Near Death Experience Aboard the Independence of the Seas: When Will Royal Caribbean Hire Lifeguards?

Four days ago, we discussed the near drowning of a six year old boy whose heart had stopped when he was found on the bottom of a swimming pool on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas.

People contacting us say the boy slipped and struck his head. Other children reportedly pulled the unconscious boy from the pool. Royal Caribbean was not supervising the Royal Caribbean pool. 

Royal Caribbean, like Carnival and NCL, has no lifeguards assigned to its pools. Only Disney takes the responsible step of employing lifeguards on cruise ships.

Independence of the Seas Pool - LifeguardI have written at length about these type of situations.

Saving children's lives requires the joint efforts of the parents and the cruise line. Parents must obviously supervise their children, and the cruise line must supervise their pools.  If the pools are intended for adults only, then there must be cruise employees at the pools enforcing that rule as well as any other rules such as "no children," "no running on the pool decks" or "no horseplay." 

Contrary to what many people believe, a "no lifeguard" or "swim at your own risk" sign, without more, is legally insufficient to exculpate the cruise ship from liability.

Disney used to rely on "no lifeguard" signs, but after the near drowning death last year of a child who was rendered severely brain damaged and needs expensive lifetime care, the Magical Cruise Line now employees lifeguards throughout its fleet. It took only one prior incident for Disney to throw away the "no lifeguard" signs and do the right thing by assigning ship employees to the pools.

Today we were notified that a similar incident occurred previously on the Independence of the Seas. A concerned parents told us: 

"The same happened to my daughter, six years ago, who was age six at the time, on the Independence of the Seas. We had gone with large group of family and friends and it was our first full day at sea. All the kids were so excited and it was our first cruise so we didn't really know the rules or anything about the ship. The kids were running around on the children's area where the water fountains were, this area was a water area for kids, however, in the same area was a pool, which was really deep water, we had no idea and this is where my daughter jumped in, after following her cousin, who was eight months older than her and could swim a little. The pool was six feet deep, we checked afterwards and this was the deepest pool on the ship, even deeper than the adults pool, why this was put next to the kids area, I have no idea. My daughter could not swim and panicked, she tried alerting her cousin who tried to help but as she was so small too, she nearly pulled her down.

It was only by chance that my sister was walking past to go back to her room that she spotted them and had to jump in fully clothed to save her. We were only yards away but as this pool was right in the middle of area we couldn't see them."

It's easy to blame parents whenever they let their guard down for a minute. But its entirely foreseeable and predictable that parents, especially parents on vacation, will make mistakes - perhaps only for a few precious seconds.

Ignoring a prior similar incident when a child nearly drowns is a dangerous proposition for a cruise line. A prior incident provides "notice" of the danger and requires the cruise line to take corrective measures to prevent similar injuries or fatalities from occurring.

Putting away legal issues of liability, the best way to protect kids is to have the parents supervise the kids and the cruise line supervise the pools. 

That's why a responsible cruise line (so far only Disney) employs lifeguard to supervise the pools. 

How many other incidents will it take before Royal Caribbean does the right thing and hires lifeguards?

Imperfect Parents & Corporate Irresponsibility: Why No Lifeguards on Disney Cruise Ships?

This weekend, there was a "near drowning" of a 4 year old boy on Disney's Fantasy cruise ship.  

The incident reportedly occurred during the afternoon when a family boarded the Disney cruise ship and before the ship sailed. The boy was pulled from the pool, apparently non-responsive, and had to be taken to an emergency room at the Cape Canaveral Hospital, and then airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. Fortunately this happened while the ship was in port so the child could be rushed to receive emergency medical treatment rather than a few hours later on the high Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship Pool Near Drowningseas where no such assistance would have been possible.

The latest word I heard was that the boy had survived, and was stable and recovering.

The parents of the child were reportedly not at the pool but arrived when the boy was rescued. The parents were soundly criticized by cruise fans on the Disney boards and the Cruise Critic on-line community.

People have posted comments on my article on Facebook criticizing the parents. Some say things like there are no lifeguards on any cruise ships, which all parents should know. Others say that the passenger ticket states that the cruise line does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising out of swimming pools. Still other say that there are signs on cruise ships saying that there are no lifeguards on duty and that swimming is at the passenger's risk.

I understand the concept of personal and parental responsibility, having two boys who my wife and I are raising. But I also understand that the law also demands corporate responsibility as well. It's easy to criticize a parent when a child is injured; we are all perfect parents when it's not our child, aren't we? But I find that those people who are quick to blame parents when kids are injured and who talk incessantly about "personal responsibility" are the first to defend corporate malfeasance and use the term "personal responsibility" as code words for condoning the complete absence of "corporate responsibility."     

Cruise lines like Disney have legal responsibility to parents and children on Disney cruise ships. A "no lifeguard on duty" sign does not legally exonerate a cruise line, or a hotel, or an amusement park.  It simply raises the issue whether the sign was legally conspicuous enough to provide an effective warning to the parents.   

It is inexcusable for Disney not to assign multiple lifeguards around the ship's pools. Is it correct that Disney Cruise Line has no lifeguards at all?  If so, that's reckless. Yes, parents need to be responsible, but they will make errors. Reasonable safety can exist only when there is both personal responsibility and corporate responsibility. 

A friend brought to my attention that Disney advertises that it has well-trained lifeguards on its cruise ships and in its parks.

In a 2008 publication entitled Walt Disney Report on Safety, Disney states that it trains over 1,200 lifeguards a year, including on its cruise ships. Here's what Disney states:   

"Lifeguard Training"

"Together, the Disneyland® Resort, Walt Disney World® Resort and Disney Cruise Line® train more than 1,200 lifeguards a year to monitor activities at these venues."

"Our lifeguards must complete a thorough training program that exceeds most U.S. standards and includes both a water-skills test and up to 24 hours of basic training in water rescue techniques, CPR, basic first aid, oxygen administration and the use of AEDs. After completion of basic training, lifeguards must also perform four hours of in-service training each month, undergo eight hours of recertification Disney Resort Drowning Deathtraining every year and participate in frequent unannounced audits by one of the world's premier aquatic safety service providers."

Is this bait-and-switch?  Does Disney tell the public that its kid-friendly resorts and ships have well trained lifeguards but in reality it does not have any?

Last month, a 13 year-old boy died at a Disney amusement resort near Epcot which had no lifeguard. You can read about that death here.

Disney issued a statement after the dream-vacation turned into a nightmare. The Imperfect Parent quotes Disney saying that it was "saddened" by the death and " . . . our hearts go out to his family, friends and loved ones. We have reached out to his family to offer care and assistance during this difficult time.” 

Families don't need after-the-fact condolences.  They don't need "no lifeguard" signs. They need some of the 1,200 lifeguards who Disney claims it trains each year doing their jobs at the pools in the Disney resorts and on the Disney cruise ships so that no other children are killed or seriously injured when their parents are imperfect.

Have a thought? Join the discussion on our Facebook page about this issue

 

Photo Credits:

Disney Fantasy cruise ship pool - Fodors

Disney resort pool - Wikipedia via Daily Mail 

Booze Cruise: The Royal Caribbean Way

Its amusing to watch a cruise line caught in a scandal pretend to be outraged over "unfair" media scrutiny.

Royal Caribbean's response to Inside Edition's out-of-control cruise booze expose' reminds me of the the quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother.

Last week, InsideEdition aired a story "Inside Edition Investigates Cruise Ship Drinking" which took a look at widespread public intoxication aboard Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.  Inside Edition's show contained video depicting:

". . . many passengers pound back booze day and night. In the ship's night club, our cameras spotted people passed out and one passenger face down on the bar. We also observed raunchy dancing and women exposing themselves.

From the moment our undercover producers walked up the gangway, the booze kept flowing. We saw many passengers drinking heavily before and during the mandatory lifeboat drill  . . . 

But the real boozing we witnessed occurred after the Liberty of the Seas set sail when legions of waiters descended on passengers with tray loads of booze pushing the drink of the day."   You can watch the video below:  

 

 

The following day Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein wrote a blog about the Inside Edition expose, calling it "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." He wrote about his cruise line's "SafeServe" alcohol training program and allegedly "strict policies" against over-serving alcohol to passengers.

There is no question that Royal Caribbean has a written policy theoretically designed to curb excessive drinking. But its just that - a policy.  In practice, the waiters and bartenders routinely ignore the policy and push alcohol sales. Its hard to take a cruise CEO's shore-side policies seriously when you watch videos of Royal Caribbean waiters, who work almost entirely on tips, dancing around with bottles of rum on their heads while pouring double shots directly into the passenger's mouths.

Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $50 a month.  The waiters push booze in order to obtain gratuities.  Profits from aggressive alcohol sales are a fundamental part of the cruise line's "onboard purchases" program.  The cruise line nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze. If Royal Caribbean was serious about curtailing over-consumption of alcohol during cruises, they would pay the waiters and bartenders a reasonable salary. 

Lots-of-cruise booze translates into lots of cruise profits but higher incidents of sexual assault, drunken brawls and serious accidents including some leading to death.  The alcohol related problems on Royal Caribbean cruise ships date back decades.

In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy's Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises."  A 14 Royal Caribbean Cruise Booze - Alcohol  year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor's death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation.  It's not a baby-sitting service."

There have been problems with too much booze on Royal Caribbean cruise ships ever since.

The first sexual assault case I handled in the late 1990's involved a 15 year old boy served a dozen glasses of champagne and then molested by a 28 year old Royal Caribbean crew member pedophile.

Perhaps one of the best known cases of an over-served passenger involved another case we handled where honeymoon cruiser George Smith was grossly over-served alcohol.  Royal Caribbean bartenders even provided shot glasses for Mr. Smith and other passengers to quaff absinthe that had been smuggled aboard the Brilliance of the Seas.

The seminal case involving the responsibility of cruise lines in dispensing alcohol is a 2004 case here in Miami called Hall v. Royal Caribbean.  A passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the opinion, "was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel's employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways."  

The trial court threw the case out saying that the cruise line had no obligation to the drunken passenger. But the appellate court revered, holding that although passengers have a personal responsibility to act reasonably, the cruise lines also have a corporate responsibility of acting reasonably in serving a safe amount of alcohol.

In 2006, a young man from Ohio, Daniel DiPiero, fell off a Royal Caribbean ship when he tried to vomit over the railing which was too low.  The accident was entirely preventable.  Video showed that the young man had passed out in a deck chair but no security had passed by for several hours.

In 2011, another intoxicated young passenger went overboard from Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas after Royal Caribbean over-served him alcohol.

Royal Caribbean Alcohol - All You Can Drink - Cruise Ship In the same year an underage passenger alleged that she was raped on a Royal Caribbean after becoming intoxicated.

Many of the problems with alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the past few years stem from its all-you-can-drink-packages,where passengers can drink themselves into a stupor for a daily set price. No cruise line with a genuine concern for passenger safety would market these types of unlimited booze deals.  

With this history in mind, CEO Goldstein's protestations about "sensational" media reports fall on my deaf ears. There is nothing more sensational for a family to learn that their son has gone overboard or their daughter has been raped after Royal Caribbean over-served them alcohol. 

The Inside Edition video speaks for itself.  Little has changed at Royal Caribbean.  The cruise line continues to push cruise booze and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free booze profits in the process. 

At the end of the day, it's the "personal responsibility" versus "corporate liability" debate.  What do you think?

Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts . . .  

May 16, 2012 Update:  The South Florida Business Journal mentions our blog in the article Alcohol vs. Drugs on Cruise Ships