosecuting the crimes once they are reported. The FBI's track record over the past decade of investigating cruise crimes in unimpressive. During Congressional hearings over the past five years, it has been revealed that only a very small percentage of crimes investigated by the FBI lead to arrests and prosecutions. Many victims who contact our office complain about the FBI's reluctance to investigate cruise ship sexual and physical assaults.
California Assemblyman Hernández's new bill will address this problem. In instances where the FBI decline to become involved or the federal government chooses not to prosecute a crime, the State Attorney's office may elect to prosecute the case. The state of Florida has a similar statute, although it is the only state which has taken steps to address the problem of crimes on cruises going unprosecuted.
"Cruises are intended to be a vacation at sea, and when crimes are committed on cruise ships, victims are basically held captive with their perpetrator until the ship docks," said Assembly Member Hernández. "AB 1060 provides relief for cruise ship victims who may otherwise not be able to find justice today."
Jamie Barnett, President of the ICV, issues a statement:
"ICV commends the leadership of Assembly Member Roger Hernández with the introduction of historic legislation to further protect the passengers arriving in California ports that have been a victim of a crime on a cruise ship. In addition to the new federal legislation passed last year, this important legislation will provide even greater protection and options for passengers to make sure that justice takes place when they are a victim of a crime on a cruise ship. ICV sees this legislation as being a guide to other states to better protect their passengers who arrive in their states on cruise ships."
It's official. Cruise Law is the top vote receiver in the Shorty Awards contest in crowd-sourced field of law for 2011.
For those of you who follow this blog or interact with me on Twitter, you know that I am a lawyer who believes in the power of communicating via the social media of blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
Last year I tied for first place in the law category. I then did the chivalrous thing of voting for my opponent, a lawyer in England, to break the tie. Yes I believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. This year I won in a landslide.
So what is the significance of the Shorty Awards in law? The Shorty Awards people say that the award recognizes the "best people and organizations on Twitter and social media."
Our blog is just 18 months old but has been a top 10 most popular blog for going on a year now.
If you are looking for an insight into what is happening in the off-shore, multi-national, tax avoiding, and non-sustainable cruise industry - you will find it here first.
Cruise Law News was featured today in Attorney at Law Magazine in an article by legal marketing expert Paula Black.
In her article "The Right Results," Paula writes:
"Jim Walker of Miami firm Walker & O'Neill P.A. runs the popular Cruise Law News, a blog focused solely on "breaking news and legal commentary regarding cruise ship passengers and crew members around the world." A niche practice? Yes. A smart blog? Also yes. As a result of being one of the only attorneys blogging about the topic - and the only one providing actual daily commentary - he has seen his visibility skyrocket. Jim has been featured over one hundred times on television, cable news and radio shows, as well as in documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles."
In the short time our law blog has been on line, we climbed to the number 10 most popular law blog in the U.S.!
Paula is a real pro when it comes to assisting law firms in developing business. Check out her highly regarded blog: "In Black and White."
Cruise Law News (CLN)'s readership exploded last month. In February, our followers read 100,000 pages of CLN which remains the 10th most popular law blog in the U.S. Here is what people are recently saying about Jim Walker and CLN:
"Top Maritime Lawyer" - ABA Journal.
"Top Cruise Lawyer" - USA Today.
"Prominent Private Practice Maritime Attorney" - Fox News.
"Cruise Law Expert" - Slate Magazine.
"Prominent Cruise Plaintiff Attorney" - Law.com (America Law Media).
Perpetual Pain-In-The-Cruise-Lines-Neck Jim Walker - Gadling
Cruise Law News - "A Hard-Hitting Blog" - Miami's Daily Business Review.
Last month saw the revival of the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award, won again by Royal Caribbean due to an epidemic of crew deaths and the prevalence of drugs on RCCL cruise ships, This month you will be reading a lot more about crimes associated with the Royal Caribbean cruise brand, here on the most popular maritime law website in the world.
One of the interesting things about having a blog is that there are programs which indicate how many viewers you have, how many pages they look at, and the countries where they are from.
For the first two weeks of this month alone, Cruise Law News (CLN) has been viewed over 62,000 times. We have been the tenth most popular law blog for several months now.
The number one referrer of visitors to CLN is Google (US), with other referrers via the Google search engines from the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Puerto Rico, Australia, India, Germany, Norway, Mexico and Brazil.
The number two referrer to CLN is Facebook, which surprises me. Rather than just being a place to socialize on line, we are finding that Facebook is increasingly becoming a place where news is disseminated and issues are discussed.
We created a Facebook page for CLN recently to help get the news out about things that happen on cruise ships. You can read about some of the high profile cases involving the cruise industry. You can see our photographs of some of our clients and cases here. We have a rather modest group of followers at this early date (around 200) which includes cruise passengers and crew members. It is slowly growing. With the new Facebook format, our followers can post their own links to articles as well as post photographs and upload videos.
We hope that you click the "like" button and follow CLN on Facebook. Please consider taking a moment and post a comment to one of our blog articles, or post your own interesting link to a cruise-related story.
Year 2011 began with a bang at Cruise Law News ("CLN").
CLN was the first publication in the U.S. to cover some of the most newsworthy stories about the cruise industry this year.
We started the year by pointing out that the new president (Christine Duffy) of the the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), has carried on CLIA's Pinocchio-like tradition of tall tales by telling her first lie. And it was only the third day of the new year!
Royal Caribbean's reputation of having the most passengers overboards and the least transparent PR department is alive and well n 2011. Two weeks ago, we reported that a 21 year old passenger fell from Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas as it approached Belize. The local press in Belize speculated wildly (seemingly to RCCL's approval) that the passenger may have committed suicide (the cruise lines' favorite excuse). The U.S. newspapers (especially the worthless Miami Herald) ignored the story.
CLN was the the first U.S. publication to explain what really happened. In our artice - "Another Passenger Overboard From A Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship" - many passengers including the missing young man's family posted comments about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. We caught someone criticizing the family on our blog's comment section using a computer connection which we traced back to the Royal Caribbean headquarters. Sick!
Talking about sick cruise lines, we covered the first case of "cruise ship sickness" (CLIA hates that expression) which occurred on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas. Sixty-five passengers left comments about the experience. Yuck. The cruise line went to its PR playbook, diverted attention away from its own food and water, and blamed the passengers, as usual, for not washing their hands.
The month so far has seen CLN report on a crew member child porno addict (allegedly mind you) who worked as an audio visual manager and provided onboard guest-entertainment services on the Constellation cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's sister line Celebrity Cruises.
Yesterday, we had well over 5,000 people read our blog. Weekends are usually slower than weekdays, so 5,000 readers a day is a lot of people clicking on CLN. So far this month, over 70,000 pages of CLN have been read. We are on track for over a million people reading CLN a year. We had more readers in one day yesterday than in our first month when the blog started in September 2009!
Last week, CLN was featured on Cruise Radio, the most popular cruise related radio show in the world, about how to stay safe on cruise ships. As the host mentioned, we "gave some brutal but honest facts. It's a great reminder" about cruise ship safety. Take a listen here.
CLN is also in first place in the Shorty Awards in law. It's admittedly a faux award, but its purpose is to recognize the "best people and organizations on Twitter and social media."
The state of the union for Cruise Law News - is strong! We are having a lot of fun too!
It's that time of the year where the Shorty Awards honor the "best people and organizations on Twitter and social media." Throughout the month of January, people can nominate Tweeters in official categories and "crowd-sourced categories."
I am seeking votes for the #law category. For those of you who follow this blog or interact with me on Twitter, you know that I am a lawyer who believes in the power of communicating via the social media of blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
Last year I tied for first place in #law and then did the chivalrous thing and voted for my opponent, a lawyer in England, to break the tie.
To vote for me this year, click on this link and you will see a proposed tweet that says: "I nominate @CruiseLaw for a Shorty Award in #law because . . ." You have to give a reason after "because . . ." It can be a serious reason (if you have one) or a silly one (like because he asked me). But you have to give a reason or the vote will not count.
You can also vote simply by going to Twitter and tweeting "I nominate @CruiseLaw for a Shorty Award in #law because . . ." (and then give a reason).
CLN also became a "top cruise vacation influencer," which consists of cruise lines, travel agents, and cruise fans who dominate social media affecting the cruise industry. I'm sure having a maritime personal injury lawyer in the top 10 drives the cruise industry bonkers.
Here are some of my favorite blog posts for the past year:
Best article with the word "sex" in the title: Marketing "Sex at Sea" on Cruise Ships (includes my favorite photo of a cruise line executive, in bed with booze surrounded by women with the Royal Caribbean logo across their bikini tops??)
The month of November ended with a bang. Readers of Cruise Law News (CLN) viewed over 68,000 pages of our blog in November alone, roughly three and one-half times the total population of my home town in Arkansas. When I first started this blog a year ago, I barely had 5,000 pages readers a month. Since then, our readership has exploded. We have thousands of subscribers to our bog everyday, via RSS feed and email, and tens of thousands of regular readers.
The second milestone was being included in the Top 25 Cruise Vacation Influencers. This is a ranking of websites and blogs which are considered "influential" in the world of cruising, again based on certain objective metrics. CLN is currently no. 11, ahead of Princess Cruises, Holland America Lines and P & O Cruises. The interesting thing about this list is that it primarily consists of cruise lines like Carnival (no. 1), Royal Caribbean (no. 5) and NCL (no. 10) or travel agents like CruiseBuzz (no. 2) or BuyCruises (no. 3).
Being the only true cruise critic in the top 25 reflects that the public is interested in information other than the propaganda spoon fed by the cruise lines. We have many readers who are cruise line employees and crew members on ships who contact us regularly about problems they encounter and think should be made public. Passenger and crew member safety and shipboard working conditions are issues of particular interest to our readers.
The cruise industry may not agree with much of what we publish, but the cruise lines read CLN on a daily basis. When a passenger or crew member "disappears" or there is suspicious circumstances surrounding a death, they know that we will cover the story and provide a forum for passengers and crew to leave comments about what really happened.
If you are a regular reader of CLN or have left a comment on our blog over the past year, thanks! We need your input to be able to continue to provide a glimpse into what the cruise lines don't want the public to know.
For the past six months, I have been tracking the popularity of my blog Cruise Law News (CLN) on Avvo / Alexa Top Legal Blogs. When I first started looking at the rankings, CLN was the 55th most popular law blog. Today, CLN cracked Avvo's list of the top ten (10) most popular law blogs.
I started blogging in mid-September last year after joining the LexBlog family. LexBlog's CEO and blog guru Kevin O'Keefe counseled me not to be narcissist and get caught up in popularity contests like this.
Instead, O'Keefe told me that the mark of an effective blog is not rankings, but the influence the blog has on key players in your area of the law - like the media, top bloggers, and strategic decision makers.
This has been an exciting week in the crazy world of cruising.
The Allure of the Seas Arrives in South Florida, But No One Noticed: Last Thursday Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the world's biggest cruise ship, arrived in its home port of Port Everglades after sailing across the Atlantic from the shipyard. The Allure joins its sister ship in the Genesis class, the Oasis of the Seas, in Fort Lauderdale. Unlike the great fanfare surrounding the Oasis' arrival last December, the Allure's debut in South Florida was largely a non-event. The little publicity surrounding the mega cruise ship's arrival was overshadowed by the spectacle taking place on the west coast of the U.S., as tugs towed the disabled Splendor to San Diego following an engine room fire which left the Carnival cruise ship dead in the water off of the coast of Mexico.
Bigger But Not Better: The arrival of the Allure juxtaposed with the wounded Splendor re-ignited the debate whether this new breed of big ships, which many call floating malls - and which the cruise lines market as supposedly incorporating the cruise industry's newest technologies - is really a big step backwards. The LA Times interviewed me and members of the International Cruise Victims in "Stranded Cruise Ship Offers Lesson in Huge Vessels' Vulnerabilities."
How could a super sized new ship like the Splendor be rendered a powerless tub by a single fire to only one of its six diesel engines? What about the redundant safety systems which have existed in cruise ships for fifty years? And aren't these beasts of a cruise ship the embodiment of everything non-sustainable about the cruise industry? The Huffington Post addressed the surreal nature of the cruise industry and its huge ships in an "age of dwindling energy reserves and burgeoning population" in an excellent article "Cruising for a Bruising."
To Sue or Not to Sue? The issue of cruise disasters and ambulance chasing lawyers reached an regional, national and international audience following the fire aboard the Splendorr. On Monday, I wrote an article criticizing lawyers who are trolling for passengers to sue Carnival for the ship fire. I pointed out three reasons why a lawsuit against the cruise line is ill advised.
Carnival v. Wartsila? Although I expect few passengers to file suit against Carnival, there is no question that Carnival will make a claim against the diesel engine manufacturer, Wartsila. The Splendor is only 2 years old. Diesel engines are not suppose to crack a crankshaft, burn the engine room, and shut down a $700 million cruise ship like this. The Splendor is expected to be out of service for two months. By my calculations, that means Carnival will lose the fare and onboard purchases of 3,000 passengers for 8 weeks or so. That sounds like a loss of tens of millions of dollars which Carnival will be expecting Wartsila to pay.
Celebrity Passengers Robbed in St. Kitts:Four banditos robbed 17 cruise passengers from the Mercury cruise ship on a bus during a cruise excursion in St. Kitts. As usual the local tourism board proclaimed that such crime is rare. But the truth is that robbery and murder of cruise passengers are regular occurrences in the Caribbean. Its unheard of sailing from Vancouver to Alaska, but its business as usual in the Caribbean islands. Its a function of poverty and drugs. A couple of cruise lines are now skipping St. Kitts. One line is now calling on Antigua where a young woman sailing on a Star Clippers cruise ship was murdered ashore in January. You can't find a Caribbean island where cruise passengers have not been a victim of a violent crime. Beautiful, but dangerous.
Cruise Law News (CLN) Moves Up: The popularity contest and my unabashed self promotion of CLN continue. CLN is the no. 12 most popular law blog per the Avvo-Alexa rankings. Expect a top 10 announcement by Thanksgiving. Many thanks to our readers and those of you who support our blog by leaving comments. We appreciate your comments, pro or con.
The fun thing about writing your own blog, or running your own law firm, or having your own donut shop for that matter, is that it provides you with an opportunity to be competitive with other blogs, law firms and donut shops.
One of my goals this year was for Cruise Law News (CLN) to become a top 25 blog on the popularity chart of Avvo"s Top Legal Blogs (which is based on the Alexa tracking system). I am ahead of schedule. Today, CLN was the 14th most popular law blog - just barely nosing out Dan Harris' China Law Blog, which is undoubtedly one of the best legal blogs around.
There are now just four blogs ahead of CLN for a place in the top ten law blogs. So I will make another prediction. CLN will be the 10th most popular law blog by the end of this year.
There are simply far too many crazy things that happen on a regular basis in the world of cruising not to write about.
CLN addresses cruise stories that the mainstream newspapers are afraid to touch.
So sign up to read CLN via email or RSS feed to stay on top of breaking news stories about the cruise industry. On December 31st of this year, expect to receive an update celebrating CLN becoming the 10th most popular law blog around . . .
"Plain and simple, Jim Walker's Cruise Law News is one of the best law blogs out there, along with being one of my favorites on the LexBlog Network. Not only does Jim produce content at an incredible rate—356 posts in the 365 days after launching—but it's content that doesn't tiptoe around sensitive subjects. In Jim's words, he set out to "talk straight about issues which make the cruise industry uncomfortable." And what has this done? Just place him amongst the most popular law blogs in the United States.
On this podcast we discuss how he developed this unique approach, setting aside time to blog, finding topics to blog about and how the coverage found on his blog compares to what's put forth by the mainstream media."
Several months ago, I predicted that Cruise Law News (CLN) would become a top 25 law blog by the end of the year. Well, I was a bit off. CLN is now the top 20th law blog overall per the popular Avvo / Alexa ranking system. And its only October.
Wow . . . Top 20! I feel like I sneaked into the AP / UPI football poll, like Boise State before everyone figured out that they have always had a great football program (even if they are in Idaho where it is cold as hell after Thanksgiving).
To get here, I had to pass some super blogs: Brian Cuba's great blog The Cuban Revolution which is ranked no. 76 and remains one of my favorites; Eric Turkewitz's New York Personal Injury Law Blog (no. 45); Carolyn Elefant's My Shingle (no. 38); George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley's blog "Res Ipsa Loquitur (no. 28); the SCOTUS blog (no. 25) (what a terrible acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States - "SCOTUS" sounds like something you would touch only with a glove . . . ); and the terrifically talented but terribly shy Tax Girl (no. 24)(its almost impossible to find her name on her own blog).
When I over-took one of my favorite cynics, OverLawyered (no. 21), I knew there was no looking back.
O.K. Enough about the blogs in my rear view mirror. Who's next to fall? Professor Becker and 7th Circuit Judge Posner's great Beckner Posner Blog (no. 18) will soon be toast. And I will pass the Canadian cooperative law blog Slaw, at no. 17, shortly.
Does this sound a bit cocky? I hope so. A lack of confidence as a trial lawyer is a sign of weakness, especially in a major metropolitan market like Miami. And whenever I shamlessly promote my blog like this, I know that the most popular blog is not necessarily the most influential or substantial blog. Kevin O'Keefe of LexBlog wrote an article about not getting caught up in a popularity contest last year - "Engagement versus Vanity."
My thought is that honking your own horn is just fine, as long as you are engaged and are writing insightful and relevant blogs.
Another gratifying thing to me is that I have been blogging for only one year and the bloggers I passed have been at it for many years. I'm sure that none of them have ever heard of CLN.
This was another interesting week in the strange world of cruise law news.
The week ended with a Miami jury awarding $2,900,000 in compensation for an injured Royal Caribbean crew member whose knee was butchered by a doctor in Nicaragua, which I mentioned in yesterday's blog. The trial highlighted the cruise line's practice of keeping ill and injured crew members out of the U.S.
It was a rough week for Royal Caribbean, being recognized for bad medical treatment for the crew members and bad food and service for the passengers, not to mention the most crew member suicides this year.
We also wrote about the 25th year anniversary of cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer killed by Palestinian terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship. Have the cruise lines taken sufficient steps over the past 25 years to protect passengers from terrorism?
Cruise Law News (CLN) created a facebook page. 77 fans in the first week. Yea! Fans can post comments, photos and even videos. We hope you visit and leave a comment!
CLN continued to moved up the list of popular law blogs. On the Avvo / Alexa list, we are now the 21st most popular law blog. For U.S. readers, we are in the top five most popular blogs by lawyers who actually practice law (I'm excluding law professors who have all of the time in the world to write!)
CLN was also mentioned in Ohio lawyer Russ Bensing's popular blog "The Briefcase" in an article entitled "Fun on the High Seas. Russ writes "forget what he costs them in his lawsuits; his blog alone is a powerful disincentive to those contemplating a Caribbean cruise." Hmm . . . didn't know I was so scarry. But thanks Russ!
Instead of posting links on my personal page on Facebook, I will be posting links to this blog and other cruise and maritime articles on the Facebook page for Cruise Law News. Now, anyone who is a member of Facebook can leave comments, links to cruise articles and blogs, and also post photos too.
We are looking forward to reading your comments on our Facebook page.
Today, the Miami Daily Business Review ran an article about Royal Caribbean trying to disqualify our firm (a story I wrote about last week - more about that later). The Business Review characterized Cruise Law News (CLN) as a "hard hitting blog."
Launched in September 2009, CLN has become one of the most widely read legal blogs in the U.S. Based on U.S. readership, CLN is now in the list of the top 7 most popular law blogs written by lawyers who actually practice law.
Now I will be the first to admit that winning a popularity contest does not mean being the most insightful or the most influential blog. There are a lot of law blogs competing for the "best" category, based on all types of subjective and non quantifiable criteria. And there are lots of interesting law blogs which are written by professors like The Volokh Conspiracy, Althouse, Legal Insurrection, Jonathan Turley and Slaw which have blogged successfully for years.
But when it comes to lawyers who actually take depositions, attend hearings, go to court and try cases, the list of most popular blogs is quite small. Which legal blawgs involving actual practicing lawyers are the most popular?
According to "Avvo's Top Legal Blogs," which uses the Alexa ranking system, here are the 7 most popular law blogs operated by practicing lawyers, based on U.S. traffic (the lower the number, the higher the ranking):
26,700 - IPWatchdog by Gene Quinn (patent lawyer);
136,029 - Legal Juice by Mesirow & Stravitz (personal injury lawyers).
When I launched the blog one year ago, I promised that I would talk straight about issues which make the cruise industry uncomfortable. So Its reaffirming for a local business newspaper to call CLN "hard hitting."
Sounds like bragging? You bet. This is Miami after all. A lack of confidence in a city of over-achieving-caffeine-addicted-ego-maniacs gets you run over.
Earlier this year, I first learned of Avvo's "Top Legal Blogs" while reading a solo blogger lamenting that his law blog fell out of Avvo's top 10 law blog list. I was intrigued by the rankings and began to read the top blogs to try and figure out why they were so popular.
Some of the blogs were really interesting and I began to follow them on a regular basis. Some were dreadfully boring, or at least I thought so. All of the blogs had been publishing for many years.
Unlike the individual lawyers Avvo ratings, the Avvo top legal blog list is based on the Alexa ranking system which some have criticized. It is nonetheless a good indicator of a blog or web site's traffic rankings.
The Alexa system lists a website or blog in two ways: (1) its ranking in the world, and (2) its ranking in the United States.
Cruise Law News (CLN) is ranked (at the moment) as the top 36th law blog in the world, and a top 10 law blog in the U.S. It also happens to be the number one blog in personal injury law (just nudging ahead of the well known New York Personal Injury Law Blog).
Alexa tells us which blogs have a lot of "traffic," but is it a valid system for ranking law blogs? I'd like to think so, given CLN's high ranking and its fast climb to the top rankings for a new law blog. But others say that being popular does not equate to being influential or useful.
What are the best indicators of success and recognition other than Alexa? What list is considered to be the most credible and/or coveted list of top law blogs?
If you have a thought about this, please leave a comment below . . .
On September 7, 2009, I launched my blog, Cruise Law News (CLN). My goal was to be a leading source of news and legal commentary regarding the cruise industry.
Well, here we are, September 7, 2010, one year later. What a year!
My little blog is far more successful than I ever thought. Yes, it has taken a lot of work - this is my 356th article in the last 365 days! I have written about cruise ship rapes, sexual assaults of children, arrest of peophiles, passenger disappearances, and cruise ship fires, groundings and sinkings. Everything the cruise lines like to keep secret.
From a quantitative perspective (per Alexa rankings), CLN is now ranked as the no. 1 maritime law blog in the U.S., the no. 2 law blog in Florida, the no. 2 personal injury blog in the U.S., and the 50th most popular law blog over-all in the U.S. My websitegrader score is 99 (a grade I never received in school); there are 902 indexed pages of CLN on Google; and there are 48,230 inbound links. I am averaging over 25,000 unique visitors a month, and my traffic is in the top 1.53% of all websites.
And to add some icing to the cake, Cruise Law News is several times more popular that the official blog of the President of one of the major cruise line (Royal Caribbean) who writes from the "Nation Of Why Not?" If you want transparent news, people know to come here to CLN rather than wade through the gobbledygook at the cruise line's corporate blog.
Cruise Law News has been cited in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bahamas Journal, Italy's "Chi l'ha Visto?" television show, Germany's Wunderwelt Wisen magazine, the popular on line cruise community CruiseCritic, South Florida Business Journal, Baltimore Sun, Bahamas Tribune, Sun Sentinel, Washington Post, and MSNBC.
Our real success comes from our everyday readers - crew members, passengers, travel agents, cruise haters and cruise lovers. We have heard from people in Great Britain, France, Mauritania, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Canada and countries throughout the Caribbean islands. Thanks for your questions and the valuable information you provided us!
One big thank you is in order. Kevin O'Keefe and his team at LexBlog created my site a year ago. They are the best in the law blog business. Lexblog designed a nice looking, functional blog.
They provided concise recommendations to me, and encouraged me to blog. Thanks Kevin for creating LexBlog and pointing me in the right direction!
Here are some highlights of the fun we have had over the last year:
Ever since the Senate and House passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, the cruise industry and its trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) which spent millions of dollars vigorously opposing the new legislation, have minimized the ground-breaking new law.
So it was to my great interest and amusement today when a Cruise Law News (CLN) reader sent me a link to an article summarizing the new cruise law by a prominent defense lawyer for the cruise line industry. California lawyer Lawrence Kaye authored an article entitled "Tough New US Regulations for Cruise Ships" in the UK P & I Club's newsletter. (P & I Underwriters insure the interests of cruise lines and shipping companies).
What makes this article so interesting is that Mr. Kaye is one of the executive members of CLIA and testified before our U.S. Congress during the cruise crime hearings from 2005 - 2009. He argued that there was no need for legislation and he advocated on behalf of CLIA to kill the crime bill.
Mr. Kaye is one smart maritime lawyer. We have argued cruise crime issues on television. The cruise lines are lucky to have him as their advocate. He is equally skilled in summarizing the new law, which I have re-printed verbatim from the UK P & I Club's website, lest someone decide to delete it:
Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010, due to become US law very shortly, imposes substantial requirements on cruise ships carrying over 250 passengers on international voyages which embark or disembark passengers in any US port. They concern design and construction, medical facilities, passenger and crew information, training and measures to report and combat crime.
Non-compliance can result in denial of entry into US ports, civil penalties up to $50,000 per violation and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or one year’s imprisonment.
The Act’s requirements are set out by Lawrence W. Kaye and Andre M. Picciurro of Kaye, Rose & Partners in the latest issue of US Bodily Injury News, Published by Thomas Miller (Americas) on behalf of the UK P&I Club.
Design and construction standards. All cruise ships must meet certain design and construction standards within 18 months of enactment. Rails must be 42 inches above the cabin deck, 2.5 inches more than the US Coast Guard’s existing requirement. Passenger and crew cabin doors must have a “means of visual identification,” such as peepholes. Ships must be equipped with technology, if available, to detect persons fallen overboard, and with a video surveillance system to document crimes. In certain high risk areas, ships must have acoustic hailing and warning devices. All new-build cruise ships must provide latches and time-sensitive key technology on all passenger and crew cabin doors.
Information. Cruise ships must provide passengers and crew with a list of all US embassies and consulates in the countries they visit. Congress is discussing whether ships should provide all passengers with lists of medical and security personnel and law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions visited.
Sexual assaults. For treating and examining persons alleging sexual assault, the Act requires cruise ships to have on board medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., anti-retroviral medications); equipment and materials for performing post-assault examinations; and doctors and/or registered nurses with appropriate experience/certification in emergency medicine.
Cruise lines should make available to the patient a confidential examination report, with cruise ship personnel only entitled to see findings which will assist the master or colleague to comply with safety and reporting laws; contact information for law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, US embassies and consulates; a third party victim advocacy hotline; and private telephone and computer access to contact law enforcement, attorneys or support services. Ships must implement regulations about which crew members have access to passenger staterooms and when.
Log book and crime reporting. Ships must keep a log book (electronic or otherwise), detailing complaints of homicide, suspicious death, missing US nationals, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, sexual assault, firing or tampering with the vessel, and theft of property over $1,000. Ships must notify the nearest FBI office and send a report to the Secretary of Transportation about all such crimes (except for theft of property less than $10,000) in specific circumstances. These include where a vessel owner, regardless of his ship’s flag, is a US citizen; where an incident occurs within US territorial waters or on the high seas but involving a US national, whether victim or perpetrator; and where a US national is involved if a voyage embarks or disembarks passengers in the US, regardless of where the incident occurred.
The Transportation Secretary will maintain a public website to keep track of all such reported crimes for each cruise line whose own websites must provide a link to the Secretary’s.
Crime scene preservation. The Transportation Secretary is obliged to develop training standards and curricula for certification of passenger vessel security personnel, focusing “on the appropriate methods for prevention, detection, evidence preservation, and reporting of criminal activities in the international maritime environment” within one year of enactment. Two years after such standards and curricula are established, cruise ships may only enter US ports if they have at least one certificated crew member on board.
Larry Kaye has no doubt that this legislation is “a priority item for passenger ship operators. Upon enactment, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act will immediately address the issues of crimes and missing persons on cruise ships by imposing medical care and security protocols on cruise operators. It also imposes a rigorous timetable for a wide range of mandatory design and operational improvements to those ships within a two-year period.”
Louise Livingston, who leads Thomas Miller (America’s) Bodily Injury Team, added: “This review of the latest legislative developments for cruise operators has widespread relevance. All UK Club members should be aware of the speed and extent of regulatory change that can arise from a combination of high profile incidents and the political lobbying that is associated with them.”
UK P & I Club UK P & I Club
Larry Kaye, Esq. Kaye Rose & Partners LLP
Freedom of the Seas greenbriar DemocraticUnderground.com
OK time to brag a bit. Today my blog was added to Avvo's "Top Legal Blogs." Cruise Law News is currently the 55th most popular law blog in the United States. The blog has been the highest climbing law blog this year.
For bloggers like me, that's exciting news. Blogs are vehicles for education and ultimately social and political change. The higher ranked a blog becomes, the greater the opportunity for it to be read.
Cruise Law News was launched just over 9 months ago. So in the blog world, it's still a baby. My readers and subscribers have increased every month. It is by far the the highest ranked blog, or website for that matter, which covers maritime law. I expect it to become a top 25 law blog by the end of the year.
My blog has been instrumental in educating the public about what really happens during cruises. We publish the type of information that the cruise lines don't want you to know about.
There are a number of blogs published by the cruise lines. Royal Caribbean's president, Adam Goldstein, has a pretty popular blog called Why Not? But it is 90% marketing PR. Not surprisingly, it's also less popular than Cruise Law News. Many more readers are coming to this blog to read articles about Royal Caribbean than to the cruise president's own site.
In 1999, I launched CruiseLaw.com - a legal web site focused on the cruise industry. The need for such a web site was obvious. Passengers sexually assaulted or injured on cruise ships operated by Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean are required to bring their claims in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. The internet provides an easy way for passengers living in California, Kansas or New York to locate a maritime lawyer in South Florida for advice.
CruiseLaw in 1999 - No Shortage of Horror Stories
Within a year, we were representing over 50 passengers who had been seriously injured on cruise ships or shore excursions. It was disturbing to see the large number of injured passengers and to hear their stories about how the cruise lines treated them after their injuries. Worse still was the large number of women and children raped or molested by crew members where the cruise line tried to cover up the incidents.
We have seen cruise ship fires, "missing" passengers and crew members, and accidents of every sort - both on the cruise ships and during shore excursions.
500 Cruise Clients Later - A Perspective to Share
Now ten years and around 500 clients later, I am launching this blog - called "CruiseLaw News." I will report on breaking cruise news every day. The blog will provide insightful legal commentary regarding cruise passengers and crew members around the world. No ghost writers here, you will hear directly from me. The cruise lines won’t be pleased. Travel agents may cringe. You will learn about issues that the cruise industry PR machine and the happy-go-lucky cruise fanatics don’t want you to know.
Post Your Comments - Pro or Con
This blog will not be a one way street. You are encouraged to post your comments. Please express your genuine feelings and opinions. No editing will take place. The only rules are to be civil. Hopefully, be original and thoughtful. And, preferably, get to the point.
Check back for my first blog, and we will get into things. In the interim, stay in touch with me on Twitter @CruiseLaw and see where I stand on the latest cruise fiasco.
The New York Times describes Jim Walker as "a maritime lawyer in Miami who has attended more than half a dozen Congressional hearings about cruise ship crime and passenger safety." Jim has been involved in cruise ship law and maritime litigation since 1983. Based in Miami, Florida, Jim represents passengers and crew members injured or assaulted on cruise ships around the world.
As this year (2014) begins, Jim has been the one of the "go to" maritime lawyers when things go wrong on the high seas.
In 2012, Jim appeared on ABC's 20/20 special on the Costa Concordia disaster. He appeared on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Sea" about passengers and crew members disappearing from cruise ships. Jim was featured on PBS's documentary "Disasters at Sea: Why Ships Sink" which looked at cruise disasters from the Titanic's sinking in 1912 to the current date. He also appeared on CNN's special "Cruise to Disaster" which explored the Concordia disaster.
Jim attended Duke University and graduated cum laude in 1980. He attended Tulane University School of Law, graduating in 1983 after taking Tulane’s internationally renowned admiralty curriculum.
Jim has experience regarding issues of cruise ship crime and sexual assault. Over the past ten years, he has represented over 1,000 clients including over 75 individuals who have been victimized on cruise ships, cruise excursions and ports of call. Six of Jim’s clients have testified before the United States Congress regarding cruise ship safety. Jim has handled the following cases in the past ten years:
The case of Laurie Dishman, sexually assaulted on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. Her case resulted in changes to the cruise industry and the introduction of the Cruise Ship Safety and Security Act of 2010.
The “Missing Honeymooner Case” involving the disappearance of George Smith IV of Greenwich Connecticut from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship. Jim represented Mr. Smith’s widow, Jennifer Hagel.
Over 75 sexual assault cases against women and children on cruise ships, resulting in many million and multi-million dollars settlements.
The 2006 Star Princess fire disaster. The cruise ship fire resulted in one hundred cabins being destroyed and the death of one passenger, Richard Liffridge. Jim represented Mr. Liffridge’s family in litigation against Princess Cruises in California.
Numerous cases involving serious injury and death of passengers and crew members aboard Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
Jim is married to Lisa O’Neill who he met while they were undergraduates in college thirty years ago. Jim and Lisa are also law partners.
Lisa is also a Duke cum laude graduate, and attended the University of Florida School of Law in Gainesville, Florida. She served on Law Review as the Senior Articles Editor, won the prestigious Gertrude Brick Award, and graduated cum laude. Jim and Lisa work on all cases together.
In 1999, the firm created the web site CruiseLaw.com as an information resource for passengers and crew members worldwide. Here is what some publications are saying about Jim Walker:
"King of anti-cruise tirades . . . his impressive background and litigation record against cruise lines must be taken seriously.- Travel Weekly.
"Perpetual Pain-In-The-Cruise-Lines-Neck Jim Walker" - Gadling.
Jim is the author of Cruise Law News - described as a "Hard-Hitting Blog" by Miami's Daily Business Review.
The U.K. Metro newspaper refers to Jim as the "Devil of Cruise Reporting."
Admiralty Law Committee of the Florida Bar (former member)
American Association for Justice, Admiralty Law Section
Florida Admiralty Trial Lawyers Association
Maritime Law Association of the United States
Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum
Southeast Admiralty Law Institute
Kent School, Kent Connecticut 1976
Duke University, Durham North Carolina 1980
Tulane School of Law, New Orleans Louisiana 1983
Florida Bar Association
Louisiana Bar Association (not active)
United States District Courts, Eastern District of Louisiana and Southern District of Florida
Media, Television, Radio, Magazines and Newspapers
Jim and his clients have been featured well over a hundred times on television, cable news and radio shows, as well as in documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles.
ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, FOXNews, DATELINE, 48 HOURS, 20/20, Larry King Live, A & E Investigative Reports, Hannity & Colmes, Greta Van Sustern, Nancy Grace, Inside Edition, Julie Banderas, Big Story Weekend, CourtTV, Catherine Crier, Montel Williams, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Mike & Juliet, Geraldo Rivera, Nancy Bloom, Dan Abrams, UK’s BBC-Radio 4, Heartland w/John Kasich, E! Entertainment, TruTV, Canada’s CATV-5, Good Morning America, TIME Magazine, National Law Journal, RADAR Magazine, Lawyer’s Weekly USA, Miami Herald, American Law Media, Tradewinds, Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel, Miami Business Review, LA Times, NY Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Florida Today, Daytona Beach Journal, Sacramento Bee, Washington Post, Greenwich Times, Greenwich Citizen, Greenwich Post, San Francisco Chronicle, U.K.'s Telegraph, St. Petersburg Times, Miami’s New Times, U.K. Mirror, London’s Guardian, Edmonton Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Bahamas Journal, Italy's "Chi l'ha Visto?" television show, Germany's Wunderwelt Wisen, CruiseCritic, South Florida Business Journal, Open Secrets organization, Queerty, Baltimore Sun, Bahamas Tribune, National Public Radio (NPR), USA Today, Gadling, FOX Business, Slate Magazine, ABA Journal, Australia's The Age, Attorney at Law Magazine, Huffington Post, U.K.'s Daily Mail, BBC, Freeport (Bahamas) News, Haaretz, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia, Palm Beach Post, India Times, E Turbo News, Global Travel News, Comunidade News (Brazil), Canada's CTV, OutFront with CNN's Erin Burnett, Slate, The Daily, London's Financial Times, Newsweek Magazine, Newsweek's The Daily Beast Blog, Fund Web, Reuters, Consumer Affairs, Australia's Herald Sun, Canada's NewsTalk 1010 Radio, Houston Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Tampa Bay Business Journal, Perez Hilton, Business Insider, Greenwich Magazine, Herald Sun, CNN Money, the Australian newspaper, Christian Science Monitor, International Business Times, Maritime Executive, Businessweek, Bloomberg, Alaska Dispatch, Minnesota Post, Virgin Islands Daily News, Arizona Republic, Trip Advisor, Daily Kos, Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper, Antigua Observer, N.Y. Daily News, U.K.'s Daily Mail, UPI, Inquisitr, Christian Post, KTIC Radio, Cordova Times, Bloomberg News, Business Insider, Times of Malta, CNN Opinion, Wall Street Journal Blog. Newsday, CBC Radio (Canada), American Public Media Market Place, WGN Radio (Chicago) Chicago Tribune, WWL Radio (Miami), CNBC Squawk on the Street, WIOD Radio (Miami) and the Associated Press have all covered Jim’s cases and his client's causes.
Watch Jim on ABC's 20/20 program in January 2012 about the Costa Concordia disaster:
Watch Jim on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Seas" in March 2012 about cruise ship disappearances:
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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