A number of newspapers are reporting that an explosion on board the Emerald Princess cruise ship claimed the life of a Princess crew member at a port in New Zealand earlier this week.
The incident occurred when crew members were reportedly using a cannister of nitrogen, for deploying a lifeboat, on one of the decks near the stern of the cruise ship.
A passenger on the ship was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying that “There was an explosion, it was pretty loud ... all I saw then was the gas bottle spinning on the (wharf).”
A photograph (right) posted on Twitter shows a large cylinder, which killed the crew member, lying on the wharf near the Princess cruise ship.
What has not been widely reported is that the deceased crew member was a young Filipino man, married with two young children.
The Filipino's death comes just a couple of days after Lizzie Presser's insightful article about the plight of crew members from the Philippines working on cruise ships was published. Titled Below Deck - Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t, the article explains how young men from the Philippines who go to sea on cruise ships to seek better lives for their families, face 12 hour work days for up to 10 months at a time and are prohibited from filing lawsuits in the U.S. They are subject to a draconian scheme of minimal compensation if injured on the job. If they are killed though the negligence of the U.S. based cruise line, their families receive a maximum pay-out of only $50,000 and only $7,500 per child.
The article quoted Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as saying "if cruise lines know their workers are kept from holding them accountable in court, they’ll have little incentive to provide them with a safe work environment.”
I was alerted of the death when a concerned passenger on the Princess cruise ship first alerted me to the tragedy:
"I'm currently on board the Emerald Princess at Dunedin. I was on board at the time the explosion happened that killed the crew member. He was a Filipino 33 yr old father of two small kids. I've been absolutely appalled to learn from crew (over 80% on this current cruise are Filipino) about their employment conditions. This entire industry seems to profit from the exploitation of workers from developing countries. And here we are with someone killed while doing their job on board."
The House of Representatives passed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act (HR 3360) today. This cruise bill was previously part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2009, but was voted on today as a 'stand alone" bill to speed up its enactment.
Congress approved the bill by a resounding vote of 416 to 4.
A number of "All Star" Congressmen and Congresswomen spoke at the hearing today. Here are the highlights of this historic event:
Cruise Ships - "Floating Pieces of Other Countries" - and the Need for U.S. Laws to Protect Americans
Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) explained the problem of a lack of accountability of the foreign flagged cruise ships which become "floating pieces of other countries" once the ships are outside of U.S. waters. He recognized the need for cruise lines to adopt reasonable safety measures to protect U.S. passengers. Some of the measures are simple and a matter of common sense, such as the requirement that all doors be fitted with peepholes so that passengers inside cabins can determine who is outside of their doors. Congress was previously provided with testimony of passengers who opened their doors and were raped by crew members.
Other safeguards include the requirements that cruise ships maintain supplies of anti-retroviral medications for rape victims (to prevent HIV / AIDS) and employ trained personnel to collect and preserve evidence following sexual assault. Cruise lines are also required to report sexual assaults and other crimes to the F.B.I. and U.S. Coast Guard and maintain a link to this data base on the cruise lines' websites. This last measure is important because cruise lines have a well deserved reputation for concealing cruise crimes from the public.
A Cruise Victim's "Courage, Conviction & Dedication"
Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), who introduced the crime bill, thanked her constituent (and our client) Laurie Dishman for her "courage, conviction, and dedication" after she was raped aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Ms. Matsui explained that after the crime, the cruise line provided no assistance whatsoever to Ms. Dishman in securing the crime scene, or identifying the attacker, or in prosecuting the crime. The ship doctor gave Ms. Dishman a trash bag and told her to return to the crime scene and collect the evidence herself. Congresswoman Matui characterized the need for the cruise crime bill as "urgent and necessary."
Cruise Line "Outrageous Conduct and Callous Disregard"
Congressman Shadegg described Royal Caribbean's conduct of obstructing the efforts of Ms. Carver's parents to find out what happened to their daughter as "outrageous" and exhibiting "callous disregard." He urged the adoption of the cruise law to protect other families who lose loved ones on the high seas. A video of Mr. Shadegg is below.
"Disturbing & Startling" Large Number of Cruise Ship Crimes
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) criticized the cruise industry for concealing the large number of shipboard rapes. He mentioned a "disturbing and startling" article in the LA Times ("Cruise Industry's Dark Waters") which revealed that in a period of only 32 months Royal Caribbean had over 250 incidents of where cruise victims were sexually assaulted, battered or sexually harassed. (Our firm handled the case where a Court in Miami ordered the cruise line to reveal this information under a threatened sanction of $1,000 a day).
Congressman Poe discussed Ms. Dishman's case where Royal Caribbean did nothing to assist her but sent her a letter after the rape thanking her for her business and enclosing a discount coupon for a future cruise! He recognized Ms. Dishman for exposing the "atrocities" on this cruise line's fleet of cruise ships.
Cruise Ship "Culture of Indifference" Toward Victims
Congressman James Oberstar, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also thanked Ms. Dishman who overcame her "terrible experience" with Royal Caribbean, found the "courage to testify" before Congress regarding her ordeal, and was "determined to see justice done." He praised her for working to change "the culture aboard cruise ships of indifference" toward crime victims.
On to the Senate!
The next step toward protecting the cruising public is a vote in the Senate.
Want to get involved in the ICV? Contact the ICV's President Ken Carver email@example.com.
We have ordered the C-SPAN coverage of the hearing today and will be posting the ventire ideo in the next week. Below is the video of Congressman Shadegg's comments regarding the daughter of one his constituients, Ken Carver:
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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