Can a Canadian Porn King and the Cruise Lines Keep Cruise Passengers Safe in the Banana Coast in Honduras?

This week the "Banana Coast" cruise port in Honduras opens for mega-cruise ship business.

The travel publications all appear to have written essentially the the same article announcing with great fanfare that large cruise ships will begin calling at the port in the Bay of Trujillo, Honduras. Billed as the newest cruise port in the western Caribbean, the facility in Trujillo (mainland Honduras) will host the arrival of Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) Norwegian Jewel on October 15th.  

Ships from Holland America, Silversea, Oceania and P&O Cruises will follow. 

Banana Coast Travel Agent Central and TravelPulse each describe the new port as including a jewelry shop, a shop selling organic frozen coconut drinks, a duty-free liquor, a gift shop, and kiosks offering refreshments and souvenirs crafted by local artisans. Sounds like every other cruise port in the Caribbean designed to separate cruise visitors from their cash as soon as possible. 

The official website of the Banana Coast says that the Bay of Trujillo was the first mainland landing spot of Christopher Columbus in 1502 during his fourth voyage to the New World. It also says that this part of Honduras has a rich cultural heritage and visitors will experience the culture of the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna, an indigenous group who have lived in the area for centuries. 

What the developer and travel publications aren't saying is that there has been considerable controversy surrounding the development of the Honduran port and condominium projects. 

One of the principal developers of the mega-tourism project in Trujillo is Randy Jorgensen, general manager of Grande Trujillo Authoridad. He's a Canadian multi-millionaire who reportedly became wealthy in the pornographic video business. Several publications call him the "Canadian Porn King" (photo below with former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa). He created Adults Only Video (warning XXX). Canada's Macleans magazine reported in 2001 that Jorgensen had been "accused of making X-rated films with underage girls in his vacation home in Honduras," according to Media Lens organization.

Jorgensen and others are accused of converting the beautiful Honduran coast into a large scale tourism project that includes vacation condominiums and the cruise ship facility, which have displaced and destroyed the indigenous Garífuna communities. The developers are accused of illegally obtaining the land and expelling the Garífuna people from the Bay of Trujillo.

Travel Pulse says that cruise tourists will be "welcomed by local Garifuna performers . . .  and dancers in colorful attire." Sounds to me like a faux Disney World recreation of the displaced local inhabitants for the amusement of the arriving U.S. cruise passengers.

In related news, Cruise Critic reports that the airstrip at the Mayan site of Copan in Honduras will open in December and will provide flights for cruise passengers to travel to Copan as a shore excursion. Cruise Critic says that this will "allow passengers, for the first time, to make an excursion off the island (from Roatan) to the country's interior."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been working with the cruise lines and representatives of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) to market Copan as a cruise Randy Jorgensen "Porn King"attraction

There's no mention in any of the travel publication hullabaloo of the fact that Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, or that it is subject to critical crime warnings from the U.S. State Department.

Real estate developers and agents, resort owners, dive and water-sport companies, and land-owners in the Honduran cruise port of Roatan have touted Roatan as a crime-free paradise, even though cruise passengers and crew members have been victims of violent crime and one NCL crew member was killed there this year. The U.S. expatriates claim that as an island, Roatan is much safer than the mainland of Honduras. 

So what's going to happen when the cruise lines embark passengers in the Honduran mainland or fly passengers to the country's interior? The murder rate in Honduras has ranged between 70 and 90 per 100,000 in the last several years compared to 4 to 5 per 100,000 in the U.S. What safeguards do the cruise lines, the Honduran president, and the Caninadian porn businessman have in mind, if any, for those cruise tourists arriving in Trujillo?

 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Top - Banana Coast via Travel Agent Central; Bottom - Honduras Living The Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Trujillo Honduras  

 

Cruise Safety: Be Prepared Before Things Go Wrong (Via Travel Channel)

The Travel Channel just posted a cruise safety video as part of it's Travel 911 series (be prepared before things go wrong on a cruise ship).

Its a very friendly sounding video that says that there's nothing better than a cruise, but bad things can happen on cruise ships.  

Here are some tips:

  • Bring anti-bacterial wipes and avoid public bathrooms. And check out which ships have high scores on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
  • Attend muster station drills. They are mandatory before the ship sails and can be a life-saver.
  • Limit your drinks. The number one reported crime during cruises is sexual assault. The victims are usually intoxicated.
  • Don't flaunt your jewelry, handbags, or money. Yes, there are thefts during cruises.
  • Be extra-safe during shore excursions. Keep your cash and jewelry in the cabin safe and wear a traveler's pouch.   

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page. 

 

Cruise Ship Safety Hearing: Senator Rockefeller Demands Accountability From Cruise Lines

At the hearing today before Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller regarding the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers," three women told the committee their horrific experiences on cruise ships.

All of their accounts involve the common theme of a lack of basic consumer protections. Laurie Dishman was a victim of rape, Amanda Butler's mother experienced medical neglect leading to her death, and Kimberly Ware travel led aboard the carnival Triumph that suffered a complete power loss. 

Chairman Rockefeller has explained the purpose of the hearing as follows: “This hearing – along with the other hearings and inquiries I have made into the cruise industry since I have been Chairman of this Committee – are about one thing, accountability. When it comes to the cruise industry, we have been doing our job, while the industry has not. We have held hearings, we have analyzed the data, and we Cruise Ship Safety Hearinghave talked to many different people with experience in this industry. This oversight has led us very clearly to the conclusion that we have to act and pass legislation to better protect consumers. No other passengers should have to suffer when there are basic steps that can and should be taken to protect their safety and health.”

Laurie Dishman (testimony here) was a victim of a violent rape aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship (photo right with her father, Bill Dishman).

Although she was strangled (with ligature marks left around her neck) and the rapist impacted her tampon while assaulting her, the FBI quickly ended its limited investigation the same day that the cruise ship returned to port. The cruise line acted outrageously after the rape, sending officers into the cabin who sat on the bed where the rape occurred and the ship doctor handed her garbage bags and instructed her to return to the crime scene and collect evidence.

Amanda Butler's (testimony here) mother was a victim of medical neglect aboard the Carnival Conquest. It took Carnival 15 minutes to send a nurse to the scene but she arrived without a defibrillator. The medical center was closed and it took additional time to open the infirmary. The Butler family flew Ms. Butler to a trauma center via a private jet but she died two weeks later. You can read an interview with Amanda here

Ms. Butler explained at the hearing that Carnival sued her family for the $1,200 in medical expenses charged for the negligent medical care.

Kim Ware (testimony here) was a passenger aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph. Although a long time cruiser, she had no idea of the onerous terms, limitations, and disclaimers buried in the cruise ticket when the engine room ignited and the cruise ship lost power and drifted in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. 

There is evidence that things have gotten worse for crime and medical malpractice victims on cruise ships over the years.  Ms. Dishman's testimony revealed that:

  • There is substantial under-reporting of crimes on cruise ships. For example, in 2011, there were 563 alleged crimes reported by the cruise lines but only 105 publicly disclosed.
  • Few cruise ship crimes are investigated and prosecuted. In 2012, the FBI opened only 18 cases and there were only 4 convictions.
  • The cruise lines do not disclose when a crime involves a minor.  There are sexual predators (both passengers and crew members) on cruise ships. Passengers deserve to know if children have been sexually abused in child daycare centers and in their cabins on prior cruises.
  • The medical care on cruise ships is often substandard. Cruise lines try to isolate themselves when they main or kill passengers through incompetent doctors and bad medical care. Most cruise lines claim that ship doctors are “independent contractors” for whom they are not liable. Few consumers understand this, until it is too late.
  • The cruise ship passenger tickets, drafted by cruise line defense lawyers, are one-sided, unfair and entirely anti-consumer and pro-cruise line.

To address these concerns, Chairman Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act. The proposed law will improve consumer protections by establishing the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the lead federal agency for cruise ship passenger protections. The bill will require the DOT to set standards for providing consumers with a clear language describing the passenger's rights in the cruise ticket. The bill will also establish a consumer website, provide the DOT the authority to investigate complaints, and create an advisory committee for passenger consumer protection.

The bill will further help consumers by requiring accurate crime data to be published by cruise lines on an internet database. The cruise line will have to reveal whether the victims is a minor. The legislation will strengthen requirements for surveillance cameras public areas and establish requirements for the retention of surveillance videos. The bill will establish a victim advocate to assist the victim, and help the victim understand her rights. 

It's about time that Congress passed a bill like this. 

Senator Rockefeller Announces Witness List for Hearing to Examine Cruise Passenger Safety

This afternoon, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced the witness list for its Full Committee hearing this Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at 2:45 p.m. titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers.”

Date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Hearing Start Time: 2:45 p.m.
Senator Rockefeller Cruise Hearing Location: 253 Russell Senate Office Building

There are three cruise ship victims who will be testifying Laurie DishmanAmanda Butler and Kimberly Ware.

The hearing will address sexual assaults, unsafe conditions and sub-standard medical care aboard cruise ships. 

The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website.

Click on the website 10 minutes prior to the hearing. The comments by Senator Rockefeller and other senators, the victims testimony, and questions and answers will be streaming live.

I will be attending the hearing on Wednesday in support of my friend and former client Laurie Dishman. 

last year I attended the hearing before Senator Rockefeller with my youngest son, John. (See photo). This year I will be attending with my oldest son, Madison. 

Senator Rockefeller Convenes Another Hearing to Protect Cruise Passengers

Senator John D. Rockefeller has scheduled another hearing to address legislation designed to protect cruise passengers. The hearing is scheduled for next week.

The hearing is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in 253 Russell Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. (Some media sources erroneously report the hearing is scheduled for July 22nd).  

The hearing is titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Senator Rockefeller Cruise CrimeCruise Passengers.” 

Senator Rockefeller has presided over hearings about the cruise lines in 2012 and 2013 following the Costa Concordia disaster and the Carnival Triumph fiasco. We attended both hearings. You can read our coverage of the hearings in our prior articles:

Senate Hearing on Cruise Industry Accountability Reveals Less Than 3% of Cruise Ship Crimes are Revealed to the Public

Senator Rockefeller Blasts Cruise Industry: "You Are A World Unto Yourselves"

Senator Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act on July 23, 2013, in order to involve the Department of Transportation into overseeing the cruise industry and to provide greater protection to cruise consumers. The Senator announced that he intended to “close gaps in cruise industry consumer awareness and crime reporting."

At the last hearing, the cruise lines promised to voluntarily disclose crimes which occur on cruise ships, in response to Senator Rockefeller's request for transparency by the cruise industry. The cruise lines announced this last minute measure to stave off legislation. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines has refused to disclose all crimes against its crew members and guests over the course of the last year. 

Carnival has been particularly sneaky. It lumps crimes on all of its cruise ships (Carnival, Cunard, Holland America Line, etc.) into one category.  By doing so, it is impossible for consumers to learn how many crimes occur on which ships or even which brands. This is an effort to trick the public from not realizing that by far most crimes occur on Carnival ships.

The cruise lines have failed to re-write their passenger contracts to provide consumers with certain consumer protections that they promised to Senator Rockefeller that they would provide to the public. There is a big difference between what the cruise lines are telling the Senators at these hearings and what their defense lawyers are trying to enforce in a court of law.

Senator Rockefeller has rightfully pointed out that the cruise lines pay no federal U.S. taxes but rely heavily on the federal agencies to conduct their business.   

Don't forget to read: Senator Rockefeller to Cruise Lines: You Can't Operate for Free in the U.S.

 

Photo Credit:  Jim Walker

Roatan: Gun Free Zone?

Roatan HondurasThe La Prensa newspaper in Honduras reports that President Juan Orlando Hernández approved legislation last night at a cabinet session to declare that guns are prohibited in Roatan and the Bay Islands.

The article is entitled Gobierno de Honduras declara desarme en Islas de la Bahía.

The newspaper says that the initiative is part of a program to free tourist areas of violence in the country to encourage tourism.

The president declared the Bay Islands as a zone free of weapons with the objective of substantially improving security and promoting the island as paradise. 

Emilio Silvestri, head of the Institute of Tourism, said that it is urgent to remove firearms from the tourist sites.

Seems like it a desperate policy to me.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with some of its police and national soldiers corrupt. The islands are supposedly safer than the mainland although a crew member was shot and killed this year and cruise passenger and tourists were robbed at gunpoint. 

What the saying?  When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

 

Photo Credit:  La Prensa

U.S. State Department: Crime and Violence in Honduras Remain Critically High

The Department of State in the United States issued another warning about the high crime rate in Honduras, saying that "the level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high." You can read the June 24 2014 warning here.

The last warning from the U.S. state Department was issued on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013. 

A lot has happened since last December. As far as tourists, cruise passengers and crew members are concerned, there have been several armed robberies and one death. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) temporarily pulled its cruise ships out of the island port of Roatan after a NCL crew Roatan Honduras Crime Cruisemember was shot and killed near the port in Coxen Hole.

The report states that "crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country, and the Government of Honduras lacks the resources to address these issues." Since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world. The homicide rate for last year (2013) was 75.6 to 79 per 100,000 people in 2013.  

Crime is also significant in tourist areas. The report states:

"Although Roatan/Bay Islands, Copan Mayan ruins, and other tourist destinations and resorts have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country, thefts, break-ins, assaults, and murders do occur and are still high by international standards."

Crimes against U.S. visitors and residents are rarely solved. As we mentioned before, of the last 50 U.S. citizens killed in Honduras, only 2 cases have been solved.

We have reported on several armed robberies against cruise passengers in Roatan this year like this, and the murder of the NCL crew member last April.

This year, to the howl of protests from expatriate resort owners and tour and dive operators in Roatan, we selected Honduras as the second most dangerous cruise destination in the world

USA TODAY's "Best Cruise Ships For Infants & Toddlers" Misses the Boat

USA TODAY published an article today entitled "Baby on board: Best cruise ships for infants, toddlers." 

Like most USA TODAY articles, it was mostly a "puff piece," trying hard to praise all of the cruise lines while writing nothing provocative or controversial.

The article picked four Disney cruise ships, three Royal Caribbean ships, two Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ships and one ship from Cunard.

The factors for being the best were not identified. The article mentioned things like providing baby Cruise Ship Kids formula, diapers, organic baby food, cribs, high chairs, booster seats and strollers.

But are these really the issues that parents of minors should be worried about? 

The articles doesn't mention serious issues that parents should be concerned with - like minors drowning in swimming pools without lifeguards or little kids being molested by predator crew members or perverted passengers.

Swimming Pools Without Lifeguards:

Disney is the only cruise line that assigns lifeguards to all of its cruise ship pools. It took this step only after a six year child slipped under the water and is now severely brain injured.

NCL and Royal Caribbean haven't bothered to employ lifeguards to protect little kids in and around the cruise ship pools even though several minors have drowned or been seriously injured in pools without lifeguards.

The USA TODAY article picked the NCL Breakaway as one the best cruise ships for minors but two children were pulled from a swimming pool on this cruise ship by other passengers just last February. One child is dead.

The article also selected a Royal Caribbean ship too, but last month a child nearly drowned on the Independence of the Seas

If you are worried about the potential that your little kid could drown in the ship's pools, Disney is the only cruise line that I would recommend.

Sexual Perverts and Predators:

Minors including toddlers have been sexually abused on cruise ships. Take a minute and read:

Sexual Perverts & Pedophiles on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships

Royal Caribbean is hardly the only cruise line with this problem. You can search this site and read of minors being victimized on cruise ships operated by Disney, Celebrity, and the Carnival brands. Yes, even cruise ship baby-sitters have been accused of molesting minors.

The article mentions "play zones" or "kid zones" on cruise ships.  Before you leave your minor kid in one of these places, do your homework. Don't assume all of the employees have been carefully vetted. 

Child pornography is also a problem on cruise ships.  There are frequent arrests by custom officials of crew members whose iPhones and laptops are loaded with hundreds/thousands of photos and videos of child pornography. You can read our many articles about this problem here

Have a Healthy Skepticism of Paradise:

Don't trust best-cruise-ships-for-kids articles written by cruise fans and travel writers. They are often given free cruises and other perks. They will go out of their way to avoid embarrassing the cruise lines. They do the public, who doesn't know any better, a disservice. Read other sources of information. Check around. Educate yourself as a parent before you take your child unwittingly into danger. And once you're on the cruise ship, keep your eyes on your kids at all times. 

 

Photo Credit: Frommers

Another Crime Report Rocks Nassau

The Latin America Monitor published an article about the high crime rate in the Bahamas entitled "Business Environment Analysis - Rising Murder Rate Poses Risk To Tourism Sector - JUNE 2014." the publication reports, in part:

". . . rising murder rates in the Bahamas, including some recent killings of foreign tourists, could weigh on the islands' business environment. If the trend continues unabated, or if there were to be particularly high profile incidents that gained coverage in foreign press, the attractiveness of the Bahamas as a tourist destination could deteriorate, threatening the islands' medium-term growth outlook.

The Bahamas has seen a rise in murder rates in recent years and several high profile killings of foreign tourists in recent months, trends that present downside risks to the country's medium-term growth prospects due to its heavy reliance on the tourism industry as a driver of economic activity. The Nassau Guardian reported early this year that the total number of murders in the Bahamas increased to 120 in 2013 from 111 in 2012, an increase in the murder rate from 29.8 to 34.1 per Crime Nassau Bahamas100,000. Additionally, there have been well-publicised armed robberies and murders of both UK and US citizens in recent months.

Compounding this rise in homicides is that the Bahamas has seen its murder rate increase relative to other Caribbean islands. Whereas the Bahamas reported the fifth highest murder rate in 2010 amongst the countries reviewed by the Nassau Guardian, it has since risen to third highest, behind only Jamaica, where the murder rate was 44.1 per 100,000 in 2013, and St. Kitts and Nevis, which reported a murder rate of 45.5 per 100,000."

The Tribune newspaper in the Bahamas discusses this report in its article "Crime Warning Is Latest Blow."  The newspaper says: "A SECOND report in a month by an international agency has warned that 'rising murder rates,' specifically recent killings of tourists, in The Bahamas could affect the country’s business environment."

We went on record a long time ago with our opinion that the murder of a cruise passenger could result in the cruise lines avoiding Nassau: "Bahamas One Gunshot Away From Cruise Line Exit."

 

Image:  The Tribune

Love Letters from Roatan

This year I have written a dozen articles about the high crime rate in Roatan Honduras. 

The purpose of my blog is to report on "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."

So if there is a destination which the cruise line and tourism officials market (for profit) as a "tranquil" and "peaceful" paradise, but it is really a dangerous place, I will tell you about it. 

If cruise passengers and crew members are robbed, raped and killed in a cruise destination touted as Roatan Hondurassafe, I will tell you about it.

So far this year, I have told you about a family of five with three young kids from a Carnival cruise ship whose rental car was shot up during an armed robbery; a Royal Caribbean family robbed at machete point and a tourist interested in diving the reefs who was violently assaulted; a NCL crew member shot in the head, dead; and several local residents of Roatan killed and left in the streets. 

All of this violent crime occurred in Roatan, Honduras. Yes the Roatan marketed by Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean as the idyllic, tropical get-a-way, the paradise island of Roatan.

I have written about other dangerous cruise destinations: the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Kitts, Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize. But the residents of these countries have never come close to voicing the level of animosity and threats which I receive from the residents of Roatan when I write about crime.

I received a half-dozen emails yesterday from Roatan. Here are two good ones. Judge for yourself:

From Doug in Roatan: 

You are a fucking piece of shit im sure its real safe where you live which I assume is miami which is a complete shit hole how many people die there every night do you tell cruise ship passengers how fucking dangerous the departure ports are of course not ie: miami, new orleans, houston all shit hole cities if you want to write about violence try san pedro sula you fucking moron I will take my chaces in both roatan and san pedro sula before visiting any one of the cities in america mentioned all you are doing is praying on a bunch of people who are afraid of there own shadow you cant hold everybodys hand when they travel but shit happens in colorado at the resorts but you dont make a big deal out of that senseless crime happens everywhere you fucking idiot whatever your deal is with roatan all your doing is making it harder in aplace where life is already hatd enough fuck you

From Michelle in Roatan:

Interesting stats you're choosing to post about Roatan. I live here and am NOT afraid for my safety. You mention that the expatriate community downplays the crime issue and where are your stats about crime regarding them? The truth of the matter is ANYWHERE you go in the world there is crime, except perhaps, Iceland. The crime that we're witnessing here on Roatan is mostly what others would consider, drug related, revenge related or motivated as well as "Indian on Indian". Which is why the deaths of the man by mud hole or by la colonia belfate were featured but aren't causing a stir.
They have nothing to do with the general public. My safety is not jeopardized by the death of either of those men and neither is anyone else's; unless they were associated with them in whatever business or crime they were previously involved in.

People die violent deaths in US cities every single day and the reason people still feel safe in their homes is because they don't hear about them due to the fact that it isn't considered news. "A woman was found shot/strangled or beaten to death in her apartment" could be a news title on just about any newspaper in just about any city or town in the US but once officials realize that she was murdered by her drug dealer boyfriend, that she herself was a drug user and that she is a woman of color, she no longer is classified as news. And her death does not change or influence anyone else's safety. The same goes here. So I urge you to stop focusing your interest in stories that are not being shared and worry about your own interests. It is unfortunate that many people have had negative experiences while traveling here. It really truly is but it doesn't represent the island as a whole. People are safe, just like anywhere else in the world; again, except for Iceland, one must ALWAYS be mindful of what they are doing, where and with whom. Bad choices and bad decisions usually have bad results.

Nassau Newspapers Cover U.S. Crime Report on Bahamas - A Tropical Paradise?

A day after we summarized the U.S. report on the high level of crime which is affecting U.S. tourists and cruise passengers in the Bahamas, the major newspapers in Nassau published articles about the report. 

The Nassau Tribune published U.S. Warns Again Over Crime In The Bahamas. The Tribune also published several other articles about murders which routinely plague the capital of the islands.

The Nassau Guardian published U.S. Embassy See Jump in Assault Reports - State Department Highlights Bahamas' Crime Problem. The article was positioned next to another article about a murder Nassau Tribune with a large photo of a body in a bag being taken away a medical examiner's team.

When we published our article yesterday - 2014 Bahamas Crime Report: Armed Violent Crime Escalates - we received a great deal of hate emails. The criticism fell into general categories. The local Bahamians didn't like a U.S. citizen discussing crime in the Bahamas. Many wanted to discuss crime in the U.S. and talk about mass murders in U.S. schools. And many people in the Bahamas claim that it is perfectly safe in Nassau. 

In response to all of that I say this: of course there are crime problems in the U.S. But there are a few salient point to keep in mind. There are around 304,000,000 (million) people in the U.S. There are a little over 350,000 people in all of the Bahamas with 70% of them living on New Providence island (Nassau).

The Bahamas unemployment rate is staggering. Almost 16% of people in New Providence and almost 20% of people in Grand Bahama have no job. There are too many people with no money and nothing to do.

Not surprisingly, the per capital murder rate in the Bahamas is substantially higher than the U.S rate. The per capita homicide rate in the Bahamas is seven or eight times higher than the U.S. rate. There are around 4.5 murders per 100,000 in the U.S. but between 29 and 35 murders per 100,000 in the Bahamas.

The biggest point to keep in mind is that no one pretends that the USA is a tropical paradise. If you are coming to America, I won't bullshit you. Compared to the UK or the European countries which have few guns and little armed violence, the U.S is the wild west.  But many U.S. tourists who jump on a cruise ship for a vacation to the Caribbean mistakenly believe that the Bahamas is a tranquil, idyllic and peaceful place. It's clearly not. 

Many people who rail against our publication own businesses in Nassau, like bars, restaurants, resorts, excursions companies, jet-ski shops and so forth. They can't afford to lose business. They are characterizing Nassau like a magical safe location.  

But the 2014 crime report bears out what we have been discussing frequently here. That tourists and cruise passengers are being targeted for robbery by criminals armed with guns, knives and machetes. There are too many young men not employed who can make a month's wages with a single grab of a purse or gold chain.

Yes, Nassau has assigned more police officers to the ports and the officers are working longer shifts (which the report acknowledges). But crime in general and crime against cruise passengers has still increased. That speaks poorly for the future of Nassau and its fanciful notion that it is a tropical paradise.

 

Image Credit: Nassau Tribune

Honduras Works with Florida Caribbean Cruise Association to Promote Cruise Tourism

The Honduras newspaper La Prensa reports today that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández will accompany representatives of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) on possible locations which will be marketed to cruise passengers arriving in Honduras. The FCCA is an organization which promotes the interests of the U.S. based cruise lines doing business in the Caribbean ports of call.

Tomorrow the president of Honduras will accompany the FCCA representatives during tours of the city of Gracias, Lempira, and the Copan Archaeological Park (el Parque Arqueológico de Copán), as part Gracious Honduras Cruise Visitof a "reconnaissance" trip to sites where the cruise tourists from Roatan, Bay Islands may visit.

The newspaper says that President Juan Orlando Hernández will accompany visitors on Thursday, May 29th together with representatives of the largest cruise lines in the world, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise. 

The distance from the island of Roatan to the city of Gracias, which is in the mainland of Honduras, is around 190 miles.

Is this really a suitable tourist spot for a U.S. tourist arriving in Honduras by cruise ship?

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world and is subject to warnings from the U.S. Department of State. 

I previous listed Honduras as the second most dangerous cruise destination in the world

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

 

Photo Credit: La Prensa

Roatan, Honduras - Update on Crime

We've received a fair share of hate e-mail this year after we reported on several crimes against cruise tourists in Roatan during the first three months of this year. Many expatriate property owners and business operators became highly agitated when we were the first in the U.S. to report on the murder of a NCL crew member shot near the port in April.

Two men were arrested regarding the crew member murder. The first man arrested was quickly arrested but apparently had nothing to do with the murder. The second man, who apparently killed the NCL employee, was shot in the leg by his friends and turned over to the police for a modest little Roatan Murder Suspectranson. He remains in jail.

A U.S. citizen, Cory Lee Beckner, who lives in Roatan was arrested for allegedly being involved in an armed robbery of a family visiting the island on a cruise ship. His sister recently posted, on our Facebook Page, an affidavit from a local police department suggesting that her brother is innocent. If this is true, then whoever robbed the several cruise tourists has not been apprehended.

In the last two months, there have been several break-ins of homes and businesses run by expatriate U.S. citizens and local residents of roatan. Many people have expressed frustration with the crimes and the absence of any follow-up by the understaffed and ill-equipped local police.

Just last Sunday, a local resident was found murdered, apparently killed with a concrete block which was found bloodied upon discovery of the dead body. The incident reportedly occurred near the impoverished Balfate colony area.  

The arrests of two gunmen who allegedly killed two residents in separate incidents over the course of the last year or so was recently a topic of discussions in Roatan among expatriates. Some people are calling for the alleged gunmen to be publicly hanged to deter other murderers. 

The president of Honduras and tourism officials have announced meetings with the cruise lines to deal with the reports of crime in Roatan. There have been no details released of what has been discussed.

The expatriate community in Roatan is an interesting lot. Half of the people there spend considerate effort trying to convince you how safe and peaceful the island is. But they have a different conversation amongst themselves. There are others who are interesting in exposing the crime problem in the hope that the problem will be addressed and improved.

Roatan Crime Watch: Honduran Officials & Tourism Representatives Meet With Cruise Line Security Executives

Radio Honduras reports today that security managers of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Carnival Corporation recently met with governmental officials and tourism representative of Honduras in a "workshop" to discuss the safety of passengers and crew members in Roatan.

The news account indicates that the Director the Honduran Institute of Tourism, Emilio Silvestri, said that the meeting with the security executives of the cruise lines "is the result of a request from President Juan Orlando Hernández during his recent trip to Miami . . . "

A week ago we reported that President Hernández announced that he has traveled to Miami to meet Roatan Honduraswith cruise line officials regarding the violence this year against cruise ship passengers and crew members. 

This year we have reported on the murder of a NCL crew member, the armed robbery of Carnival passengers, and the armed assault of tourists and Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

NCL pulled its cruise ships from Roatan for one week but quickly returned. Travel writers, travel agents, and expatriate owned or operated dive shops, resorts, bars and real estate businesses still promote the island as a tropical paradise.

The Honduran tourism representative Silvestri mentioned security measures allegedly implemented in Roatan by the Honduran government but didn't specify the nature of such measures.  The cruise line security executives apparently discussed the security measures during the workshop. 

The report identifies those attending the security workshop as Matthew Lewis from Norwegian Cruise Line; Dwight Morris and Alvaro Duron from from Royal Caribbean Cruises; Robert Williams and Jose Negron of Carnival Cruise Line; Luis Colon from Mahogany Bay; Security Minister Arturo Corrales; Research Director Julian Pacheco; as well as municipal authorities and the tourism representatives of Roatan and the Bay Islands. 

The report stressed the importance of the revenue generated by cruise passengers to Roatan. Each cruise passenger spends around $80 in "ground transportation, buying souvenirs, gratuities" and other expenditures during an eight-hour stay on the island.

In April. we placed Honduras on the list of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World

Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World

Caribbean Crime Cruise ShipThe last thing that a family going on vacation wants to think of is being victims of crime. Cruise lines spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year creating idyllic illusions of tropical vacations on beautiful Caribbean beaches.  But behind that slick marketing facade lies danger.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released a Global Study on Homicide 2013. The Huffington Post posted an article based on the study entitled the 10 Countries With The World's Highest Murder Rates

The most dangerous countries mentioned in the study read like a cruise line itinerary: Honduras (No. 1), Venezuela (No. 2), Belize (No. 3),  El Salvador (No. 4), Guatemala (No. 5),  Jamaica (no. 6),  St. Kitts - Nevis (no. 8), and Colombia (no. 10).  The UN executive summary says that Caribbean countries are home to to 8.5% of the world's population, but they account for about 27% of world crime. 

I made my own list of the most dangerous countries you can cruise to.  No, its not scientific in nature based on empirical evidence. It's anecdotal in nature based on information we receive from cruise passengers who contact us and complain about being a victim of crime in a port of call. 

99% of the people who contact us, both passengers and crew, are victims of crime in the Caribbean countries. A few people complained of being pick-pocketed in Italy. But we have received no reports of guns or knives from people visiting European or African ports ever. Of course, ports in Australia and New Zealand are fabulously safe. We have also never received a complaint about crime in the Asian ports.

We know what people will think when they read the list. "Crime occurs everywhere. Just use common sense. Stay with the cruise line excursions ashore." I say nonsense to that. The fact is that crime occurs in certain places far more than others. No one has ever contacted us about crime during a Seattle / Vancouver / Alaska cruise.

"Common sense" is no help when a port advertised as a peaceful getaway has a murder rate 25 times more dangerous than where you live and no one has bothered to tell you that. Some of the Caribbean countries have high homicide rates, one as high as around 90 murders per 100,000 people, whereas the average city in the U.S. is a little over 4 homicides per 100,000. 

The tourism officials in the islands? Worthless. They'd just as soon sell you a straw hat as a wooden box to transport your body back home.  And don't think that being on an official cruise tour is safer than exploring on your own. A busload of U.S. tourists may look like Fort Knox to a gang of armed banditos in an impoverished country, as you can read below.

Many people living in these Caribbean countries will be insulted and say how can you point the finger at us when you have cities like Detroit or Newark? But who on earth would ever vacation in one of these U.S. cities? Everyone knows Newark is dangerous. But few people who just bought a St.Lucia Cruise Ship Crimecruise realize that Nassau is also dangerous. 

The other problem facing cruise tourists in the Caribbean is that once you are victimized, the crooks are rarely apprehended. There is little justice. Of the last 50 U.S. citizens killed in Honduras, for example, the local police have solved just 2 cases.

Here's my list:

10. St. Lucia: This island is a good case study on what can go wrong during a cruise excursion. 69 cruise passengers were robbed at gun point on just two excursions. There were no warnings by the cruise lines or the local tourism officials, even though there had been prior crimes against tourists. The St. Lucia tourism officials lied to the victimized passengers, telling them that nothing like this had ever happened before.

55 Celebrity Cruise Passengers & 2 Crew Members Robbed at Gun Point in St. Lucia.

14 Cruise Passengers Robbed at Anse-La-Raye Waterfall in St. Lucia.

Norwegian Cruise Line Drops St. Lucia.

U.K. Couple Attacked on Yacht in St. Lucia, Husband Killed.

Liar, Liar Pants On Fire? St. Lucia Tourism Board Denies Prior Armed Robbery of Cruise Passengers

9. El Salvador: El Salvador is one of a few countries which is subject to a "critical" crime warning from the U.S. State Department. It has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. In Carnival Cruise Passenger Robbed2012, it suffered from a murder rate of 69 per 100,000 people. By comparison, the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000. Murders and crimes against U.S. citizens are rarely solved. 

8.  United States Virgin Islands (USVI):  The cruise industry already abandoned one of the major islands in USVI, St. Croix, after tourists were murdered over a decade ago. Cruise ships are still sailing to the other major island, St. Thomas, after a 14 year old girl from a cruise ship visiting St. Thomas was murdered.

There are way too many guns, drugs, robberies, and murders to pretend the USVI are a place for a family to vacation. The leading maritime case involving a cruise line's duty to warn passengers of dangers ashore involves St. Thomas.

Carnival Passenger Killed In St. Thomas.

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals: Cruise Lines Have Duty to Warn of Danger of Crime in Ports of Call.

Antigua Crime Cruise Ship7. Antigua: Like other beautiful but impoverished islands in the Caribbean, Antigua seems like paradise but it has seen more than its share of tragedies. The murder of a young woman during a cruise for her sister's wedding led to the cruise company dropping the island as a port of call, but it quickly returned. Travel writers and cruise bloggers tend to hide the ugly side of ports of call in exchange for free perks.

Passenger From Star Clippers Murdered in Antigua

Cruise Passengers Attacked & Robbed in Antigua While Cruise and Tourism Officials Meet.

Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News.

Murder in Antigua: Store Employee Shot in Cruise Tourism Zone Heritage Quay.

6. St. Kitts - Nevis:  Another pretty but poor island where cruise passengers have been robbed "in bulk." The disparity in wealth between the locals and the affluent cruise passengers often leads to armed robberies.

17 Cruise Passengers Robbed in St. Kitts.

Visitors Warned About Safety in St. Kitts After Tourist Robbery.

Royal Caribbean Passenger Alleges Sexual Assault During Sailing Excursion in St. Kitts & Nevis.

Mexico Cruise Ship Murder5. Mexico: This country has suffered some of the worst crime stories over the years. Drugs and be-headings are usually not in the tourists areas, but the tourist spots suffer from the nation's poor image. Places like Acapulco are literally defended by army soldiers.   

Armed Banditos Rob 22 Carnival Passengers on Excursion in Mexico.

Gun Fight in Cabo San Lucas - Is It Safe to Cruise to Mexico?

Royal Caribbean Passenger Alleges Gang Rape in Cozumel.

Royal Caribbean Crew Member Murdered in Mexico.

Mexican Violence: Does Anyone Cruise to Acapulco Anymore?

Mexico Vacation Awareness.

4. Guatemala:  Guatemala is not a place where you should think of renting a car and driving in remote areas, as ambushes of tourists and armed robberies are not uncommon. Many people consider El Salvador equally dangerous to cruise tourists.

Norwegian Cruise Line Passenger Murdered in Guatemala.

3. Venezuela:  Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates. Crime has increased substantially over the last few years.

Cruise Passenger Murdered in Venezuela's Margarita Island.

Roatan Crime 2. Honduras:

Roatan Honduras has been in the news lately following the murder of a NCL crew member who was gunned down in a gruesome crime for his cell phone. The expatriate land and business owners are campaigning that crime is rare, but they are suffering violence and many break-ins and burglaries of their homes and businesses.

We have chronicled several armed robberies of cruise passengers and the sexual assault of a U.S. tourist this year. Like many other Caribbean islands, the police are either indifferent or corrupt. The legal system is somewhere between barbaric and non-existent. 

NCL Crew Member Shot & Killed in Roatan, Honduras.

Roatan: The Irresponsibility of Travel Writers.

U.S. Department of State Critical Crime warning.

Cruise Ship Armed Robbery1. Bahamas: We have been warning about crime in Nassau ever since we started this blog in September 2009. In October 2009, two "vicious robbers" robbed a group of 11 terrified cruise passengers from a Royal Caribbean ship by gunpoint in Nassau. In November 2009, 18 cruise passengers were robbed during excursions from Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise ships.

Crime has gotten worse in Nassau. We receive more complaints about crime in Nassau than all of the other ports in the Caribbean combined. Armed robberies, sexual assault of teenagers and young women, and the murder of tourist makes this port a dangerous place to take your family. The second you step off the cruise ship you're likely to be offered drugs.

The U.S. State Department has issued multiple critical crime warning for the Bahamas.

The Bahamian archaic legal system is indifferent to the plight of U.S. crime victims and the country is inept at solving crimes in port or on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships.  

Warning: U.S. Citizen Murdered in Nassau - Cruise Passengers Urged to Avoid Travel to the Bahamas!

Cruise Passenger Beaten and Raped in Nassau.

U.S. Attorney Raises Alarm Over Crime - Bahamas "One Shot Away" From Cruise Line Exit.

U.S. Embassy in Nassau Issues Critical Crime Warning.

 

Additional Reading: The New York Times publishes an story called "When Crime Comes to Barbados Cruise CrimeParadise." Written by Michelle Higgins in the Times' "Practical Traveler" section, the article suggests that crime is rising in the Caribbean islands such as Belize, Dominican Republic, and St. Lucia.

Dis-Honorable Mentions:

Barbados: Two British Cruise Passengers Shot in Barbados During P&O World Cruise.

Caymans: Police in Cayman Islands Investigating Sexual Assault of Cruise Ship Passenger.

St. Marteen: Crew Member Shot in St. Marteen.

 

April 23 2014 Update:  St Lucia OnLine: St. Lucia ranked in top 10 most dangerous cruise destinations in the world (read comments to article).

St. Maarten Island Time: Port of St. Maarten Not Listed in Cruise Law News Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World - Destination must remain safe, secure and hospitable.

Barbados Nation News: US Blogger Takes a Swipe at Barbados.

Nassau Guardian: U.S. Based Attorney Lists Bahamas As "Most Dangerous" Cruise Port

The website Cruise Line Fans released its Top 5 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations a couple of years ago, as follows: 1. Antigua,  2. Jamaica,  3. Brazil,  4. Nassau Bahamas,  and 5. cruise ships.

The website Crew Center lists: Mexico, Brazil, Nassau Bahamas, Barcelona Spain and Naples Italy.

Nassau Tribune: U.S. Girl Strangled, Sexually Assaulted in the Bahamas.

 

Photo Credit: 

Crime tape - Crime Will Destroy Us! bahamas B2B.

St. Lucia armed robbery - DBS TV St. Lucia via the Times.

Acapulco killings - "Drug Related Killings on the Rise in Acapulco."

Nassau armed robbery - Caribbean 360.

Barbados Shooting: Splash News/Alamy.

Harris Poll Reveals a Lack of Confidence in Reliability & Safety of Cruise Industry

A Harris Poll released today reveals that the public has a lack of confidence in the reliability and safety of the cruise lines. Although the cruise industry was improving the public's perception of cruising, the numerous norovirus outbreaks aboard cruise line ships this year seem to have "effectively stolen the wind from the industry's collective sails." 

Just this week, the Princess Cruises' Crown Princess experienced a norovirus outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced six prior gastrointestinal outbreaks this year. That's 7 so far this year, compared to 9 all of last year. The public is questioning the cruise lines' usual excuse that it is always the passengers' fault for not washing their hands, as there is evidence Cruise Ship Norovirusthat many crew members work while ill in violation of the CDC protocols.

The Harris Poll reveals that the public's perceptions of "quality," "trust" and "purchase intent" are still below the scores before the Triumph debacle last year. 

"We've all heard the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats," says Deana Percassi, Vice President and Public Relations Research Consultant with Nielsen, "but the inverse also holds true. In a field as crowded as the cruise industry, bad press for a small handful of brands – or even a single one – can have negative repercussions for major players across the board."

Americans continue to have more favorable attitudes toward air travel than toward cruises. Roughly six in ten think that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises and a majority agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises.

A majority of Americans also agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago. 

The cruise industry has also been rocked this year with a scandal that MSC Cruises has been dumping garbage bags at sea and have been exploiting its crew to the point that the police in Brazil had to raid a MSC cruise ship. Just this week, NCL decided to pull its cruise ships from Roatan following armed robbery of cruise passengers and the murder of a NCL crew member.

Last year, the cruise industry attacked the Harris Poll, accusing it of being "unscientific," "unreliable" and "flawed." The cruise lines, especially the trade group Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), always say this when there are unfavorable reports criticizing the cruise industry. It tries to discount its annual failed environmental cruise ship scores by the Friends of the Earth in this way too. Last week, CLIA said that it was "disappointed" by a study criticizing it for abusing crew members and the environment. It said the report was "unscientific" and "flawed."

Expect a similar statement from the spin masters at CLIA about the latest critical Harris Poll.  

Bedfellows CLIA & NTSB Team Up for Cozy Meeting on Cruise Ship Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is beginning a two-day meeting today in Washington D.C. regarding the topic of passenger safety aboard cruise ships. The meeting was requested and largely organized by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the trade group for the cruise lines, to showcase the cruise industry.

Participating in the meeting will be NTSB members, CLIA representatives, cruise line employees, Coast Guard officials, and delegates from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is an United Nations entity which makes safety recommendations for cruise ships but is powerless to enforce the recommendations or discipline or punish cruise lines which ignore the recommendations.

The NTSB refused to invite the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization to Washington D.C. and NTSB Meeting Cruise Ship Safetyrefuses to permit the ICV to participate in the meeting.  The ICV is a grass-roots, non-profit organization consisting of thousands of members who are dedicated to making cruising safer. Our firm has many former clients who are members of the ICV, including Lynnette Hudson, the daughter of Princess Cruises passenger Richard Liffridge from Georgia who perished in a fire aboard the Star Princess cruise ship.

The NTSB hearing is opening now with remarks from the Coast Guard about cruise ship accident investigations and fire protection. It is a shame that the NTSB and CLIA refuse to permit the ICV's involvement in the meeting given the first hand experience of the ICV members in dealing with dangers aboard cruise ships.  Ms. Hudson previously inspected the cruise ship which killed her father to make certain that it finally had a fire detection and suppression system installed. She testified before the United States House of Representatives regarding the cruise ship fire which killed her father. You can read about that fire and Ms. Hudson's recommendations to prevent similar fatalities here: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

Other ICV members were aboard the Costa Concordia when it crashed into the rocks and killed 32 souls. 

When I realized that the NTSB was excluding the ICV, I send emails to the NTSB spokesperson, Eric Weiss, requesting an explanation why only CLIA members and cruise line employees were welcome. Mr. Weiss ignored my emails. But he recently spoke to a Miami Herald reporter stating that: “Security and crime is not in our jurisdiction. This is about cruise ship safety, not security.” 

The ICV has many members personally affected by the absence of safety systems and protocols on cruise ships. The ICV has participated in five Congressional hearings addressing safety issues such as engine failures and fires. It appears that CLIA and the NTSB are systematically excluding any organization with victims who have personal experiences regarding cruise ship dangers while inviting only employees and friends of the cruise lines who wish to shield the industry from criticism. 

I realize that the cruise lines are desperate for favorable press after the debacle of the Carnival Splendor and the Carnival Triumph, with both cruise ships igniting shortly after Coast Guard inspections, as well as the deadly disaster involving the Carnival-owned Costa Concordia. But excluding cruise victims and orchestrating a rigged meeting with dog and pony shows by CLIA and cruise line representatives is shameful. 

NTSB's relationship with the cruise industry has always been a mixed bag.

Years ago, the NTSB's chairman was Jim Hall, a man of personal integrity who never wavered from who his commitment to the safety of the traveling public.

Mr. Hall earned a reputation for objectivity and credibility when he was the NTBS's top dog from 1994 - 2001. He was involved in investigating serious accidents in both the aviation and cruise industries. He NTSB Cruise Safety Meetingvoiced his concerns that there would be continued problems in the maritime industry because there was no real oversight over the cruise lines. Consider the comments which Mr. Hall made to Newsweek last year:

"Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration, says the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors” much like in the poorly regulated motor-coach industry, which saw its latest fatal bus crash in Southern California earlier this month. “The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,” says Hall."

After Mr. Hall retired as chairman, the NTSB went in a different direction. From 2006 - 2008, Mark Rosenker served as the NTSB chairmen but he catered to the cruise industry. In 2007, CLIA's Board of Directors wined and dined Rosenker during the annual Sea Trade cruise convention (now called Cruise shipping Miami) here in Miami. He gave a nice speech to CLIA (you can read here) which he began by stating " I am very pleased that your safety record is excellent." This was a rather amazing and outrageous thing to say given the fact that just a year earlier, the Star Princess ignited off the coast of Jamaica and burned through 100 cabins and killed our client's father, Richard Liffridge, mentioned above. 

Rosenker even promised CLIA that he would help the cruise lines keep "sensitive" information about maritime accidents away from the public, telling CLIA "there are provisions in the law to keep certain voluntarily provided safety information confidential."

Rosenker and CLIA were a perfect match. Both were interested in suppressing damaging information about cruise mishaps from the public.

After Rosenker retired from the NTSB, CLIA paid him as a consultant for the cruise industry. His job largely appears to tell everyone who will listen that  "the industry has an outstanding safety record and the most dangerous part of the cruise is undoubtedly the drive to the port. It is very rare that people are injured on a cruise ship,” as he told the cruise industry publication World Cruise Industry Review in 2010.  

In 2012 and 2013 Rosenker continued his gushing praise of a cruise industry which puts money in his pocket, telling a travel agent publication that “it is important for consumers to understand that cruise vacations are extremely safe. This industry is highly regulated with tremendous oversight.” Rosenker told another cruise industry publication that “every aspect of the cruise industry is heavily monitored and regulated under US, EU and international law.”

Senator Rockefeller admonished Rosenker during his testimony last year when he repeated the cruise industry's talking points before a Senate hearing on cruise ship safety issues last year, because of his obvious bias for the cruise lines.

The cruise line routinely hires from the NTSB, FBI, Coast Guard, USPH and other federal agencies. NTSB Cruise Safety MeetingMany former federal officials seem to pander to the cruise lines while in public office. Former Coast Guard officials often quickly turn into paid cruise line consultants who are pleased to appear in cruise industry publications still wearing their Coast Guard uniform and medals standing in front of an official Coast Guard logo while attesting to their wonderful experiences cruising.

Of course, no current or past federal employee should engage in such hyperbolic cheer-leading like this. It is unprofessional and unseemly. It is a conflict of interest. But some federal officials seem motivated to angle for private sector jobs in the rich cruise industry which pays no federal income taxes and is overseen, if all all, by poor, flag of convenience nations like Panama and the Bahamas and the "paper tigers," mentioned by Mr. Hall, at the IMO.

So the NTSB-CLIA love-fest begins this morning. Where is the integrity of Jim Hall? Where are the victims of cruise ship fires and sinkings? Who is speaking for the dead and injured?  Have all of the federal agencies crawled in bed with the cruise lines? 

Former Norwegian Cruise Line Captain: "Let's Not Wait for a Cruise Line Disaster to Protect Passengers"

Former Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Safety Manager and and Master Mariner Bill Doherty has prepared an industry paper which has been submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Captain Doherty is a principal in the expert maritime consulting firm, Nexus Consulting.

His cruise industry paper is entitled "Let’s Not Wait for a Cruise Line Disaster to Protect Passengers." 

William Doherty Nexus ConsultantsCaptain Doherty has over 45 years of experience in the maritime community and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He was the Head of Maritime Affairs for the Chief of Naval Operations during Operation Desert Storm. He previously was the manager of safety at NCL. His industry paper advocates for greater resources to be dedicated toward passenger safety and security.

Captain Doherty states that “cruise lines do not currently have a global plan to address ‘worst case scenarios. Similar to the oil industry’s unpreparedness prior to the ‘Exxon Valdez’ disaster in Alaska, there is no coordinated, global system in place in case of a disaster aboard a cruise line – and here we’re talking about human lives. We’re advocating a plan to preemptively safeguard souls at sea in case of tragedy. Let’s not wait for a cruise line to have an ‘Exxon Valdez moment' before we protect future passengers."

Captain Doherty previously testified before the U.S. Senate regarding cruise ship safety issues following the Costa Concordia disaster. He was featured in a New York Times article about the increasingly gigantic size of the modern cruise ships (and whether it is possible to safely evacuate such a ship). He was recently quoted in the Popular Mechanics article This is How to Prevent Cruise Ship Disasters.

His paper is a must read if you are interested in a true mariner's view of cruising and what must be done to make it safer. Read the paper here.

About Captain Bill Doherty: Captain Doherty is a 1967 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a licensed US Coast Guard Master-Unlimited tonnage, and qualified First Class Pilot, Prince William Sound, Valdez, Alaska. Captain Doherty has served on numerous U.S. Navy warships and was the Head of Maritime Affairs for the Chief of Naval Operations during Operation Desert Storm. Over the course of his career, he has commanded tankers, container ships, research vessels, high-speed ferries, and was an instructor at his alma mater. Before retirement, his latest position was as Safety Manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Captain Doherty now serves as the director of maritime affairs for Nexus Consulting, and has appeared as a cruise safety expert before the United States Senate.

About Nexus Consulting: Nexus is an ISO 9001:2008 certified Maritime Safety and Security Firm was established in 2005 with a focus on security operations in high-threat theaters and cruise passenger safety. In 2008, Nexus Consulting was the first maritime security firm to advocate for armed security teams embarked on commercial ships. In 2009, in the wake of the Maersk Alabama hijacking (made famous in the acclaimed film “Captain Phillips”), Nexus embarked one of the first armed security teams on commercial vessels to protect US mariners, and has been providing security services to protect merchant mariners ever since.

Correction to headline: Captain Doherty was the former safety manager at Norwegian Cruise Lines. I erroneously referred to him as a former captain at NCL.

CSM2014: Who Will Be the First Cruise CEO to Claim Cruising is the "Safest, Safest, Safest" Vacation? And Where Are the Safety Audits?

Last year at Cruise Shipping Miami, all of the cruise CEO's talking at the "State of the Cruise Industry" presentation covered the CLIA talking points that cruising was "safe" and the cruise industry is also supposedly "highly regulated."

The hyperbole was extraordinary.

CLIA's Christine Duffy began the cheerleading by first announcing that the Carnival Triumph fire was "rare." Carnival's President Gerry Cahill topped her by saying: “Something like this is very rare." NCL's Kevin Sheehan's won the award by claiming that cruising was the "safest, safest, safest" vacation Cruise Shipping Miami 2014option.

Cruise executives never discuss actual statistics about fires, accidents and crimes on cruise ships. They would rather tell you their self-serving opinions than provide you with the actual facts and let you form your own opinions.

In truth, there have been over 90 cruise ship fires between 1990 and the present. That's hardly "rare." The "safest, safest, safest" form of transportation does not catch on fire every 4 months.

The horrific sexual assault which recently occurred on the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam should be a reminder that sexual assault is the number 1 crime reported on cruise ships. There will be no mention of that.

And there will be no meaningful discussions about other current topics, like the controversy surrounding recently released video and photos of MSC Cruises crew members dumping bags of garbage and debris - allegedly into the waters of Brazil. Pierfrancesco Vago, Chairman of MSC Cruises, will be speaking this morning. I'm sure no one will ask him about that.  I say that the chances are 50 / 50 he will claim that his cruise line is a "guardian of the seas" or something equally clueless. 

Last year, Carnival's Cahill told us that Carnival intended to conduct safety audit all of its ships. CLIA also promised regular audits as well.

I instantly tweeted "will the audits ever be disclosed of the public?" Of course not. This is just one of those things that cruise executives say. All the travel agents and vendors at CSM then politely clap.

So here we are at CSM again. Soon the CEO's will tell us that everything is great.

Who will be the first executive to tell us that cruise accidents and crimes are "rare" and cruising is the "safest" vacation you can have?

Supersize Cruise Craze: "Too Big to Sail? Cruise Ships Face Scrutiny"

This weekend, the New York Times published an article about the "supersize craze" - the increasingly large cruise ships being built by the major cruise lines which are "worrying safety experts, lawmakers and regulators." 

The article quotes my hero- Jim Hall, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTBS): “Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement. The industry has been very fortunate until now." 

Oasis Class Evacuation ChuteThe article discusses the capsizing of the Costa Concordia and the fires aboard the Carnival Triumph & Splendor and the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas, and concludes that larger cruise ships pose larger problems when things go wrong.

The article also quotes Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, who testified at a Senate hearing in July which I attended. He said that the recent cruise ship fires “highlight serious questions about the design, maintenance and operation of fire safety equipment on board these vessels, as well as their companies’ safety management cultures.”

The New York Times addressed the potential problems of evacuating Royal Caribbean two mega-ships, the Allure and the Oasis. There are not enough life boats for the crew. The 2,300 crew members on each of these cruise ships will have to jump down 60 foot evacuation chutes into life rafts.

You can see our article about this problem here - Titanic Redux? Can Royal Caribbean Safely Evacuate 8,500 Passengers & Crew from the Oasis of the Seas? Be sure to watch the video at the end of the article.

Captain William H. Doherty, a former captain at Norwegian Cruise Lines, explained the problem in simple terms to the New York Times: “The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too many people aboard.”

 

Image Credit: Viking / Royal Catibbean 

Cruise Crime & Missing People: Are Cruise Lines Telling You the Truth?

The non-profit International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization released an interesting press statement today.

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 Cruise Ship Safety 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 and sister line Celebrity Cruises quickly proved that they can't be trusted. They chose to disclose only three (3) overboard persons for the time period from October 2010 to June 2013. As explained in our article Cruise Line "Voluntary" Crime & Man-Overboard Disclosures: Royal Caribbean's Data Is Incomplete and Misleading, at least eleven (11) persons went overboard during this time period.  

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.    

You can read the ICV press release here.

CLIA CEO Christine Duffy Interview: Denial & Scare Tactics

Travel Weekly published a rather fascinating interview by Arnie Weissmann of the CEO of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), Christine Duffy, entitled "Cruising at a Crossroads."

Over the past eight years, there have been eight Congressional hearings on important issues which have plagued the cruise industry, such as the suspicious disappearances of cruise passengers, sexual assaults of women during cruises and cruise excursions, and the under-reporting of crimes by the cruise lines.  A number of victims have traveled to Washington D.C. over the past decade to testify about the crimes committed against them. Women from all walks of life have testified how they felt re-victimized by the cruise lines's refusal to believe them and promptly and accurately report the crimes to law enforcement. 

Cruise Ship Safety - CLIABut Ms. Duffy would not acknowledge a single victim in her interview. She dismissed the issue of cruise ship crime and other problems as consisting of "inaccurate assertions" or "false assumptions." She complained about the erroneous perception of the cruise lines created by "critics." 

Ms. Duffy goes as far as to say that "crime is not really an issue that consumers or vacationers should be consumed about." 

She characterized the cruise lines' lack of transparency in reporting crimes, which has been vigorously debated before Congress, as a "non issue."

Addressing Senator Rockefeller's proposals of removing the cruise industry's tax exemption and imposing a 5% excise tax, Ms. Duffy threatened the loss of U.S. jobs and families being unable to take fun and affordable vacationers:

"The cruise industry, like the rest of shipping, is mobile, and these bills would create an incentive to relocate those jobs and the economic activities that U.S. ports and communities get today. There may be places where those opportunities may be more favorable. So, yes, it would place jobs and economic benefits for the United States at risk."

                                                        *                          *                       *

"Consumers who benefit from a vacation that is a very good value may not be able to otherwise take a vacation that would come close to the level of what's provided by a cruise. I think it's important for your readers and for consumers to understand that that gets put at risk, as well."

Ms. Duffy's blanket denials and browbeating show that the cruise industry is squarely on the defensive. Ignoring the stories of crime victims, CLIA demonstrates that it has no plans to bridge the gap between the cruise industry and cruise critics. And threatening to pull out of the U.S. while frightening families that they will be unable to afford cruise vacations, the cruise lines reveal that they have no clue how to deal with the public relations mess they find themselves in. 

 

Photo Credit: Safety4Sea.com

Cruise Industry Ignores Law Requiring Man-Overboard System

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 Man Overboard System MOB - Cruise Shipcabin 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

Mr. Carver attended the first Congressional hearing in 2005 which was convened following the disappearance of George Smith during a honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.  By all accounts, other passengers probably threw Mr. Smith over the railing of his cabin, but there have been no arrests over the last 8 years.

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. 

Royal Caribbean and its subsidiary Celebrity has experienced 11 people going overboard since October 2010

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. 

There is no question that the technology exists to detect when a person goes overboard which will immediately signal to the bridge, capture an image of the person going overboard, and record the exact location.  See the video in this article I wrote about man overboard systems here

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."

I first read about the Seafaring system in a July 24 2013 article in Maritime Executive entitled "Seafaring Security Systems Wins Surveillance Systems Bid on Norwegians New Ships."  (The article is no longer available on line.)

A system like this will reduce rescue time and expense, safe lives, and assist in apprehending criminals when foul play is involved. 

If the news is correct, then NCL should be applauded for being a leader in implementing the new man overboard technology.  It's a shame none of the other cruise lines appear to have have done so.

 

Photo Credit: Seafaring Security Systems 

Family of George Smith Supports New Cruise Safety Legislation

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.  

George Smith Royal Caribbean DisappearanceA 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.

 

Photo Credit: Greenwich Time

Senate Hearing on Cruise Industry Accountability Reveals Less Than 3% of Cruise Ship Crimes are Revealed to the Public

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Washington DC. attending the hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation titled "Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection."  

I have attended seven Congressional hearings on cruise ship safety issues from December 2005 through March 2012. This is my eight hearing.  For the past eight and one-half years, the cruise lines which attended these hearings have vigorously fought to keep the full extent of crimes which occur on cruise ships secret.  

Senator Rockefeller has now introduced legislation which will require the cruise lines to disclose all crimes on a on line database which will be available to the public. The previous database was grossly incomplete after the cruise industry and the FBI watered the last cruise crime disclose down such that only closed files were disclosed (it seems like the FBI always says that most files are "open" even if it is not conducting an investigation).  This incomplete and misleading database was a great disservice to the American public.   

Senator Rockefeller released a comprehensive report which reveals that 959 crimes were alleged to have occurred on cruise ships and reported to the Cruise Lines Senate HearingFBI since 2011, yet the U.S. public was informed of only 31 such crimes. That's less than 3% of the total number of actual crimes.

You can read the report here.

The proposed legislation is called the "Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013." It would:

Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts. The Secretary of Transportation would develop standards for the cruise lines to provide prospective passengers with a short summary of the key terms in the contract. Consumers would be able to read a plain language summary of the key rights and limitations that passengers have during their cruise so they are fully aware of what rights they have, and don’t have, before they book their tickets.

Give the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers. The Department of Transportation would be the lead federal agency for cruise ship consumer protection, similar to the role it has in aviation consumer protection. Passengers would also have additional protections in the event of a problem by giving the Department the authority to investigate consumer complaints.

Help passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships. Create a toll-free hot line for consumer complaints. An Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection would be created to make recommendations to improve existing consumer protection programs and services.

Make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information. The FBI currently only reports crimes that are no longer under investigation. This causes the number of alleged crimes to be severely under reported and does not give potential passengers accurate information about the safety of cruises. Cruise lines would also be required to place video cameras in public areas and would set requirements for cruise lines to keep the video footage.

Help passengers who have been a victim of a crime on the cruise ship, since they have limited access to law enforcement. The Department of Transportation would establish a victim advocate who can provide assistance to victims on board a cruise ship, make sure the victim is aware of his or her rights in international waters, and get access to appropriate law enforcement officers.

Senator Rockefeller released crime data on line under a series of reports and appendices entitled Cruise Ship Crime: Consumers Have Incomplete Access to Cruise Crime Data

Adam Goldstein, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, attended the hearing and promised that his cruise line would begin to voluntarily post crime data on the Royal Caribbean website. He announced that Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line would do the same.

This decision by the top three cruise lines comes only after an eighth Congressional hearing.  Let's see if these three cruise lines will live up to their promises for a change. So far there is no word that any of the other 25 or so CLIA cruise line members will voluntarily release crime data.

Its too bad that Royal Caribbean and the others did not agree to voluntarily release crime data eight Congressional hearings ago.

 

Photo of Senate Hearing - Photo Credit: Jim Walker - I attended the hearing with my youngest son, John, who got to sit in the first row. That's him standing in the photo.

"Cruise Junkie" to Testify Before Senate Committee on Cruise Safety Issues

Whenever a news reporter covers a cruise ship fire, or a collision or sinking, or a sexual crime, or the disappearance of a cruise passenger or crew member from a ship, the reporter will ask how often these types of thing happen.

Cruise lines and the cruise trade group "Cruise Line International Association" (CLIA) will inevitably state that they don't keep such statistics. They will quickly claim that such incidents are "rare." They will always say something grandiose like "the safety of our cruise passengers is our highest priority." You can interrogate a CLIA or cruise line spokesperson for hours but they will never provide cruise accident or crime statistics.

Cruise Expert Ross KleinBut there is one person who has a good idea how often cruise ship rapes, fires, and overboards occur. He is Professor Ross Klein. He operates a website called, humorously enough, "Cruise Junkie."

Dr. Klein is a sociologist at Memorial University in Canada. The Telegram newspaper states that professor Klein is "recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the cruise ship industry."

For example, If you want to know how many people have disappeared from cruise ships in the last ten years, he has the startling information here. Or you can read that around 50,000 people on cruise ships reported sick due to illness outbreaks (norovirus, e-coli, etc.) in the last ten years. 

Dr. Klein has been invited to attend a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. EST titled, "Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection."

He will testify as an expert witness about cruise ship practices and the frequency of fires, groundings, collisions, engine failures, and sanitation issues. Dr. Klein's appearance was requested by the committee’s chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Dr. Klein has been a regular expert witness before Congress on the issue of cruise ship dangers. He appeared before the U.S. Senate in March 2012 after the Costa Concordia disaster last year. You can read his comprehensive written testimony before the Senate last year here

Dr. Klein also testified before the Senate committee in 2008 and before a House of Representatives committee in 2007 on cruise ship issues. 

I have attended the last seven Congressional cruise hearings. have watched Dr. Klein testify in person three times before Congress on important issues regarding passenger safety.

While the cruise lines are quick to always say that mishaps are "rare" and make happy talk that the cruise industry is dedicated to the health and safety of its passengers, Dr. Klein is the one person who will bring actual facts to the hearing. Senator Rockefeller trusts him to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the cruise industry.

The testimony will be broadcast live via streaming video. You can locate the website info for the live video here.   

 

Photo by Jim Walker

Senator Rockefeller Schedules Another Hearing on Cruise Passenger Safety

A year ago, following the Costa Concordia disaster, Senator Rockefeller convened a Senate hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to inquire into the safety and security of cruise ship passengers and environmental practices of the cruise ship industry.  

I attended the hearing where Senator Rockefeller asked appropriately tough questions to the CEO of the cruise industry's trade organization, Christine Duffy. You can read about the hearing in my article Senator Rockefeller Blasts Cruise Industry: You Are A World Unto Yourselves

You can watch a video of the hearing here.

The cruise industry promised that it was taking steps to protect the cruising public, but a series of highly publicized fires aboard Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships caught the Senator's Carnival Splendor Fire attention. The most notorious event was the "poop cruise" after an engine room fire aboard the Carnival Triumph which disabled the ship. The Triumph had to be towed to Mobile Alabama from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. 4 days of coverage on CNN exposed a side of cruising which embarassed the cruise industry.

Senator Rockefeller wrote a letter to Carnival's CEO, in which Senator Rockefeller asked questions about Carnival's safety record and its non-payment of taxes. Senator Rockefeller characterized Carnival's response as "shameful."

Senator Rockefeller was later interviewed on NBC about the cruise industry's record of cruise ship accidents.     

Senator Rockefeller has now scheduled another hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for July 24, 2013. The hearing is titled “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection.” Senator stated: 

“I’ve been told time and again that cruise lines will change, that things will get better for passengers. But according to our investigation, it doesn’t seem like things have changed. I’m coming to this hearing with an open mind, but so far the cruise lines haven’t been willing to make enough changes that matter on their own. I expect straightforward answers from our witnesses, not more empty promises about how things will get better after the next safety review.”

The hearing will start at 2:30 P.M. on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at the 253 Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC.

We will be attending the hearing and will report here on what happens.

Confidence in Cruise Ship Safety Sinks: Air Travel Perceived Much Safer & More Reliable

Bad news for the cruise industry as it tries to salvage its sunken image. 

A recent Harris Poll concluded that that perceptions of the safety and reliability of the top cruise industry brands are not only low but continue to decline.

The average "Trust Score" shows the steepest decline for Carnival, although trust in the other major cruise lines has fallen significantly.  

The intention of the public to buy a cruise has declined across the board with Carnival again being the hardest hit.

Over six in ten Americans (62%) agree that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises and the majority (56%) agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises.

Roughly half of Americans agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago, with this sentiment proving stronger among those who have never taken a cruise (56%) than among those who have (43%).

The poll finds that even several moths past the Carnival Triumph debacle, which crated creating a "low tide for the industry as a whole," the perception of a dangerous and unreliable cruise industry continues. "The industry as a whole, as well as the Carnival brand specifically, may still be facing rough seas."

Costa Concordia Cruise Disaster

Who's Keeping Cruise Passengers Safe?

AC 360 Keeping Them Honest - Cruise Ship SafetyAnderson Cooper's show AC 360 "Keeping Them Honest" aired a special program last night "Who's Keeping Cruise Passengers Safe?"

The program follows a string of cruise ship mishaps dating back to the Costa Concordia disaster last year up to the fire aboard the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas last week. 

Where are cruise lines incorporated? Where do cruise lines register their cruise ships? Is there any international authority with legal authority to enforce safety regulations?

CNN interviewed me and Senator Rockefeller who has convened safety hearings into the cruise industry.

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) and Royal Caribbean declined to be interviewed.

  

Disappearances at Sea: Cruise Industry Refuses to Comply with Cruise Safety Law

Another cruise ship overboard has dominated the cruise news lately. A couple went overboard from the Carnival Spirit cruise ship. The cruise ship did not notice that the passengers had fallen from the ship until after the cruise ship returned to port in Australia  Later, their images were found on the cruise ship's closed circuit television (CCTV) system but the ship had already sailed to the next port at this point.

In this day and age, no one should go overboard from a cruise ship without being immediately detected. The technology exists. See the video below. There are systems in place which can detect overboard passengers and crew members, then signal the bridge, capture the images of the overboard person, and drop a buoy into the water.  The sooner the cruise ship reacts to a man overboard, the Cruise ship Overboard Detection Systemquicker emergency procedures can be followed and the greater the chances of the person being rescued.  

According to the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act which went into effect last year, cruise ships are required to "integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard . . . "

Congress passed this new cruise safety act into law after listening to the testimony of families who traveedl to Washington D.C.to testify about the horror of their loved ones disappearing from cruises, like Merrian Carver and Daniel DiPiero  

But the cruise industry is ignoring the law.

The Safety at Sea magazine reported long ago that the cruise industry is unwilling to pay for dedicated man overboard (MOB) systems that detect an individual falling overboard. Equipment sellers have been rebuffed by the cruise industry, which seems more interested in investing its money into all types of new water-slides, rock climbing walls and other amusements. The cruise lines remain unwillingness to invest in life-saving overboard detection systems.

Cruise expert Ross Klein was quoted in Safety at Sea as saying that the cruise industry is “looking for loopholes” to avoid the new safety law.“

In the latest overboard case, Carnival was quick to point out that the height of its balcony railings comply with the existing safety law (42 inches) but it did not mention that the law requires a system to detect overboard persons which the Spirit obviously lacks. 

There are lots of reasons why passengers go overboard: being over-served alcohol, foolish or reckless behavior, accidents, and murder, as well as reasons not known. But most cases remain mysteries. The cruise lines don't monitor their CCTV cameras (except in their casinos because they don't want their money to disappear). And they have not even implemented the most rudimentary overboard detection systems.

The result is no rescue or delayed rescue attempts which are unsuccessful.  Even when there are witnesses to a person going overboard, often the captain of the cruise ship will ignore the witness accounts and continue sailing until the entire ship has been searched, leading to unnecessary delay in tragic cases like this and this. The result is also increased governmental expenses incurred due to the necessity of searching a much larger grid (many hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in deploying Coast Guard cutters and aircraft), unnecessary deaths, and unnecessary heartbreak of the surviving family members.   

Image Credits: gCaptain

Senator Rockefeller Places Royal Caribbean & Norwegian Cruise Line Under the Microscope: Will Cruise CEO's Fain and Sheehan Be Honest?

Cruise lines hate U.S. governmental scrutiny of their business operations.  

The whole purpose of incorporating their businesses and flagging their cruise ships in foreign countries is to avoid U.S. taxes and the scrutiny of federal regulators. This business model permits the cruise lines to pay virtually no U.S. taxes and to avoid U.S. wage, labor and safety laws. Cruise lines often conceal shipboard crimes and the industry's abuse of crew members.

But one U.S. Senator, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, is taking the cruise lines' lack of transparency head on. Following Carnival's string of disabled cruise ships and nonchalant attitude towards its quests, Senator Rockefeller sent a letter to Carnival billionaire cruise CEO Micky Arison in March, inquiring into issues pertaining to the cruise line's avoidance of taxes as well as issues regarding the safety of cruise passengers. You can read the letter here

Carnival's letter back to Rockefeller dodged and weaved and argued and mostly avoided responding to Senator Rockefeller's concerns. Carnival refused to disclose, for example, the number of victims of sexual assault - a topic that the cruise lines strenuously try to avoid talking about.  We summarized Arison's defiant attitude in our article: Carnival CEO Arison's Letter to Senator Rockefeller: Screw You!

Undaunted, Senator Rockefeller has sent another letter to Arison and has also sent letters to the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises (Richard Fain) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (Kevin Sheehan).

NCL Cruise CEO Kevin SheehanIn his letters yesterday, the Senator is inquiring into the internal safety audits which the cruise lines and the cruise association are allegedly conducting. At the recent cruise trade show on Miami Beach, the Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL cruise executives talked at length about their ability to learn from their own internal investigations but never stated that they would release the reports from the investigations.

This is the usual cruise line ploy: assuring the public that they are busy at work investigating themselves after cruise ships sink or catch on fire; however, they never ever disclose the results of their alleged investigations. Carnival said that it was conducting an internal audit of its operations after the Carnival Splendor was disabled after an engine room fire in 2010.  But Carnival has never released the results of its investigation. The public remains in the dark.

Senator Rockefeller is also again demanding that the cruise lines disclose the number of crimes, particularly sexual assault, on cruise ships. The cruise industry has been notoriously dishonest in revealing accurate crimes statistics. It usually defaults to conclusory, self-serving opinions that crime is "rare" while simultaneously concealing the true crime statistics.

At a prior Congressional hearing, Royal Caribbean responded to a Congressional inquiry by stating Royal Caribbean Cruise CEO Richard Fainthat 66 women were raped during a three year period.  But in a court case we handled, the cruise line was ordered to reveal that the actual number of such crimes was much higher.

The LA Times reported on the cover-up in an article: Cruise Industry's Dark Waters.   

Royal Caribbean faced no consequence for misleading Congress back in 2006.  

The cruise lines' response to Senator Rockefeller in due on May 24th.  

Will RCCL CEO Fain and NCL CEO Sheehan be transparent? Or will they join Arison in a game of hide and seek?

Senator Rockefeller: Carnival's Response to Congressional Inquiry "Shameful"

Micky Arison - Senator Rockefeller - Cruise Ship TaxesAs I mentioned earlier, Carnival responded to Senator Rockefeller's letter inquiring into the cruise line's avoidance of U.S taxes and its refusal to reimburse federal agencies for services rendered with what I characterized the other day as a "screw you!" letter.

Today news sources are reporting that Senator Rockefeller characterized Carnival's response as "shameful."  

Carnival's letter dodged the central question of exactly what and how much the cruise line pays in taxes.

Senator Rockefeller - Micky Arison Cruise Ship Tax DisputeA recent audit of Carnival's finances on behalf of NBC News revealed that Carnival paid only 0.6% in taxes on the billions and billions of dollars collected from its passengers over the last five years. That's less than 1% in local, state, federal and international taxes. 

One thing is clear to me at this point. Senator Rockefeller is not going to drop the issue after receiving a blow-off letter like this from Carnival's CEO Arison.  

Rockefeller convened a hearing last year after the Costa Concordia disaster and grilled the cruise line's representatives at that meeting about the non-payment of taxes, non-payment for the services of the Coast Guard and other federal agencies, and pollution.

Rockefeller seems likely to schedule another one soon. 

This may be a good time to introduce legislation to create some meaningful oversight of foreign cruise lines given the public's loss of confidence in Carnival following its streak of cruise ship fires and disabled ships.   

 

Senator Rockefeller to Cruise CEO Micky Arison: Carnival's Failure to Address Safety Issues - "This Needs to Stop"

Senator John Rockefeller TwitterTwitter Smack Down!

A few minutes ago Senator John Rockefeller tweeted to Carnival CEO Mickey Arison:

".@USCoastGuard responded to 90 incidents with Carnival ships in 5yrs- with passengers onboard. This needs to change" http://1.usa.gov/152nF2x "

Senator Rockefeller linked his tweet to a letter he sent to Micky Arison today expressing his deep concerns regarding the safety of Carnival ships and indicated that he was not surprised by the latest incident today regarding the Carnival Dream.  He also sent the Carnival CEO a list of questions and Carnival Triumph Cruise Shiprequested documents.  You can read the remarkable letter here

Senator Rockefeller also posted a Coast Guard spread sheet listing a "string of 90 marine casualty incidents with passengers onboard Carnival ships in the last five years." You can see the list here.

Senator Rockefeller wrote "just today, we’ve been reminded of Carnival’s dismal safety record with reports that the Carnival Dream is experiencing problems. The ship is stranded in a Caribbean port with no power and thousands of passengers trapped onboard. Last month, the Coast Guard spent almost $780,000 in responding to the Carnival Triumph incident – costs that are paid by federal taxpayers.” 

Rockefeller held a Commerce Committee oversight hearing in March 2012, following the Costa Concordia disaster, to examine deficiencies in the cruise line industry’s compliance with federal safety, security, and environmental standards and review whether cruise ship industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers and the environment.

We attended the hearing and blogged about the hearing where Senator Rockefeller said to the cruise Micky Arison Twitterline representatives: "You Are A World Unto Yourselves."

Senator Rockefeller's stinging rebuke of Carnival comes as the cruise industry just ended its annual cruise convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center.  The cruise executives all touted the safety of the industry and how "rare" cruise mishaps allegedly are.

So far, no tweets by Arison in response to Senator Rockefeller's tweet.

Arison spends most of his time on Twitter tweeting about his Miami Heat basketball team.

Cruise Shipping Miami: What the Cruise Executives Did Not Tell You

When the Cruise Shipping Miami's "State of the Industry" presentation started yesterday at 9:30 AM, I wondered whether anyone would mention Costa Concordia.  

Keynote speaker, David Scowsill,World Travel and Tourism Council President, briefly mentioned the Concordia disaster in passing, saying "despite the tragic cruise ship incident last year" cruising is still "safest" form of transportation.

Holland America Line CEO Stein Kruse was the first to say the words "Costa Concordia" over 1 hour into the CEO's presentation which I quickly noted in a tweet at 10:33 AM.  It was one of the few State of the Cruise Industryreferences to reality the entire morning.

All of the CEO's covered the CLIA talking points that cruising was "safe" and the cruise industry is also supposedly "highly regulated."  The hyperbole was extraordinary.

Christine Duffy was the first to say that the Triumph fire was "rare." Carnival's President Gerry Cahill then topped her saying: “Something like this is very rare."

NCL's Kevin Sheehan said that cruising was the "safest, safest, safest" vacation option.   

RCCL President Adam Goldstein said that the cruise industry was "highly regulated" by the IMO "regulatory scheme." He said words to the effect that he was sure "that no one in the room would dispute that."

Carnival's Cahill added that his cruise line intends to conduct safety audit all of its ships. CLIA would also be performing audits as well.

All of these statements sounded great. But there was little of substance discussed. There were all types of precise statistics presented about the number of new ships, the number of passengers and the revenue generated by the cruise lines. But when it comes to statistics regarding fires and other accidents, the cruise executives offered nothing but their personal opinions.

It was interesting what the cruise execs didn't say rather than the talking points they repeated over and over.     

Last year I attended a Congressional hearing where a cruise expert detailed some 79 cruise ship fires between 1990 and the hearing in 2011. I have discussed in this blog that over 10 cruise ship fires occurred since the Splendor. That's 90 fires in 23 years.

That's hardly "rare." The "safest, safest, safest" form of transportation does not catch on fire every 4 months.

Keeping statistics away from the public is how the cruise industry works.  Assuring the public that the unregulated cruise industry is allegedly "heavily regulated" is also how the cruise lines work.

Senator Rockefeller presided over the post Concordia safety hearing last year and told the cruise representatives "You Are A World Unto Yourselves."    There is simply no real oversight by the U.S. over foreign flagged cruise ships.

Carnival's Cahill promised that his cruise line would police itself with its own safety audits. But what he didn't say was whether the audits will ever be released to the public.  

Trust me, they will never see the light of day.

Cruise Shipping MiamiCahill also said that Carnival "learned its lesson" after the Splendor fire in 2010. But he didn't say what lesson Carnival learned. He also didn't mention that the country of Panama, where Carnival registered the Splendor to avoid income tax, has still not even released a report about the investigation into the fire which occurred over two years ago.  What lesson can be learned if the official report into the fire has still not been released at this late date?

Does anyone really think that the audits by Carnival and CLIA about the Triumph last month will ever be shared with the public when there is no public report about the Splendor which caught on fire 28 months ago?

Until the cruise industry truly falls under the scrutiny of U.S. federal regulators and there is transparency in releasing statistical information and accident investigation reports, all we will hear at the state-of-the-industry presentations are more and more self-serving opinions of an industry which is a world unto itself.       

Safety at Sea? Dangerous Practices on MSC Cruise Ship

MSC Unsafe at Sea A reader of Cruise Law News sent me these photographs today showing crew members on an unidentified MSC cruise ship washing the tops of tenders.  

The two crew members to the left seem to be wearing life vests but its less than clear whether they are wearing harnesses and are tethered to the ship.

Upon closer inspection, the bottom photo shows an employee obviously wearing no life vest or harness.

A slip and fall from that height would be a good way to drown or suffer serious injury.

Crew members who contact us often talk about "ship life."

"Ship Life" seems to be the state of reality that actually exists on cruise ships.  It is different from what the company policies and procedures say and what the cruise line projects as the company's image.

Sometimes upon the rush to get the job done, there is pressure to cut corners and not use the proper safety equipment. The same pressure to proceed to get the work accomplished often exists even if the proper equipment is not available or the equipment is faulty or not adequately maintained.

We all remember the five deaths and three injuries in January when a Thomson Majesty lifeboat with 8 crew members dropped upside down into the water.   

What do you of the photo below?  Whose responsibility is it that work is not performed under these circumstances?

MSC Cruise Ship - Danger  

PS. I don't know who took these photos so please contact me if you want credit. Anyone know which ship this was and where it was docked? 

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Dead Ships & Endangered Passengers - Cruise Lines Ignore International Maritime Organization Guidelines

Yesterday the New York Times published an insightful article about the failure of the cruise industry to design their cruise ships with redundant engine systems such that if one set of engines is knocked out by a fire or explosion, another set of engines in a separate compartment would provide power to the cruise ship.

Entitled "Lack of Backup Power Puts Cruise Passengers at the Ocean’s Mercy," the article explains that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) proposed guidelines calling for cruise lines to to equip cruise ships with backup engines and generators. The redundant engine systems and back up systems are are needed not only to maintain electricity, refrigeration, and toilet operations, but to Carnival Triumph Engine Room Firemaintain power to prevent the ship from pitching violently in strong waves.

Just yesterday I spoke with a retired Coast Guard officer about what happens when a ship at sea loses all power. He expressed concern of how the cruise ship would be evacuated if the vessel loses power. There would be no way to lower the lifeboats!  

The newspaper explains that pursuant to the IMO recommendations, any cruise ship built after July 2010 is required to have redundant engine systems. But the cruise industry largely chose not to add backup systems to new cruise ships.

The IMO, a United Nations organization, has no authority to impose sanctions when cruise lines ignore the IMO's guidelines.

A naval architect, Larrie Ferreiro, is quoted in the newspaper explaining that a cruise line can design the ships either to put more equipment or more people on it: “The more passenger cabins you can fit into that envelope the more revenue you can get." Only 10% of the cruise ships have redundant systems, according to the NY Times.

In the unregulated world of cruising, this means that 90% of the cruise ships out there may become "dead in the water" when an engine room fire breaks out. That places passengers and crew at unnecessary risk of injury or death at sea.   

 

Photo Credit: Carnival Triumph engine room - US Coast Guard   

An "Outlaw Industry" Watched By "Paper Tigers"

Newsweek's Daily Beast Blog published an insightful article about the real issues behind the Triumph cruise ship fire. Entitled "Carnival Cruise From Hell," the article explains that the situation involves a lot more than just another stinky ship bobbing around on the high seas. Rather, Newsweek writes that the fiasco is "a troubling indicator of pervasive safety problems in a booming industry with little oversight."

Written by Eve Conant, the articles points out that last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the entire U.S. fleet of Boeing 787s over fire-safety concerns. But where is the maritime equivalent of the FAA overseeing the cruise lines? It has been outsourced to third world countries like the Bahamas which has neither the interest or capability of regulating the billion dollar U.S. cruise industry. 

Newsweek interviewed me for the article, but criticism from lawyers who routinely sue the cruise lines are often met with skepticism.  

Jim Hall - Cruise Danger - National Transportation Safety Board NTSBWhat's impressive about the article is that Newsweek interviewed a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Jim Hall.

Unlike recent NTSB officials who angled for lucrative consulting jobs with the cruise lines and gave the industry a free pass, Jim Hall earned a reputation for objectivity and credibility when he was the NTBS's top dog from 1994 - 2001. He was involved in investigatng serious accidents in both the aviation and cruise industries. He voiced his concerns that there would be continued problems in the maritime industry because there was no real oversight over the cruise lines.

Here are the recent comment's made by Hall to Newsweek:

Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration, says the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors” much like in the poorly regulated motor-coach industry, which saw its latest fatal bus crash in Southern California earlier this month. “The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,” says Hall.

Ships may seem and feel American but are mostly “flagged” in countries like the Bahamas or Panama in order to operate outside of what he says are reasonable safety standards. “It is, and has been, an outlaw industry,” says Hall. “People who book cruises should be aware of that.”

Cruise lines are an "outlaw industry" watched over by "paper tigers?"  Spot on.  And remember these comments are by a former chairman of the NTSB.  

Where Is CLIA When Disaster Strikes?

It has been a brutal week for the cruise industry. Consider the developments over the last week:

A 24 year old dancer from Massachusetts died aboard the Seven Seas Voyager. Her body was found when the cruise ship docked in Australia.

Two passengers went overboard from MSC cruise ships in the last couple of days.  The body of a 46-year old passenger from the MSC Divina was pulled from the water but a 30 year old man who went overboard from the MSC Fantasia this weekend has not been located.

Cruise Line International Association - CLIA Five crewmembers are dead and three injured when a cable snapped as a lifeboat was being raised aboard the Thomson Majesty in the Canary Islands.

Yesterday, the Carnival Triumph lost power after an engine room fire disabled the ship.  The cruise ship is now being towed to port in Progreso, Mexico while the guests have no running water or air-conditioning and are having to poop in bags.  

So where are the reassuring words from the cruise industry's leadership? Where's the don't-worry-cruise-fans these are just rare mishaps in the remarkably safe world of cruising?

So far no word from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), which now seemingly has every cruise line in the world as a member.  Nothing either from CLIA's CEO Christine Duffy.  Does CLIA and its CEO work on weekends when the lifeboats and passengers are falling and the ships catch fire?

I suppose all of this must be embarrassing to the marketing and public relations people at CLIA. After the Concordia disaster, CLIA announced 10 new safety proposals with great fanfare. One of them had to do with lowering lifeboats with only a few essential crewmembers aboard to avoid unnecessary injuries and deaths. But it seems that this was just a proposal which the cruise lines could ignore.  Why were 8 men sitting like guinea pigs in the lifeboat as it is winched up to the 22 year old ship when the cable snapped?

So how does CLIA handle this mess?  It seems like CLIA is about as responsive to the disastrous week in cruising as Captain Schettino was in responding to his sinking ship. Its hide-under-the-bed PR.

Eventually the executives at Carnival and Royal Caribbean making tens of millions a year will send some talking points over to CLIA.  Then we will hear talk about the remarkable safety record of the cruise industry. Maybe CLIA will announce a Blue Ribbon Lifeboat or Fire Safety Task Force or something equally obtuse but official sounding.

Meanwhile eight families are mourning their dead loved ones and a boatload of families stuck on the disabled Triumph are being towed back to Mexico.   

L.A. Times Asks: Is Cruising Safer One Year After Costa Concordia?

The L.A. Times has an interesting article today about whether the new cruise safety proposals marketed to the public after the Concordia disaster are really making a difference.

Entitled Questions Linger One Year After the Costa Concordia Disaster, the article by L.A. Times reporter Mary Forgione asks some tough questions whether the cruise industry has taken the steps necessary to make cruising safer for the public.

Interviewed in the article are two cruise ship survivors who give the issue some true perspective. Weighing in for the cruise industry is former travel agent Christine Duffy, who is now head of the cruise Cruise Ship Safetytrade organization Cruise Line International Association, as well as cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown, who is the editor of the pro-cruise website and Expedia & Trip Advisor owned Cruise Critic.  

Ms. Forione interviewed me as the critic of the cruise industry, I suppose.

My take is that the proposals are rather modest. Plus there is no regulatory agency of any type which can actually enforce the proposals. The proposals are mostly happy-talk to try and convince the public that it's safe keep buying cruises. 

There are more pressing cruise safety issues to worry about that no one is talking about.

The risk of terrorism against a cruise ship is frightening, Consider this. But no one is discussing the inadequate, skeleton crews of security guards on cruise ships.

Nor is anyone focusing on the greatest risk to your family if you cruise. Sexual assault of children, girls and women. Just last week two officers aboard a Princess cruise ship were arrested on allegations that they raped a woman on the Grand Princess. No one is talking about that either. 

Is Cruising Safe? Depends On Who You Ask.

I read a tweet this evening which caught my eye:

"Is Cruising Safe?"  

I noticed that it was by Jane Wooldridge who many of you know as the business editor of the Miami Herald. I have been critical of the Miami Herald and its reporters who, like Ms. Wooldridge, are careful not to criticize the Miami-based cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean which contribute substantially to their newspaper's advertising revenues.

Actually the tweet did not refer to an article in the Herald at all. Instead it linked to an article in Travel + Cruise Ship SafetyLeisure where Ms. Wooldridge answers her own question by assuring us that cruise ships accidents resulting in death are "very rare" and that the Concordia shipwreck was an "anomaly."  These are exactly the talking points that the cruise industry sent to its friends in the travel industry immediately after the Concordia hit the rocks a year ago. 

Ms. Wooldridge goes so far as to suggest that the recent safety proposals of having safety drills before cruising, keeping strangers out of the bridge and other long overdue basic practices may "eliminate such incidents altogether."

Now I am accustomed to delusional puff pieces like this from travel publication editors (Mr. Woolridge is also editor of Travel + Leisure). The most notorious pro-cruise puff pieces come from cruise cheerleader Carolyn Spencer-Brown, who is editor of the Expedia/Travel Advisor owned Cruise Critic publication. She loves to say that cruising is "absolutely safe."

The truth is that there have been far more deaths on cruise ships over the course of the past five years than other forms of major transportation. The U.S. based commercial aviation industry is remarkably safe.  The airlines had strict pre-flight checklists and safety procedures 50 years ago. And needless to say, the aviation industry never let the pilot's girlfriends hang out in the cockpit or permit jets to buzz towns for fun.  

Cruise lines also have a major problem with crimes committed by employees and drunk passengers against women and children. The chance of being raped on a cruise is twice that of being raped ashore. Airlines, railroads and buses simply do not have these types of problems.

Do you really think that public relations inspired proposals promoted in a travel magazine will prevent the next deadly cruise ship collision or shipboard fire?  Do you think that the new rules will Cruise Ship Safety protect your little girl from a pedophile male cabin attendant with a key card to your cabin?    

If you want sunshine blown up your caboose, then rely on Ms. Wooldridge or Ms. Spencer-Brown for an answer to the question "is cruising is safe?"  I guarantee that you will receive no real facts but lots of wonderful adjectives that accidents are "rare" and cruising is "absolutely" safe.

But if you want facts upon which base your own conclusions, check around for information from sources like Sociology Professor Ross Klein's informative website, or check out the website of the non-profit  International Cruise Victims, or read some of our articles about cruise ship accidents, deaths, sexual assault of women and molestation of children which the cruise lines and travel writers would prefer you not know.

Since 2005 I have been to seven Congressional hearings regarding cruise ship safety, including the last two hearings following the Costa Concordia disaster (photo above right). A half-dozen of my clients testified about the issue of whether cruise ships are safe.

I have not seen Ms. Wooldridge or Ms. Spencer-Brown at any of the hearings. 

Family Won't Cruise Until Real Improvements to Cruising are Made

The Times Union newspaper has an interesting article today, about a family who survived the Costa Concordia disaster, entitled "Survivors Shun Ships After Duel with Death."  Written by Cathleen Crowley, the article explains that a family from Duanesburg, New York previously enjoyed cruising having vacationed on a dozen prior cruises. But on January 13 2012, their cruise aboard the Concordia quickly turned into a near death experience.

The story involves Joan Fleser, her husband Brian Aho, and their daughter, Alana, The family feels fortunate to have survived the ordeal which took the lives of 32 passengers and crew members, but "the chaos on the ship and the memory of the massive cruise liner leaning toward their tiny lifeboat still Cruise Ship Safetyinvades the family's thoughts daily."

Earlier this year, Joan and Brian attended Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. which were convened to study issues on cruise safety following the Concordia debacle.  Joan told the Times Union: "It was very interesting and very upsetting seeing that the House Committee was stacked with representatives from cruise states and they were so pro-cruise industry." This is the same conclusion I reached when I attended the hearing.

I took a photo of the family at the hearing (together with Mississippi lawyer, John Eaves Jr.)

The family itemized a number of well-reasoned proposed safety improvements which you can read in the article here.  

The article also quotes Captain Bill Doherty who is director of maritime affairs for Nexus Consulting Group, a maritime consulting and security firm based in Virginia. Captain Doherty is a former naval officer and was the safety manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines. He is critical of the cruise lines inspection systems and lack of enforcement of existing safety rules.

Captain Doherty points out that the U.S. Coast Guard and government enforcement bodies in other nations outsource inspection duties to third parties, many of which are society groups funded by the cruise ship owners.

Cruise Line Safety Panel - Independent Experts or Paid Cheerleaders?

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) publicity machine has been in full speed this week. As part of its marketing strategy that cruising is "extremely safe," CLIA announced in a press statement that it continues to review cruise ship procedures as part of a safety review which it started after the Costa Concordia disaster.   

Unfortunately, the safety review panel is producing lots of rhetoric and little substantive safety changes.  One of the new policies is that cruise passengers must attend a muster drill before the cruise starts. My reaction when I first heard this was "you mean the cruise lines don't already have a policy in place?" The aviation industry required pre-flight safety instructions to passengers fifty years ago. 

Star Princess Cruise Ship FireI have written about CLIA's much publicized 10 safety policies here and here.

Lots of the rhetoric is coming from CLIA's panel of so-called "independent" safety advisers. There is nothing remotely "independent" about the panel. Take, for example, Mark Rosenker who is always described as a "former NTSB chairman." What the cruise lines don't say is that Rosenker has worked in the private sector after leaving the federal government and has been a paid consultant for the cruise industry for years.

Two years before the Costa Concordia debacle, the World Cruise Industry Review referred to Rosenker as a "cruise industry advisor" and quoted him in 2010 saying "the industry has an outstanding safety record and the most dangerous part of the cruise is undoubtedly the drive to the port. It is very rare that people are injured on a cruise ship.”

Rosenker was a friend of the cruise lines even when he worked at the NTSB. In 2007, CLIA's Board of Directors wined and dined Rosenker during the annual Sea Trade cruise convention here in Miami. He gave a nice speech to CLIA which he began by stating " I am very pleased that your safety record is excellent." This was a rather amazing thing to say given the fact that just a year earlier, Princess Cruises' Star Princess ignited off the coast of Jamaica and burned through 100 cabins and killed the husband of one of our clients. (You can read about the Star Princess fire and many other cruise ships fires here).  

Rosenker even promised CLIA that he would help the cruise lines keep "sensitive" information about maritime accidents away from the public, telling CLIA "there are provisions in the law to keep certain Princess Cruises Star Princess Cruise Ship Firevoluntarily provided safety information confidential."   

This week Rosenker is back extolling on the safety of a cruise industry which puts money in his pocket, telling a travel agent publication that “it is important for consumers to understand that cruise vacations are extremely safe. This industry is highly regulated with tremendous oversight.”  Rosenker tells another cruise industry publication that “every aspect of the cruise industry is heavily monitored and regulated under US, EU and international law.”

An "independent" safety expert would not engage in such hyperbolic cheer-leading. In truth, we all know that the cruise industry is essentially unregulated. The cruise lines goes to extraordinary steps to incorporate their businesses and register their cruise ships in foreign countries to avoid U.S. taxes, wage and labor laws, and safety regulations. 

Rosenker has been cheering for the cruise industry for a long time. The Star Princess and Costa Concordia disasters did not dampen his enthusiasm one bit. That's what got him placed on the cushy job of the cruise line's safety panel where he will continue to cheer for the cruise lines under the guise of being an "independent" expert. 

Have a thought? Join the discussion on our facebook page.

Latest CLIA Safety Policies: Too Little & Too Late

Pacific Sun Storm - Cruise Ship MayhamTravel Weekly reports that the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) announced three new policies designed to supposedly improve cruise ship safety after the Costa Concordia disaster earlier this year. 

It's great PR for the cruise industry. But like the other post-Concordia CLIA policies, there's not much substance to the new procedures.

One policy talks about storing more life vests at the muster stations, but some cruise ships (like the Oasis of the Seas) store the life vests in the cabins.

A second policy is something about "standardizing bridge procedures across a brand's fleet, and across different brands under the same ownership."  Huh?  Not sure what procedures CLIA is thinking about. It seems like this means that all Costa ships, for example, or all brands owned by Carnival could have one procedure but there will be different procedures for other ships and other companies like Royal Caribbean or NCL.  Why not one uniform procedure for all cruise ships?

The third "new" policy mentions using "tie-downs or other means of locking down heavy objects such as pianos, televisions, treadmills and laundry equipment that could cause injuries if they shift unexpectedly."

Does this mean that cruise ships currently don't have such a policy?  That's remarkable.

Consider the CCTV images of the Pacific Sun cruise ship hit by rough seas where literally everything in sight was sliding violently across the cruise ship's decks.  The video was filmed in 2008.  It has been over 4 years since the video was filmed. The cruise industry is only now finally thinking of a tie-down policy? 

 

27 Years After Hijacking of Achille Lauro, Can Cruise Ships Keep Passengers Safe in the Middle East?

Twenty-seven years ago today, the world saw terrifying television images of Palestinian terrorists holding passengers aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. 

There were over 20 nationalities of passengers booked on the cruise, but the terrorists stated that Americans would be the first to be executed if their demands were not met.   

Leon Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends, when the Achille Lauro sailed for Port Said, Egypt.  Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists picked him to be the first to die. They shot him in the chest and head, and Achille Lauro Cruise Ship - Terrorismthen forced two crew members to dump him and his wheelchair over the side of the cruise ship.

That terrible crime occurred in October 1985. Now 27 years later, are cruise passengers, particularly Americans, any safer?

We have seen civil unrest across North Africa. President Mubarek is gone from Egypt and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is dead. Good riddance to both I say, but both countries now seem more dangerous to Americans than ever. Last month we saw anti-American demonstrations on the 9/11 anniversary in both of these countries, and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.

On the front page above the crease of the New York Times this morning are several articles about violence in Syria with a photo of a Syrian firing a Kalashnikov rifle. I not sure who is fighting who anymore but they all seem to have the potential to take their violence to U.S. interests.

In April I blogged about a plot where Arab terrorists envisioned hijacking a U.S. based cruise ship, forcing the passengers to wear orange Guantanamo-like jump suits and then videotaping their execution. 

The World Cruise Industry Review concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a Anti American Protests - Egypt, Libya, Tunisiacruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."

27 years after Leon Klinghoffer's dead body was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, the danger of terrorism against cruise ship passengers seems greater than ever before. Have cruise ships increased the number of security guards aboard their cruise ships? I doubt it. Every cabin occupied by a security guard means less revenue for the cruise lines.    

The current strategy seems to be to simply skip ports in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia until things calm down. But that's a short turn fix; when the street protests are over, there remains the risk of jihadists plotting a cruise ship to target. Will the cruise security teams be ready?

If terrorists can over-power several heavily armed U.S. Marines and kill our Ambassador in Libya, does anyone really think that they are safe sailing on a Holland America Line or Princess cruise ship sailing into Tunis or Port Said?

Is CLIA CEO Christine Duffy Really Ready For Twitter?

Today the cruise Industry trade organization, Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), sent out a press release announcing that its CEO, Christine Duffy, now has a Twitter account: @CLIACEO 

I could not help but think, oh boy is this going to be fun.  

Ms. Duffy began her tenure at the helm of CLIA in January of last year.  She started her employment with a bang when she answered some friendly questions from a travel magazine about lobbying Congress for the cruise lines. Somehow she managed to criticize the U.S. automobile industry while trying to promote the cruise lines.  Listen to this whopper:  

CLIA CEO Christine Duffy - Cruise Line International AssociationPart of the message we delivered in D.C. is that the travel industry employs more people than the auto industry, and we didn’t get a bailout. We employ a lot more people than anybody recognized, and our impact is in all 50 states. We’re not going to offshore our jobs . . .

The fact of the matter is that all of the CLIA cruise lines are foreign corporations. Unlike Ford or Chevrolet which are U.S. corporations and employ U.S. employees, the CLIA cruise lines are 100% foreign corporations. Carnival was incorporated in Panama. Royal Caribbean was incorporated in Liberia (yes, Africa). And all of these cruise lines fly the flags of foreign countries like Panama, Liberia, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

By registering their companies and cruise ships overseas to avoid U.S. labor, wage and safety laws, the foreign cruise lines also avoid U.S. income taxes. The $35,000,000,000 (billion) cruise industry pays virtually no U.S. Federal income taxes. If the cruise lines were required to pay U.S. taxes, they would pay over $10,000,000,000 a year. The cruise industry receives a $10 billion bailout each year, year after year.

But that's not all. All of the cruise ships are manufactured and constructed in foreign shipyards, in Italy, Norway or France. And 99.9% of the officers and crew members (except some U.S. dancers, singers and an occasional assistant cruise director) are from "overseas." No U.S. workers are going to work 360 hours a month for around $545 like the incredibly hard working utility cleaners from India, Central America and the Caribbean islands.

The cruise industry is the most outsourced, non-U.S. industry in America. The industry is built on the business model of tax-paying U.S. citizens paying their hard earned wages to the foreign corporation cruise lines who pay no taxes to the U.S. 

This year, at a hearing in the U.S. Senate about cruise safety issues following the Costa Concordia disaster, Senator Rockefeller questioned Ms. Duffy's honesty when she testified about the cruise industry's failure to pay U.S. taxes.

A happy faced former travel agent, Ms. Duffy knows the importance of staying upbeat while selling cruise tickets. But the question remains whether she has the gravitas to actually discuss important issues regarding the safety of the cruising public.

Will Ms. Duffy use Twitter as just a PR platform to repeat the CLIA talking points laid out by the cruise line public relations experts and cruise lobbyists ( "cruising is safe . . . the security of our guests is CLIA's number one priority") or will she will actually engage the public and answer some tough questions about crime on cruise ships, sexual abuse of minors, and working conditions of the predominately non-U.S. crew members.

What will Ms. Duffy do when she receives a tweet from a mother whose daughter was served alcohol and taken to a crew member's cabin, or a father whose daughter disappeared overboard from a cruise ship, or a widow whose husband experienced a heart attack and was then dumped on a Caribbean island?    

My prediction?  Ms. Duffy will tweet happy gobbledygook carefully vetted by CLIA's PR consultants. She will chit chat with travel agents. But she will ignore the cries of those families who suffered death or injury.  She will avoid all spontaneous and genuine discussions of real issues. She will religiously avoid making direct comments about cruise ship fires, sinkings, deaths, disappearances, crimes and norovirus outbreaks.

And when the next disaster strikes the cruise industry, Ms. Duffy's Twitter account will go silent.    

 

Interested in other articles about CLIA?  Consider reading:

@CruiseFacts - Cruise Line Pravda

Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash

Did Cruise Line International President Christine Duffy Lie to Congress?

Newsweek Magazine Weighs in on Cruise Safety Debate: "The Hidden Horrors of Cruising"

Today, Newsweek magazine and its online edition - The Daily Beast - weighs in on the 6 month anniversary of the Costa Concordia disaster with a far reaching article looking at all aspects of today's cruise industry.

Cheap cruise fares? Certainly.  But at what cost? Long working hours, low pay, and exploitative working conditions. An injured india crew members says to Newsweek: “They never feel that we are humans . . . They believe we are machines.” But Costa counters: employees are a “precious resource whose rights must be safeguarded as an ethical and moral imperative.” 

Newsweek takes a look at a number of other cruise health and safety issues, like norovirus and sick crew members pressed into working while ill and who lie to passengers to keep the machine running.

I'm quoted a couple of times about the cruise industry's new safety policies (what a joke).

The article's title is not subtle: "The Hidden Horrors of Cruising," written by Eve Conant and Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Your travel friendly publications won't be re-printing the article anytime soon.

If you can't wait until the magazine arrives at your newsstand, you can read it online at the Daily Beast

Costa Concrodia - Cheal Fares & Hiden Dangers

"The industry hopes you won’t worry about such disasters next time you’re lured by an Internet ad for a $299 cruise."

Photo credit: Max Rossi / Reuters-Landov

Watch CNN Special "Predators at Sea" - Are Your Kids Safe on Cruise Ships?

Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas - Sexual Predator Last night, CNN Anderson Cooper's program AC 360 took a look at the safety of women and children on cruise ships.

The program began with an interview with a girl who alleges that at age 15 she was sexually assaulted by who she describes as a uniformed Royal Caribbean crew member aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship. The crime occurred after the cruise employee let himself into the child's cabin while her parents were at a different part of the cruise ship. Like most cruise ship crime cases, the FBI did not arrest anyone and the crime remains unsolved.

A former U.S. Customs and Border agent and a former cruise ship security officer were interviewed. They stated that there is a 85% to 100% chance that a cruise ship leaving a port in Florida has a sexual predator aboard. Cruise ships are "magnets" for sexual predators and criminals know that cruise crimes are rarely reported and rarely investigated by the FBI. 

The cruise industry, predictably, released its talking points and stated that the safety of its guests is its highest priority. The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), also stated that ship crime is rare. It went as far as to state that there are only a "handful" of crimes which occur during cruises based on the database required by a new cruise safety law.

Remarkably, the cruise industry did not mention that the cruise law was watered down to require the disclosure of only a fraction of the many hundreds of crimes which occur each year. We suspect that CLIA was behind the alteration of the cruise law in order to cover-up crimes like the one involving the girl on the Rhapsody of the Seas.

Watch the video below:    

 

Cruise Industry's New Safety Initiatives - Too Little, Too Late?

The cruise industry's trade group, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), announced two new safety initiatives last week. I was rather amazed when I read what the new proposals involved.

The first policy is what is being called the "Nationality of Passengers" policy. This policy states that each passenger's nationality should be documented for use by search and rescue personnel in case of an emergency evacuation. 

It surprises me that cruise lines don't already do this.  Airlines have kept such international manifests with passenger nationalities listed for decades.

CLIA claims that this is an effort to enhance passenger safety on board cruise liners. I'm not sure how listing passenger's nationalities leads to safety at all. Perhaps the information helps to Cota Concordia Cruise Ship - Muster Drillidentify the dead after disaster strikes.

A second safety procedure touted by CLIA is a list set of 12 "universal" instructions that should be given to passengers at muster drills.  These include the most basis instructions to passengers to prepare them for an abandon ship situation after a cruise ship fire or collision.

Cruise Critic summarized these instructions in a recent article as follows:

  • When and how to don a lifejacket;
  • Description of emergency signals and appropriate responses in the event of an emergency;
  • Location of lifejackets;
  • Where to muster when the emergency signal is sounded;
  • Method of accounting for passenger attendance at musters both for training and in the event of an actual emergency;
  • How information will be provided in an emergency;
  • What to expect if the Captain orders an evacuation of the ship;
  • What additional safety information is available;
  • Instructions on whether passengers should return to cabins prior to mustering, including specifics regarding medication, clothing and lifejackets;
  • Description of key safety systems and features;
  • Emergency routing systems and recognizing emergency exits; and
  • Who to seek out for additional information.

When I first read this proposal, I couldn't believe that the cruise industry didn't already have an established set of muster station / life vest / life boat instructions.  It's 2012, over 100 years since the Titanic sank!  No wonder there was such deadly confusion on the Concordia.

You may recall that back in April, CLIA announced some other new proposals including limiting visits to the bridge during cruises. I called this the "no bimbos in the bridge" policy because Captain Schettino's girlfriend was reportedly in the bridge after the Concordia hit the rocks.

Is this an industry so far behind the times that it is only now recommending standard muster drill instructions, listing passenger nationalities, and keeping the captain's girlfriends out of the bridge during disasters? 

 

Photo: Carlos Carballa / EFE 

L.A. Times Weighs In On Cruise Crime Cover-Up

The L.A. Times is the latest major newspaper to discuss the behind-the-scenes alteration of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.  

In Drop in Cruise Ships' Reported Crimes Raises Questions written by Dan Weikel and an accompanying editorial Cruise ship crimes: Why so hush-hush? by Paul Morrison, the L.A. Times takes a look at the reporting of cruise ship crimes after the new cruise safety law came into effect. 

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 Ship Crime Lawcruise safety law came into effect, the FBI was known for its disinterest in investigating crimes on cruise Cruise Ship Crime - Cruise Crime Lawships. 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. 

Cruise Industry "Safety Tool Kit" Lacks An Important Tool - Honesty

Yesterday I read a press release by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) touting a "Cruise Industry Safety Tool Kit."

The kit is designed by CLIA to "educate and reassure" prospective cruise clients about safety at sea.

The materials contain brochures which can be customized with the travel agency's name on the front and includes questions and proposed answers to provide to customers who may be skittish about cruising following the Costa Concordia disaster and highly publicized cruise ship fires on the Royal CLIA Safety Tool Kit - Cruise Ship DangersCaribbean / Azamara Quest and the Costa Allegra.

Unfortunately the CLIA materials are incomplete and misleading. Consider this proposed question and answer:

Q: Is cruising safe?

A: Absolutely. Cruising is extremely safe, and incidents are rare . . .

If you are a travel agent and tell your clients that cruising is "absolutely safe" in order to make a sale, and one of their kids is victimized by a crewmember, you can be sued for fraud.  

CLIA also suggests that travel agents tell prospective cruisers that "as ships have grown larger, cruises have become safer than at any time in history." Considering the 32 deaths in the Costa Concordia just a few months ago (which CLIA is careful to omit), this may be another whopper that you may want to skip too. To make matters worse, CLIA's casualty statistics end as of 2011 and do not include the Concordia victims. 

The greatest omission from CLIA's safety kit is there is absolutely no mention of crime.  The greatest risk to a passenger is not the cruise ship catching on fire or sinking, it's sexual assault - like a cruise employee molesting your child or your teenage daughters being sexually assaulted by a crewmember or older passengers.  

Earlier this year we reported on a child supervisor who worked for many years on Cunard cruise ships who admitted to abusing at least 13 boys in and around the cruise ships' play zones.  We suspect that there are more victims than this.  

There has been a vigorous debate in our U.S. Congress for the past six years about the frequency of crime on cruise ships. One cruise expert who testified several times before Congress stated that the chance of being a victim of rape on a cruise ship is twice that of being sexually assaulted in your home town.  

Azamara Quest Cruise Ship FireThe safety kit also has a section where CLIA recommends certain messages for travel agents to post on Facebook and "tweets" to post on Twitter under #cruisesafety.  So far I have not seen any travel agents posting the CLIA info under this hashtag.

When interacting with your clients, the smartest thing a travel agent or cruise specialist can do is to disregard the CLIA propaganda. Here's my safety tip to travel agents:

Be honest with your clients.  

Anyone can Google "cruise ship crime" or "cruise ship fire" and read many hundreds of articles and see all types of disturbing images about all types of crimes and mishaps on cruise ships. Why tell a lie and lose your credibility, when your customers can find the truth about the dangers of cruising by a simple Google search?

 

"Cruise Safety Kit Logo" - Cruise Line International Association

Photo of Injured crewmember following Azamara Quest fire - IBN Live 

Royal Caribbean Passenger Alleges Gang Rape in Cozumel

Cozumel - Cruise Ship CrimeCrimes against women in ports of call is a topic which I write about on a regular basis on Cruise Law News. Cruise lines have a legal duty to warn about the danger of crimes in the ports of call that they sail to on a regular basis.  Cruise lines sell an idyllic image of a care-free tropical vacation, but in reality they know or should know that there are dangers ashore waiting for their passengers.

One country I write about all too often is Mexico.  Drug related crime is increasingly creeping into the port cities. Gang violence will increasingly pose a threat to cruise passengers traveling to Mexico unless things turn around quickly in the future.

But a real threat to female passengers sailing to Mexican ports is violence, including sexual assault, against teenagers and young women.

A case pending in our court system should serve as a wake up call to cruise lines sailing to Mexican ports.  After Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas sailed into Cozumel, a young woman went ashore into the port to shop.  The lawsuit alleges that the cruise line provided her with a map of the shopping locations recommended by Royal Caribbean.  A gang of men brutally raped the young woman while she visited one of the recommended stores.  The lawsuit further alleges that it is believed that the men who raped the cruise passenger worked in the subject shopping area.

Like most crimes against cruise passengers in ports of call, there have been no arrests.  Ostensibly the alleged rapists may still be working in and / or around the shopping area in question.

Does Royal Caribbean warn cruise passengers of this danger?  No.  Cozumel is one of the few ports capable of accommodating the Genesis class cruise ships like the Allure and the Oasis.  No way will Royal Caribbean risk scaring its customers away from Cozumel when it has to sell 11,000 tickets for these two monster ships.

In fact, the cruise line touts Cozumel as one of the safer ports in the world.

Five months after the gang rape of the Royal Caribbean cruise passenger from the Oasis, a Royal Cozumel - Cruise Chip CrimeCaribbean crewmember from the Allure of the Seas was found murdered and floating in the water off of Cozumel.  The cruise line did not alert her or any other crewmembers or passengers of the earlier crime.  Indeed, after the murder Royal Caribbean issued a press release characterizing the crime as "isolated and uncharacteristic for Cozumel."   

It seems that Royal Caribbean forgot about the gang rape a few months earlier? 

The murder, like the rape, remains unsolved.

I have never heard of anyone in Mexico being tried or convicted of a crime against a tourist or a ship employee going ashore. There are several web sites discussing the reluctance of Mexican police to get involved in investigations in cases like this, such as Mexican Vacation Awareness which chronicles crimes and violence against tourists in Mexico.  Some of the local police in Mexico have even been accused of participating in crimes against tourists.

Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean conceal these dangers from their cruise guests.  It appears that even the stores on the cruise line's recommended shopping list may not be safe to visit.

 

Photo credit: AP Photo/Angel Castellanos

"Concerns Linger About Cruise Line Safety"

Cruise Ship Crime - Cruise LawThe 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." 

You can read the article here.

"Attacked at Sea" - the Dark Side of Cruising

NBC Bay Area aired a cruise crime special last night regarding the problem of sexual assaults at sea. The program is called "Crime Onboard - The Dark Side of Cruising."

NBC reports that although cruising is one of the most popular ways to travel and vacation, passengers are often left in the dark about the risks out at sea.  One problem is how many reported crimes are actually made public. The investigation concludes that shipboard crimes are often unreported, covered-up or not accessible by the public.

The program begins with cruise passenger Laurie Dishman who was sexually assaulted on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship who was sexually assaulted by a part time security guard with a history of sexually harassing women during cruises.  We represented Ms. Dishman in a lawsuit against the cruise line.  

 

 

You can watch the video interview with Ms. Dishman's Congresswoman, Doris Matsui, here

 

Video credit:  NBC Bay Area

Cruise Ships: The Deadliest Form of Public Transportation?

NCL Norway Cruise Ship ExplosionSince the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise lines' PR departments have been working overtime trying to convince the public that cruising is safe. I have mentioned the cruise industry's talking points in a prior article "Six Lies the Cruise Lines Will Tell You after the Costa Concordia Crash."

One of the bigger cruise whoppers is the notion that the cruise industry has the best safety record compared with other forms of passenger transportation.  Just last week, the cruise lines' trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), issued a press release stating that cruise ships deaths are "extremely rare."  The press release quotes CLIA President Christine Duffy, who credibility was recently called into question at a U.S. Senate hearing on cruise ship safety.  

Ms. Duffy cites a report by a consulting firm, GP Wild International, Inc., which represents that in the 10 years before the Concordia disaster, there were 28 deaths on cruise ships out of 223 million passengers and crew who sailed in the past decade. 

GP Wild states that "average fatalities between 2006 and 2011 are 0.16 per one million passengers . . . this compares with 0.3 per one million passengers for the airline industry."  GP Wild does not cite a reference for these statistics, but let's assume that they are true.

Carnival Ecstasy Cruise Ship - Cruise FireSo is the cruise industry saying that you are twice as likely to die on an airplane than a cruise ship? 

Let's take a look at this claim.  Ms. Duffy characterizes GP Wild as "an independent source of analysis and data on the cruise industry."

That's hardly true.   GP Wild is not "independent."  It's clients are Carnival and Royal Caribbean (the cruise industry's largest cruise lines comprising 75% of the cruise market) as well as Radisson, Silversea and Star Cruises.

GP Wild's methodology intentionally excludes most cruise ship deaths.  It counted dead cruisers only if they were killed in an "operational casualty," such as collisions, fires, groundings or sinkings. But this limited definition does not include common situations like over-boards (170 in the last 10 years) like this case, or deaths due to norovirus like this case, or this case, or deaths caused by Legionnaires' Disease like this case, or due to shipboard medical malpractice like this case or this case, or fatalities due to rough weather and poor seamanship like this case, or cruise ship murders like this case, or this case, or this case, or deaths due to dangerous shipboard conditions like this case, or or deaths due to excursion mishaps like this case or this case, or fatalities due excessive alcohol like this case or this case.

It seems strange to to prepare a list of cruise deaths and exclude most of the dead people.

The problem with cruise death statistics is that there is no central cruise database which the public can access. The International Maritime Organizational (IMO) / flag state reporting systems are inconsistent and spotty.  There is no consequence when the cruise line and/or flag state don't report a death.  Even if the cruise line reports the fatality, the flag state does not have to report the incident to the IMO.  Like most UN agencies, the IMO is toothless. It  cannot compel a flag state to release casualties reports, assuming they decide to prepare one.  And flag states like Panama and the Bahamas Princess Cruises Star Princess Fireconduct amateurish reports which are designed to protect their cruise line customers.

Take, for example, an earlier deadly Costa cruise incident.  In 2010, the Costa Europa recklessly smashed into a pier in Alexandria, Egypt, killing three crew members and seriously injuring four more. The incident was published in newspapers in the Egyptian and British press. I blogged about it here, but otherwise there was no media coverage in the U.S.

After the Concordia capsized, many reporters here in the U.S. and in Europe, who were researching Costa's safety record, contacted me and asked for a copy of the maritime accident report regarding the Europa.

Of course I did not have a copy.  The point is no one had a copy of the casualty report.  The flag state, Italy, investigated the deaths but did not bother to send a copy of the report to the IMO.  Italy responded to inquiries from reporters  by stating that the report was "strictly confidential."

Even if the IMO obtained a report, it is unlikely it would share a copy with the family of the dead crew members or reporters.  The IMO does not release casualty reports to the public.  The flag states don't either.  And neither do the cruise lines which consider their reports regarding dead passengers to be the "confidential and privileged" property of the cruise line. 

The GP Wild report references the Europa incident, but there are no reports publicly available to discuss the factual findings and the probable cause of the incident. 

Contrast this with the strict and vigorous procedures of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which overseas the U.S. aviation industry.  TheAmerican Airlines Safety Record FAA data is accurate and public in nature where the cruise data is inaccurate and secret in nature.

U.S. commercial airlines have enjoyed a remarkably safer record over the past decade than the cruise industry. By all verifiable statistical data, travel by U.S. commercial airplane is much safer than traveling by cruise ship.

The U.S. air carriers transport around 750 million people a year. That's several times more than all cruise passengers and crew members over the last decade. There were no deaths on U.S. commercial carriers in 2007 and 2008 or in 2010.    

Unlike the secretive cruise industry, U.S. airplane manufacturers (like Boeing) and U.S. airline companies keep meticulous records regarding accidents and fatalities.  They release this information to the public. They are transparent.  No other form of public transportation is as carefully scrutinized, thoroughly investigated and closely monitored by outside U.S. agencies as commercial aviation. Foreign flagged cruise lines, on the other hand, incorporated in Africa and Central America, have no equivalent as the FAA.  They can bamboozle the United Nation's IMO without consequence.  Cruise lines claim that they don't keep records of fatalities and if they do, they are uniformly unwilling to share them even with the families of the dead.

Statistics don't always tell the full story of course.  Cruising is also the only place where you can be killed and your loved ones will have no legal recourse against the cruise line pursuant to the Death On The High Seas Act.

So let's get back to the cruise lines' claim that cruising is the safest means of public transportation today.  

Its not true.       

If you add the 32 dead and presumed dead from the Costa Concordia disaster to the cruise industry's reported number of dead passengers and crew - compared to flying on an U.S. air carrier - cruise ships may well be the deadliest Costa Concordia Muster - Cruise Shipform of public transportation.  

Think cruising is safe?  You may be more likely to die during a vacation cruise or working with Carnival or Royal Caribbean than flying on Delta or American Airlines.      

 

Photos, top to bottom:

NCL's Norway Explodes at Port of Miami

Carnival's Ecstasy Catches on Fire Off Miami Beach

Princess Cruises' Star Princess Ignites Off Jamaica

Costa Concordia Confusion in Giglio, Italy

Cruise Shipping Miami 2012 - Cruising is Safe, It Really Is, Trust Us

I am out of town with my family on Spring Break for a couple of days.  This morning I was on my computer reading the Twitter feed for Cruise Shipping Miami 2012.

As all of you know, the Cruise Shipping Miami event (previously known a SeaTrade) is the annual event sponsored by the cruise industry where the cruise line vendors, excursion companies, port agencies, and foreign tourism boards fill the Miami Beach Convention Center advertising their services.

It sounds like a rather surreal environment this year.

The Mexican tourism people are telling everyone how extremely safe Mexico is.  Let's not talk about the 22 Carnival cruise passengers robbed at gunpoint last month.

Cruise Line International President Christine Duffy - two weeks after her disastrous performance before the U.S. Senate where she was chastised for a lack of candor - started off her moderation of the cruise line president's discussions with the usual talking points about the cruise industry's incredibly safety record.   

Carnival executive Howard Frank said cruise ships are safe and his Costa crewmembers were the "true heroes" in the Costa Concordia disaster.   A Celebrity Cruise president and a NCL captain raved about the safety of cruise ships and so on and so forth.

If you ran a computer analysis of the words spoken by the cruise line leaders at the convention, "safe," "incredibly safe" or "remarkably safe" would be at the top of the list. 

But the first two months of this year have been as disastrous a period of time for cruising as I have ever seen.  Not just the Concordia capsizing and the Allegra ship fire.  There have been nine gastrointestinal sickness outbreaks in 2012, a new record.  Plus a steady stream of child molestation cases, crewmembers and older passengers raping teenage girls, deaths and overboard crew and passengers, including another highly suspicious disappearance of yet another woman during a recent cruise.

Cruise experts like Professor Ross Klein, who maintains the most comprehensive list of cruise ship overboards, norovirus cases and cruise mishaps - are not invited, and are not welcome, at the cruise convention.

We will read newspaper accounts from the cruise friendly press and travel agent publications reciting the safety "facts" touted by the cruise industry as the Gospel Truth.

This is the cruise industry's happy fest.  Critics, complainers or independent thinkers stay away.

Cruising is safe, remarkably safe, the cruise executives say.  Repeat after us - cruising is safe.  It really is.  Trust us.

Now can I sell you a discounted cruise to Mexico?

Senator Rockefeller Blasts Cruise Industry: "You Are A World Unto Yourselves"

Unlike the love fest between the Republican members of Congress and the cruise line representatives at the hearing before the House on Wednesday, the hearing before the U.S. Senate was certainly not warm and fuzzy.

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, started the hearing off questioning why the highly profitable cruise lines pay virtually no U.S. income taxes although they extensively use the resources of some 40 Federal agencies. Senator Rockefeller continued saying that he was suspicious of the cruise industry which uses antiquated laws and onerous contractual terms to deny fair compensation to families who die or are injured during cruises.

Senator Rockefeller also questioned the ethics of an industry which dumps human sewage just three miles off the coast of the U.S., creating floating islands of untreated sewage.

Senate Cruise Safety HearingThe exchange between Senator Rockefeller and Christine Duffy, the CEO of the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA") was remarkable.  Ms. Duffy read from a prepared script which touched upon all of  CLIA's "talking points," but she would not respond directly to Senator Rockefeller's tough questions.  

Senator Rockefeller asked Ms. Duffy to admit that Carnival Corporation pays only 1.1% in taxes in the 11 billion dollars in profits made over the course of the last three years.  She would not directly respond and she also skirted the question whether she considered that to be fair.  Ms. Duffy would also not immediately agree to provide income tax returns to the committee, until he threatened to use the subpoena power of the Senate.

Senator Rockefeller drew an analogy between what happens deep in the coal mines of his state of West Virginia with what happens on the high sea beyond three miles.  He questioned Ms. Duffy's credibility and admonished her to "speak more truth."  Referring to the cruise industry, he stated "You are A World Unto Yourselves."

What a difference a day makes, between the Republican party heaping praise on Ms. Duffy the day before at the House hearing, and the tough questions posed by a Democratic Senator the following day. 

 

Don't forget to read:

Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash

House of Representatives Convenes Hearing on Costa Concordia to Avoid "Collateral Damage" to Cruise Industry

Yesterday the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened a hearing on the Costa Concordia disaster.

As I mentioned in prior articles, I was concerned that the Chairman of the committee, John Mica, a Republican from Florida who is an unabashed supporter of the Florida-based cruise industry, would use the hearing as a platform to praise the cruise lines and help them try and rehabilitate their tarnished reputation. 

I was right.  The hearing yesterday began with the committee members praising the cruise industry and "applauding" the cruise lines for what they described as an "excellent" safety record.  Chairman Mica described cruising as a "joyful," "pleasurable" and "incredible" experience.  Congressman Young from Alaska trumped the Italian investigators and announced that "there was nothing wrong with that ship."  He applauded the industry's "great safety record," and warned against against "casting aspersions" on the cruise lines.  Congresswoman Maxine Brown, also a cruise lines supporter from Florida and a former travel agent, praised the cruise industry as providing the "safest" form of transportation in the world.

The cruise line and CLIA representatives touched on all of their "talking points," and then scurried out a back door behind the hearing room to avoid the press.

Although Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA) and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) asked Elijah Cummings - Cruise Safetysome tough questions, the hearing was mostly a pep rally for the cruise industry.

Most disappointing was the involvement of Congressman Elijah Cummings (photo left) who, like all of the other committee members never mentioned the dead U.S. passengers (Gerald Heil, age 69, and Barbara Heil, age 70, of Minnesota) by name. 

How can the U.S. House of Representative conduct an inquiry into a cruise disaster which kills two Americans where no one even mentions the names of the dead couple?

Congressman Cummings, usually an even keeled legislator who has treated cruise victims with respect, made clear that his primary concern was for the reputation and economic interests of the cruise lines.  He brought up the issue of what he described as avoiding "collateral damage."  He said to the C-SPAN audience that he wanted to make certain that no one came away from the hearing with an impression that cruise lines were not safe. 

Collateral damage?   Thirty two people dead or missing and Mr. and Ms. Heil's bodies remain trapped in the bowels of the Costa Concordia.  And Congressman Cummings is concerned that the cruise industry's reputation may be collaterally damaged by the investigation? 

Later this morning, the Senate will be convening its own hearing on the Concordia debacle.  Let's hope that the Senate takes the tragedy more seriously and asks some tough questions.Maech

March 1, 2012 Update:

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel news paper echoed the sentiments in our article with "Congressional Hearing On Cruise-Ship Safety Turns Into Love-Fest for Industry."

 

Don't forget to read: Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash 

Congressman Mica Tries to Stack Congressional Hearing with Cruise Line Witnesses - But One Couple Who Survived the Costa Concordia Crash Will Testify

Congressman John Mica - Republican The U.S. House of Representatives will be holding a hearing on cruise ship safety on Wednesday, February 29, 2012.  The hearing will begin at 10:00 AM in the 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

A subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (the subcommittee on Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation) will conduct the hearing and will focus on the Costa Concordia disaster.  The hearing is called "A Review of Cruise Ship Safety and Lessons Learned From the Costa Concordia Accident."

Republican John Mica (R - Fla.) (photo left) is the chairman of the committee. Unfortunately, he is no fan of cruise victims.  His allegiance is squarely to the cruise industry.  

I have been to five Congressional hearings regarding cruise crime and passenger disappearances over the last six years.  My clients - three women raped on cruise ships, a family whose father was killed in a cruise ship fire, and a widow whose husband disappeared during a cruise - appeared in Washington and testified.  Very serious and somber stuff.  But when Congressman Mica presided over one of the hearings, it was an ugly event.  Disrespectful is an understatement.  He mocked some of the cruise crime victims to the point that the audience began booing. 

Christine Duffy - Cruise Line International AssociationIt was to my surprise therefore that shortly after the Costa Concordia disaster last month, Congressman Mica announced that he was going to convene a hearing to examine the Costa Concordia crash and determine whether cruise ships operating out of the U.S. were operating safely.  I wondered had Congressman Mica found his soul?  Or did he plan on conducting a publicity stunt for his cruise line friends and supporters in Florida by assuring the public that everything with the cruise industry was safe and sound.

I received my answer last week when I received a copy of the list of witness who would testify - five cruise line representatives and one Coast Guard witness.  But no survivors of the Costa disaster.  No cruise victims.  No cruise critics.  No neutral cruise experts.  

Congressman Mica seemed to have designed the hearing be a Congressional love fest between the Congressional cruise supporters and the cruise line employees & lobbyists.  Consider the line up of cruise supporters:

Christine Duffy (photo above left) - President of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA)

Michael Crye - Lawyer for the Cruise Line International Association.

Vicky Rey - (photo left below) PR person and customer care representative for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Vicky Rey - CarnivalGeorge Wright - Operations Department of Carnival subsidiary, Princess Cruises.

Captain Evans Hoyt - Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) Captain.

Ms. Duffy and Mr. Crye, employees of the cruise industry's trade organizations CLIA, are paid cheerleaders for the cruise line whose testimony will consist of repeating the cruise industry's "talking points" and alternating between saying that "cruising is incredibly safe" and the "safety & security of cruise passengers are CLIA's highest priority."  Ms. Rey has no technical knowledge about anything and is Carnival's happy face for publicity purposes. The two cruise employees with maritime knowledge, Mr. Wright from Princess and Captain Hoyt from NCL, have no first hand knowledge of the Costa Concordia debacle.

Where were the survivors of the Costa Concordia?  Frightened families who cried as they explained the terror and confusion of the ill-fated cruise have appeared in documentaries on the Discovery channel, on ABC's 20/20 cruise special, CNN's Anderson Cooper and all of the major networks.  But Congressman Mica couldn't find one single cruise victim anywhere?

Sameer and Divya Sharma - Costa Concordia survivorsIt was only after member of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization learned of the stacked deck and protested to the subcommittee did Congressman Mica agree that one couple who survived the cruise horror could testify.  Sameer and Divya Sharma (photograph right, on cruise ship) were added as last minute witnesses.

Mr. and Ms. Sharma family are wine and spirit shop owners in the Medford / Stoneham area in Massachusetts who were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary when disaster struck. To obtain a glimpse of their anticipated testimony at the hearing tomorrow, watch the video below and consider what they explained to a reporter in a local newspaper in Medford:

We were lied to,” said Sameer Sharma. “They said this is just an electrical mistake, we’re working on it, generators being kicked in, everything under control, stay calm, don’t panic and enjoy your dinner. They had the audacity of making the same announcement right when we were waiting to board the lifeboats when it was very obvious the boat was going down.”

The Sharmas said they heard announcements made “on behalf of the captain” throughout the evening, not realizing until the next day that Captain Franceso Shettino had already fled the ship.  As reassuring announcements blared over the speakers, Divya described a clustered group of men, women and children waiting to board lifeboats with no sense of organization. She called it “mass hysteria.”

“I’ve never seen anything so unorganized and chaotic in my life,” Divya said, adding several adults wore child-size life jackets because there were not enough adult-size life jackets to go around.

Certainly insight like this will be more revealing to the subcommittee of the dire circumstances the cruise passengers faced than the happy talk of the cruise line PR people.  I'm sure that Congressman Mica would prefer that the Sharma family stay in Massachusetts.

 

 

 

Video credit:  wamcadoo YouTube

Photo credit: Sameer Sharma

Newspaper credit: Wicked Local Medford / Medford Transcript

The Debate Continues: Does Maritime Law Favor Only The Cruise Lines?

Sea Diamond - Cruise Ship Sinking Take a look at the photograph on the left.  Can you identify it?

Nine times out of ten, I bet the answer is of course, its the Costa Concordia.  You know, the cruise ship that crashed into rocks last last month near the Italian island of Giglio.

Wrong.  Its a photo of the Sea Diamond, which capsized after hitting a reef in Greek waters in 2007 and sank with loss of life.

The story of the Sea Diamond is one that the cruise lines and cruise industry supporters ignore while extolling the safety of cruising.

The photo of the stricken Sea Diamond is part of a Reuters article this morning questioning whether the cruise lines benefit from overreaching contractual terms and the absence of consumer laws protecting the public.   The article is entitled "Insight: Cruise-Laws Leave Cruise Ship Victims at Sea." It explains how the cruise lines erect a series of hurdles which make if difficult to seek compensation or justice when things go wrong on the high seas. The journalists interviewed a number of cruise passengers who were injured or lost loved ones during cruises.

Another article,taking a different perspective, was also published this morning.  The cruise friendly on-line community Cruisemates published "Cruisin' U.S.A."   

The article suggests that foreign flagged cruise ship are subject to Federal laws, international regulations, and the scrutiny of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Customs and Border Patrol.  The author did not interview anyone.  The only link was to the cruise industry's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association.  The article contains no historical perspective, and contains no photographs of sinking cruise ships.

As the cruise industry braces for the negative publicity which will surround the Congressional hearings about cruise ship safety later this month, you will see a series of competing articles like this.  The debate is a healthy one.  The cruise industry will put its best foot forward using a platform of cruise supporters like Cruisemates and Cruise Critic and certain travel agent bloggers.  And real journalists like the folks at Reuters will chip away at the facade and reveal the dark side of the cruise industry.  

 

Photo credit:  Reuters

Cruise Industry Accountability Back in the Spotlight: U.S. House and Senate to Hold Hearings on Cruise Ship Safety

Cruise Ship Safety HearingsThe U.S. House and Senate have scheduled hearings for February 29 and March 1, 2012 to address whether the cruise industry has taken adequate steps to protect cruise passengers and comply with newly enacted laws designed to make cruising safer.

A series of events prompted the Congressional hearings.  

First, and most obvious, is the Costa Concordia disaster.  There is not much debate that the cruise ship engaged in a reckless maneuver of showboating near the rocks of Giglio - apparently with the blessing of the cruise line - which endangered the lives of thousands of passengers who were further imperiled by the irresponsibility of the vessel's officers and the disorganization of its crew.  Chaos and confusion caused by a cowardly to-hell-with-the women-and-children captain who managed to place his mistress in one of the first lifeboats to safety.

17 dead and 15 missing are the result. 

Only after these deaths did the public learn that the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is suppose to oversee the cruise lines, did not even require lifeboat drills before the departure of ships from port.  So much for the "stringent requirements" of this toothless United Nations' maritime fraternity. This is the madness which results when cruise lines are left to their own devices.

Secondly, and equally importantly, is the failure of the cruise lines, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Coast Guard to comply with the newly enacted Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.

The new cruise safety law was designed to require the cruise lines to do things as simple as bore peepholes in passenger doors, and to have at least one crewmember certified in crime scene preservation.  The Coast Guard was required to post accurate crime statistics on a web page based on crimes reported to the FBI.  The purpose of the crime statistics was for the public to finally see truthful crime statistics of the thefts, homicides, suspicious deaths, assaults and sexual assaults which occur during cruises. 

The cruise lines have failed to comply with many aspects of the new law.

This year alone I have seen a cruise line destroy evidence more thoroughly and brazenly than I have ever seen; refuse to release a rape victim's medical records to the victim as required by law; and refuse to report crimes in a timely and accurate manner.

The reporting system in place by the FBI and Coast Guard is a joke.  Over the years we have obtained (through court orders) lists of rapes on cruise ships.  We know that cruise lines historically have over 100 sexual assaults a year, in addition to thefts, disappearances suggesting foul play and physical assaults. But take a look at the FBI / Coast Guard on-line report of the last quarter of 2011 here - only 3 sexual assaults and not one single theft, physical assault, homicide or suspicious death for the entire cruise industry!  

The problem is that the FBI is disinterested in involving itself in shipboard rapes, disappearances and murders and is leaving the dirty work to the cruise line security to investigate the crimes.  But there is an inherent conflict of interest in delegating law enforcement duties to the cruise ship's security officers who have already failed the cruise passengers. One of our clients was raped by a security guard.  Do you think the cruise line security department is going to build a case against one of their own?  The bottom line is that many cruise crimes remain unreported by the cruise lines or not investigated by the FBI.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the FBI does not report crimes to the Coast Guard database whenever there is an open file.  One thing that the FBI is good at is keeping its investigations open, even if there are no investigations ongoing.  The Department of Justice rarely prosecutes cases after FBI investigations.  

The International Cruise Victims (ICV) has worked hard over the past 6 years to bring the new cruise safety law into effect.  Our firm has attended 5 Congressional hearings since 2005, 4 in the House and 1 in the Senate, before the new law came into effect.  We have seen the dedication of the ICV members over the years.  One of our clients, Laurie Dishman, has traveled to Washington over 30 times to lobby Congress for a law to protect the cruising public.  

Cruise ShipsIts a real shame that the goals of the new legislation - greater accountability and transparency of the cruise lines and greater safety of passengers in the process - are being subverted by the cozy relationship between the self-regulating cruise industry and the FBI which has little interest in investigating cruise ship rapes.

So far, the entire cruise industry has refused to commit to send one single cruise line president or CEO to attend the cruise hearings at the end of this month.  Instead the cruise industry will send Christine Duffy, the president of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), who has been giving talking points on how to sell cruise tickets to travel agents by overcoming customer fears about cruising following the Costa Concordia debacle.

We will hear about how wonderful cruising is and how the safety of the passengers is the cruise industry's highest priority.  Ms. Duffy will make these remarks while 2 Americans and 13 other passengers from other nations remain trapped dead in the sarcophagus of the Costa Concordia.    

Hopefully the House and Senate will see through this happy talk.

The Concordia crash should be a wake up call that this is a self-regulating industry which needs a tight rein.  The cruise line / FBI / Coast Guard reporting system is a failure.  Congress needs to take a hard look at the cruise industry and the federal agencies which are making a mockery of the cruise safety law. 

Cruise Industry's New Safety Drill Policy - Too Little, Too Late

Swamped from a tide of bad publicity following the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise industry today announced a change to its safety drill policy.  The new policy?  Hold your breath:

All cruise lines will begin to provide a safety briefing to the passengers before the vessel sets sail. 

That's it?  Why wasn't this the law a hundred years ago, after the Titanic sank?

This should convince even the most hard core cruise fan that there is something seriously amiss Costa Concordia Cruise Chaosin the world of cruising when almost a month after the Concordia disaster, the cruise lines have finally proposed such a basic safety policy.

This should also reveal how lax the policies are under the International Maritime Organization ("IMO").  The IMO rules (suggestions I say) suggest that cruise ships can wait up to 24 hours after passengers embark to hold a safety briefing.  It's difficult to justify such an unsafe policy which undoubtedly caused or contributed to deaths of some of the Concordia passengers.  But what can you expect from an United Nations organization?  

The cruise industry has announced this simple common-sense policy with great fanfare.  USA Today's pro-cruise blog CruiseBlog quotes a cruise agent praising the new policy which was revealed in a joint statement by the Cruise Lines International Association, the European Cruise Council and the UK"s  Passenger Shipping Association. 

Notwithstanding the new cruise line voluntary policy, the IMO "rules" still permit waiting until 24 hours to have a muster drill.  And if the cruise lines don't follow their own voluntary agreement?  There is no consequence. 

Just what the public needs, a trust-us promise from an unregulated cruise industry which should not be trusted.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Royal Caribbean President's Email Blast Insults Crime Victims

Yesterday one of my clients, who I will call Jane Doe, contacted me after receiving an unsolicited email from the President of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Adam Goldstein.

The e-mail addressed her by her first name.  It seemed to be personalized to her.  It recognized her as a past customer and contained statements like:

"At Royal Caribbean International, the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority. It is fundamental to our operations. Our maritime safety record over our 42-year history Royal Caribbean Cruises  - Adam Goldstein illustrates our commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on our ships."  

President Goldstein's email outraged Jane Doe.   You see, she had just returned home with her young daughter who had been raped on President Goldstein's cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas.  

Goldstein's unsolicited email to a rape victim's mom had nothing to do with the humiliating shipboard rape suffered by Jane Doe's daughter, one of many rapes of children on the Royal Caribbean fleet over the years.  Instead, it was part of this cruise line's media campaign to try and distance itself from the negative fall out following the deadly Costa Concordia disaster.

Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line making such public statements following the Concordia crash.  You can watch Royal Caribbean's slick video touting the safety of cruising here.  President Goldstein's blog is here.  "Safety is in our DNA."  "Cruising is the safest form of transportation."  "The safety and security of our guests is our highest priority."  Royal Caribbean covered all of the cruise industry's talking points in its video, the president's blog and its e-mail blast below.    

Of course, in truth, Goldstein's email was not a personalized message to Jane Doe.  He does not know her from the man in the moon, even though her daughter was raped on the cruise line's showpiece megaship and the biggest cruise ship in the world. 

Royal Caribbean spammed Goldstein's email to every single family who had sailed with them.  This was an intentional and reckless stunt, considering that hundreds of women and children have reportedly been sexually assaulted during Royal Caribbean cruises over the years.  Certainly, the cruise line knew that its former customers who are victims of crime, and whose names remain in its customer database, would feel salt being poured into their wounds upon reading Goldstein's email in their personal email accounts.      

Insensitive & thoughtless, if not outrageous?   Definitely.  But Goldstein is not thinking of his customer's feelings.  He is motivated by his cruise line's bottom line.  He wants to reassure his customers that it is safe to return to cruising, whether that is true or not. 

This is hardly the first time this has happened.

In 2006, one of my clients, Laurie Dishman (photo right), was brutally raped by a part time Royal Caribbean security guard with a Royal Caribbean Crime Victim Laurie Dishman prior record of sexually harassing passengers.   She retained us to represent her.  I sent a handful of letters to President Goldstein, asking for our client's medical records, her statement, and the name and address of the Royal Caribbean employee who raped Laurie.  We received nothing in response.  Goldstein ignored us.

The only things Laurie initially received from Royal Caribbean were unsolicited emails inviting Laurie to return for another "cruise of a lifetime" on a Royal Caribbean ship.  The emails continued for over a year.  Each email popping into her computer's email in-box took Laurie back to the scene of the crime and reactivated a sense of panic and stress.  It was only after a half dozen letters of protest from us, and a Congressional investigation into the crime initiated by Laurie's Congresswoman in 2007, that the cruise line scrubbed her from its marketing database.

We pleaded for Royal Caribbean to implement a system to remove a passenger's information from the company's marketing database whenever a passenger was raped, killed or lost a loved one overboard during a cruise.  Believe me, cruise vacationers don't want promotional brochures in their mail boxes after a family member has been raped or lost at sea.    

It looks like Royal Caribbean ignored that request too. 

President Goldstein's blog talks in grandiose terms about the Costa Concordia crash being a "defining moment" for the cruise industry.  He promises a renewed commitment to passenger safety.  Let's hope that's true. 

But when a cruise line president sends an e-mail blast to the mother of a child raped during a cruise, you wonder whether cruise line executives like Goldstein really get it.   

 

Photo credits:

Adam Goldstein - Royal Caribbean Flickr page

Laurie Dishman - Sacramento Bee

 

ROYAL CARIBBEAN EMAILS ADAM GOLDSTEIN'S LETTER TO MILLIONS OF CRUISE CUSTOMERS:

Dear XXX, 

All of us at Royal Caribbean International continue to extend our heartfelt sympathies to those affected by Carnival Corporation's recent tragic incident on the Costa Concordia. As a Crown & Anchor Society member and loyal Royal Caribbean guest, we know you may have some questions as the situation continues to unfold.

At Royal Caribbean International, the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority. It is fundamental to our operations. Our maritime safety record over our 42-year history illustrates our commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on our ships. The measures we take in the interest of safety are many, often exceeding the regulatory requirements – these are all part of our ongoing commitment to innovation and continuous improvement in every aspect of our business.

To address some of your questions and concerns, here is a video that will provide an overview of safety onboard our ships; the training of our crew, officers and captains; and the many regulations that govern our practices. Click here to watch.

As a past cruiser, we know your friends and family may be asking about your own time at sea. We hope that you'll share this video along with your personal Royal Caribbean experiences with them, and reinforce that cruising continues to maintain the best safety record of any industry in travel.

Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon on one of our ships sailing to 270 destinations worldwide.

Sincerely,

Adam Goldstein
President and CEO
Royal Caribbean International

ABC's 20/20 Covers Costa Concordia Disaster (Part 1)

Last night a cruise ship special aired on ABC's 20/20 about the Costa Concordia disaster.

Narrated by Chris Cuomo from Italy, the one hour program contains interviews with surviving passengers.  The 52 year old captain, Francesco Schettino, is seen dining with a 25 year old blond former crew member as the disaster unfolds.  ABC shows a computer simulation of the crash.  The passenger interviews include accounts of the chaos and confusion, the delayed Mayday signal, the false information to the passengers, the captain's cowardly abandonment of ship, and his subsequent refusal to comply with Italian Coast Guard orders to return to the stricken vessel.  Italian authorities arrested Captain Schettino who has been labelled the "chicken of the seas."

There are also 2 or 3 clips of me answering questions at the port of Miami, explaining how the disaster unfolded.

The segment below is about 8 and 1/2 minutes:

 

 

Watch the entire 20/20 "cruise confidential" program here.

Video credit:  ABC NEWS / ABC 20/20

Cruise Radio: Six Tips to Staying Safe on a Cruise Ship

Yesterday award winning cruise radio host Doug Parker (photo left) broadcast an earlier interview with me about tips about staying safe during a cruise.  The text of his blog is below.  Don't forget to listen to the interview at the bottom link:  

Cruise Radio - Doug Parker - Cruise Safety Tips"It’s not something you like to think about but just like on land, crime too happens on cruise ships, too.  This week’s news has been about the George Smith case, a man who disappeared on his honeymoon cruise back in July 2005, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas.  A follow-up “Overboard” will be on NBC’s Dateline this Friday night.

A lot of people let their guard down while cruising and think it’s safe to get crazy drunk or let their kids have full rein of the cruise ship because it’s a “safe-haven,” but that’s not always the case.  I mean you can drink all-you-want and not have to drive anywhere, right?

Maritime attorney Jim Walker of Cruise Law News sat down with us and gave us ”Six Tips for Staying Safe at Sea.”  This interview aired in January 2011 on Cruise Radio but we think this is a good time to reinforce what could be consequences of letting your guard down.

You will want to forward this article to any frequent cruisers in your life."

Listen to this short but informative interview here.

Cruise Industry Spent $490,000 Lobbying Congress & Federal Agencies in First Three Months of 2011

Forbes is reporting that the Cruise Lines International Association ("CLIA"), the trade trade group which promotes the interests of the cruise industry, spent $490,650 in the first quarter this year, lobbying the U.S. government. 

The cruise industry lobbied Congress, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Board Protection, State Department, Homeland Security Department, Transportation Department, Justice Department on a number of matters, including  vessel quarantine and safety issues.

 

Australian Prime Minister Ignores Cruise Safety Recommendations

The Australian newspaper reports that the Federal government in Australia is ignoring certain cruise safety recommendations proposed by Australian Coroner Jacqueline Milledge following an inquest into the death of P & O Cruises passenger Dianne Brimble.

Ms. Brimble's death and the dreadful state of affairs which existed in the P & O Cruises fleet were some of the first issues I wrote about when I started this blog two years ago.  You can read through this sad case in a series of articles here.  The stories are disturbing.  

Dianne Brimble - Cruise Ship Crime  The Australian article today points out that it has been six months since NSW Coroner Jacqueline Milledge concluded an inquest into Ms. Brimble's death aboard the P&O cruise ship, the Pacific Sky nine years ago, and issued cruise safety recommendations to the Federal Government.  

Ms. Milledge summed up the case accurately, saying Ms. Brimble was "drugged by unscrupulous individuals who were intent on denigrating her for their own sexual gratification."  The newspaper reports that the "conservative and modest mother-of-three was left to die on the floor of a cabin from an overdose of the drug, fantasy, and alcohol, after being photographed having sex with strangers she met in the ship's disco."  Ms. Milledge recommended: 

Australian Federal Police on board every cruise ship;

Drug detection scanning of passengers and crew members;

Drug sniffer dogs at all ports; and

The establishment of a federal parliamentary committee to consider industry reforms to improve crime prevention, investigation and prosecution of offenses at sea.

The newspaper reports that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has not responded to the recommendations, saying only: "This is a tragic case that has caused pain and anguish to Ms. Brimble's family and friends."

It is now nine years since Ms. Brimble's untimely death.  It will be a real shame if these recommendations are not fully implemented no later than the 10 year anniversary of her death next year.  

 

Photo credit:  Book cover, "Abandoned - The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble" by Geesche Jacobsen.

Sea Marshals on Cruise Ships? At Least in the Port of Los Angeles.

One of the proposals recommended by the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization is having "sea marshals" on cruise ships in order to protect passengers and respond to shipboard crimes.  

Sea Marshal - Los Angeles - Cruise Ship SecuritySince 9-11 the Federal government has placed "air marshals" on airplanes.  The ICV has attempted to ensure that cruise ships have the same level of security by supporting legislation in California requiring "sea marshals" on all cruise ships entering and departing cruise ports in that state. 

Unfortunately, the cruise industry fought against an independent police force on cruise ships. The typical argument is that state law enforcement have no jurisdiction over foreign flag cruise ships on international waters.  However, there is no question that states like California have jurisdiction to place sea marshals on cruise ships once the ships reach state waters to act as a police presence and to monitor environmental  activities.  Alaska has a very effective sea marshal program designed to monitor cruise ship waste water dumping. 

The port of Los Angeles already has a sea marshal program.  By all accounts it is successful and serves the valuable purpose of protecting passengers.  As explained in an article today "Marshals Defend Port of L.A." in the Contra Costa Times, the port of Los Angeles has six sea marshals, as well as an additional eight to 10 port police officers who are trained to join the team. The L.A. sea marshal program is seperate from the sea marshal program operated by the U.S. Coast Guard  which board vessels up to 12 miles offshore. 

The sea marshal program in L.A. is geared toward addressing vulnerabilities as cruise ships and cargo vessel head into and out of the harbor.  Sea marshals board cruise ships 3 miles from port.  They are armed.  They make sure that no one forces their way into the bridge to hijack the ship and uses it as a floating bomb or a battering ram,  just as al-Qaida terrorists forced their way into the cockpits of jetliners on 9-11. 

Sea marshals also inspect various areas of the cruise ship, look for explosives, drugs, suspicious activities, and coordinate underwater inspections by port police divers once Los Angeles Port - Sea Marshal - Cruise Passenger Safetythe cruise ships reach port.  They remain on the bridge, where they keep watch as the cruise ships sail out of the Port of Los Angeles.  They return to port once the vessels reach 3 miles offshore.

The newspaper interviewed John Holmes, the deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who said: "Our most precious cargo at the port are our cruise passengers .  .  .  Anytime you get on a ship in Los Angeles and these guys come on board, I think it really gives people a sense of security."

It remains less than clear whether the sea marshals in Los Angeles have responsibility to handle reports of crime which occur at sea as the cruise ships sail back to California.  Undoubtedly, the local sea marshals can liason with the Los Angeles Port Police and the FBI.

Los Angeles has proven that a sea marshal program on a state level can work.  More ports and states need to follow Los Angeles's lead.

Flags of Convenience: Avoiding Taxes, Safety & Labor Regulations, and Justice

Panama Flag of ConvenienceA reader of Cruise Law News (CLN) brought an excellent opinion piece from the New York Times regarding the shipping industry's use of "flags of convenience" to my attention.  Entitled "Flying the Flag, Fleeing the State" and written by Rose George, the article explains how unscrupulous ship owners evade responsibility for environmental damage, exploitative labor and unsafe work conditions, and criminal behavior. 

The article reveals that ships used to fly the flags of their nation which protected the seafarers and passengers and punished the shipping companies when they broke the law.  But this changed when American flagged ships began flying the flags of foreign countries in order in order to avoid U.S. laws and government oversight.   The "foreign registries" were in countries with no government oversight and no real connection to the vessel or its owners in the first place, like Panama (flag above left), Liberia, North Korea and even landlocked Mongolia.  The registries often fail to monitor the safety and working conditions on ships or investigate accidents.    

What are the real consequences to employees working on foreign flagged ships? 

The New York Times article points out that there is a "human cost" which includes long hours, punishing work, and little rest; some international regulations permit 98-hour work weeks.  Cruise line employees are a good example.  Stateroom attendants and cleaners work a minimum of 12 hours a day and often are pushed to 14 to 16 hours when required to handle luggage on embarkation days, ending up with a 90 plus hour work week and no days off.  Cruise ship cleaners earn a maximum of $545 a month working a minimum of 360 hours a month.  Repetitive injuries to these crew members frequently occur, and just as frequently the cruise lines abandon them in countries like Nicaragua or India with inadequate medical care.

No foreign registry in Liberia, which often rages in civil war itself, gives a damn about the working conditions which men and women from Nicaragua or India face daily on Liberian flagged cruise ships.    

Because most ship employees are non U.S. citizens, the U.S. public has been indifferent to their plight.  But the problem inherent in flags of convenience came home to the U.S. last year when the offshore Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and 11 American oil and gas workers perished.  

The U.S. Coast Guard just released a preliminary report  about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Coast Guard criticized not only rig owner, Transocean, but the foreign registry in the Marshall Islands (flag below) where Transocean registered the rig.  Just like a cruise ship, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was considered to be a vessel which had to be registered. 

Why did the rig owners decide to go all of the way to an island in the Pacific to register its oil rig, you may ask?   For the same reason cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean went to South America and Africa to register their cruise ships in Panama and Liberia - to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. Marshall Islands Flag of Conveniencesafety regulations, and U.S. labor laws.  

One of the the Coast Guard's initial conclusions is that the Marshall Islands "abdicated" its safety responsibilities.  Transocean got just what it wanted - lax safety inspections and substandard safety requirements from the little spec of an island in the Pacific.   The owners enjoyed lower operating costs in addition to the substantial tax benefits of flying a flag of convenience.  But the financial benefits came at the expense of poor training, poorly maintained equipment, and even poorer safety procedures which resulted in inoperable alarms and failed shut-down systems.  

The ultimate result of the Marshall Islands flag of convenience?  11 dead men.  And 11 families consumed with grief and suffering.  

 

For additonal information, read:

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

No Taxes - The Cruise Lines' Dirty Little Secret

Power Outage on Queen Mary 2 Due to Catastrophic Explosion

A temporary power outage on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 in September was caused by the "catastrophic failure of a capacitor and explosion in an 11kV harmonic filter" on the vessel, according to the U.K.'s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) which issued a marine safety report yesterday.

On September 23rd, the Queen Mary 2 was approaching Barcelona early in the morning when the vessel lost lights and power, causing the cruise ship to drift off of the coast of Spain.  No Queen Mary 2 - QM2 - Explosion - Blown Out Doorexplanation for the power failure was provided by the Captain or the cruise line.

There are excellent articles regarding this incident published today by Cruise Critic - "Power Outage on QM2 Found to Be Result of Explosion" and another by Gene Sloan's CruiseLog - "Safety officials issue warning after explosion on Cunard's Queen Mary 2:" 

The explosion near one of QM2's main electric switchboard rooms (photo below) when a capacitor failed and leaking oil sprayed onto high voltage bars, causing a "major arc flash event. The explosion blew the steel door to the room out of its frame! (photo, left)  "The blast ... also caused serious damage to an adjoining steel door into the main switchboard room, the stiffeners on the bulkhead of the compartment were buckled, and the steel cover plate on a cross-flooding duct was blown out into the main switchboard room," the report says.  "Fortunately there were no personnel in the vicinity."

The reporting of this latest incident raises the issue of the safety of foreign flagged cruise ships, and comes after a string of recent disturbing mishaps.

Yesterday, we reported on Passengers Poisoned By Gas On Princess Cruise Ship

Earlier in the week, the negligence of Holland America Line permitted a drunk passenger to enter a restricted area and drop an anchor as the cruise ship was underway - Drunk Passenger Drops Cruise Ship Anchor

Last week, a passenger died on the Carnival Splendor under mysterious circumstances and Carnival added to the mystery by issuing a terse and questionable statement that the death was "medical related" notwithstanding a small army of FBI agents spending the day in the cabin and leaving with bags of evidence - Death on a Fun Ship: What Really Happened on the Carnival Liberty?

And two weeks ago, the cruise industry faced the spectacle of what an engine room fire can due to a new mega ship as the disabled Carnival Splendor drifted around off of the coast of Mexico for the better part of what seemed like forever.       

But the cruise industry will never admit that it has a safety problem.  Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises (USA) and chairman of the marketing committee for CLIA, disagreed with me yesterday in an article about cruise safety issues in Cruise Critic.  Sasso said "I challenge people to measure the cruise industry's safety record against any other industry  .  .  .  Any critic that says cruises are unsafe -- sorry, it's just B.S."  

Right out of the horse's mouth.

Queen Mary 2 - QM2 - Explosion

 

Credit:  maib.gov.uk (via Cruise Log)

 

MSNBC Reports: "Staying Safe on the High Seas"

Christopher Elliott - MSNBC - National Geographic - Cruise TravelMSNBC has an interesting article today by travel columnist, Christopher Elliott, entitled Staying Safe on the High Seas.  

Mr. Elliott reports on the new cruise ship security and safety law signed by President Obama, the problem of sexual assaults, noro-virus, and medical facilities aboard cruise ships.

The article quoted me saying that:

"The last place you want to become ill or injured is on a cruise ship far away from a U.S. port.  Cruise ship medical care is limited. Ship doctors are usually from foreign medical schools. The shipboard facilities are often inadequate and the medical care is sub-standard.”

Its an interesting article that every passenger should read before setting sail with their family.

 

Christopher Elliott is a travel columnist, a msnbc.com contributor, and the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.  You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Finally Making Waves

The Washington Post has published an article about the new Cruise Security and Safety Act, written by veteran travel writer Christopher Eliott.  Mr. Elliott is a a travel consultant for MSNBC and a writer for National Geographic Traveler magazine and for the Consumer Travel Alliance.

The article was originally entitled " A Long Way To Go To Ensure Passengers' Safety On Cruise Ships."  The article has been widely re-printed in newspapers across the U.S.  The article below is a re-print bearing the new title " Finally Making Waves About Cruise Security."

The article contains some quotes from me, my client Laurie Dishman, the President of the International Cruise Victims association Ken Carver, and the President and Founder of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network Scott Berkowitz.  Here is the article, unedited, which appeared in the Houston Chronicle newspaper:

Finally Making Waves About Cruise Security    

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Cruise Crime Maybe you don't think of a floating vacation as a dangerous activity — after all, the last headline-grabbing sinking of a cruise liner was that of the MS Sea Diamond, which ran aground in 2007 near Santorini, Greece; two passengers disappeared and were presumed dead.  The cruise industry also contends that it has an outstanding safety record when it comes to onboard crimes such as theft and assaults.

Just one little problem: The federal government doesn't require cruise lines to report these crimes in a meaningful and systematic way, so we have to take them at their word. And some passengers don't.

Laurie Dishman counts herself among them.  She alleges that a janitor on a Royal Caribbean cruise raped her in 2006.

"I felt humiliated," the marketing director for a winery near Sacramento told a congressional hearing the following year.  "I could not believe what had happened."  Dishman's riveting testimony exposed the shortcomings of cruise ship security, prompting her representative, Doris Matsui, D-Calif., to sponsor the new legislation.  "It became grossly apparent that current law was not protecting American passengers while at sea," said Mara Lee, a spokeswoman for Matsui.

The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act will address that problem by requiring cruise lines to report crimes promptly to the FBI and to post a link on their Web sites to a Transportation Department website listing crimes that have occurred on cruise ships.

"This will be the first time in the history of the cruise industry when a cruise ship is required to report a crime in international waters," said James Walker, a maritime lawyer based in Miami.  "The public can finally see the criminal database and determine which cruise ships have the highest crime rates."

Watch for more peepholes

Cruise lines will have to install peepholes in cabin doors and raise guard rails on many ships, and add on-deck video surveillance and an emergency sound system on all new ones.  The legislation also mandates better crime-scene response by requiring ships to carry rape kits and anti-retroviral medications and to have a trained forensic sexual assault specialist on board.

"In effect, passengers on cruise ships will start to obtain the same protection they would expect if they were at a resort here in the United States," said Ken Carver, the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association, which advocates for victims of crimes at sea.

This law is undoubtedly a good start at regulating a business that has skirted many government regulations in the past. But is it enough?

I asked the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) about the measure, and the trade association sent me a surprisingly supportive prepared statement.  This regulation, it said, would bring "greater consistency and clarification to many industry practices and existing regulations," which include current requirements to report serious crimes to the FBI.

"The safety and security of our guests and crew is CLIA's number one priority," it added.

When I hear a trade organization that resisted this law nearly every step of the way talking like that, I can't help being a little skeptical.  (The cruise industry insists it cooperated.) So I asked Alexander Anolik, a former lawyer for several cruise lines who now practices in San Francisco, whether the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act holds water.

"It will make cruising safer," he said. "But it doesn't go far enough."

Safety at seaside

He'd like to see higher ship rails, for example. The law will require them to reach 42 inches above the deck, but they'd prevent more passengers from falling overboard if they were 54 inches.

Also, Anolik says the law should make more ships retrofit their cabins with essential safety features such as peepholes, security latches and time-sensitive key technology.

Anolik said cruise lines are probably unhappy with the legislation because, in his experience, they try to "make sure every crime is hidden."

It's hard for me to tell whether CLIA is being a dignified loser or whether it got some important concessions when the bill was being marked up. It probably doesn't matter.  Advocates for passengers see this as an important first step in improving cruise ship safety — not the last port of call.

Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which supports the measure, said that he'd like future legislation to address legal jurisdiction when a crime is committed on a cruise ship.  "This can result in huge practical barriers to prosecution, such as requirements that the victim travel to another country — at his or her own expense — several times for hearings and a trial," he said.

But the law represents a critical and essential step forward, and Dishman says it will help others like her.

"If this law was in place when I was brutally raped, there would have been evidence for a prosecution and the assailant who raped me would not be free," she told me.

Royal Caribbean has said it has a "zero-tolerance policy regarding any criminal activity" on its ships, adding, "Any allegation of a crime is treated seriously and reported to law enforcement." The company reportedly settled a lawsuit with Dishman in 2008.

Still, cruise experts agree, laws can go only so far in protecting you.  Passengers should continue to pack their common sense when they go cruising, which includes taking practical steps such as securing valuables, drinking in moderation and staying away from a ship's dark corners.

Even with these new measures in place, and the possibility of future regulation, one thing seems certain: Just because the ship isn't sinking doesn't mean that it's safe.

 

Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and for the Consumer Travel Alliance, a new nonprofit education organization. His e-mail: celliott@ngs.org
 

Credits:

Article               Christopher Eliott, Washington Post,  Houston Chronicle

Photo                jimg944 Flickr photostream

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

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. 

UK P & I Club - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Cruise Crime  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 

Lawrence Kaye - Cruise Vessel Security and Safet 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 Cruise Safety - Cruise Ship Security - Cruise Lawpassengers 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.

Cruise Ship - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

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.”

 

Credits:

UK P & I Club                    UK P & I Club

Larry Kaye, Esq.              Kaye Rose & Partners LLP

Freedom of the Seas    greenbriar DemocraticUnderground.com 

Are Cruise Ships Equipped To Handle Bomb Threats On The High Seas?

The local news media is reporting that Royal Caribbean recently received a bomb threat aboard the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.

According to a news release by the U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Caribbean's reservation center in Wichita, Kansas received a call reporting a bomb aboard the cruise ship around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15th.  Crew members searched the ship but did not find anything.  The Liberty of the Seas proceeded on with the cruise and arrived back in Miami around 6:00 a.m. the next morning.  FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection agents then boarded the cruise Liberty of the Seas - Bomb Threatship to look for explosives, but they did not find anything. 

There have been a number of bomb threat hoaxes recently.  Perhaps the most publicized one was when a passenger from Virginia named Ibrahim Khalil Zarou who was reportedly quite intoxicated - Bomb Hoax Gets Drunken Carnival Cruise Passenger Arrested

Fortunately, these bomb threats turned out to be hoaxes.  But what if they were real

In this most recent bomb threat, the FBI and other federal agencies did not board the cruise ship until eleven hours later. 

Are cruise lines equipped to handle a real terrorist threat on the high seas?  Most cruise lines have as few as 2 or 3 security guards on duty at night and some lines do not monitor their surveillance cameras (except in the casinos).   Is this adequate security for 3,000 to 4,000 passengers and crew?

Our experience suggests that the few security personnel on cruise ships have a difficult enough time deterring or responding to bar fights between drunken passengers.  A real terrorist threat on the high seas will pose a real problem to the cruise industry. 

For additional information, please read:

Terror on the High Seas

CBP Will Study Costs of Requiring Cruise Ships to Hand Over Their Passenger Reservation Data

 

Credits

Liberty of the Seas photograph           News 7 Miami

"Cruising for Trouble" - Cruise Ships as Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals

Today I returned to work after a week's "Spring Break" vacation to find a recently published cruise line security book sitting on top of a large pile of pleadings on my desk. 

Cruising for Trouble - Mark Gaoutte - Pirates, Terrorists, Criminals"Cruising for Trouble" is written by Commander Mark Gaouette, the former Director of Security for Princess Cruises and Cunard Cruise Lines.  His book addresses security challenges facing the cruise industry and its history of overboard passengers, sexual assaults and unsolved crimes. 

Commander Gaouette has been deeply involved in protecting the security interests of the U.S. Government and the U.S. Navy.  He is a former Special Agent with the U.S. Department of State’s prestigious Bureau of Diplomatic Security.  During his career, he served as a Regional Security Officer at five high-threat U.S. Embassies including Moscow (Russia), and Beirut (Lebanon).  Mark Gaouette has extensive maritime experience with the U.S. Navy and served as a Surface Line Officer and as a Naval Intelligence Officer in the U.S Naval Reserve.

The preface to the book was written by Ken Carver, President of the International Cruise Victims organization:

"Commander Mark Gaouette USNR (Ret.) reveals to cruise passengers the very real security dangers they unwittingly face when they saunter up the gangway of a cruise ship for a carefree holiday.  He sounds a clarion call to national and transnational security agencies, maritime regulators, legislators, and customers to compel the cruise industry to strengthen and reform its security programs before catastrophe strikes.  The author, a longtime cruise industry insider who now serves as a top maritime security official in the Department of Homeland Security, details the many security defects and vulnerabilities of cruise ships, identifies the remedies, and makes the case for their urgent implementation.

Extensively documented and illustrated, "Cruising for Trouble" is a vividly told cautionary for the ten million Americans who take cruise-ship vacations each year and the millions more who would like to.  As well as modeling the potential threats to cruise ships from pirates and maritime terrorists - who mimic each other's methods, overlap each other's territories, and might well find it mutually beneficial to combine their forces and resources - Commander Gaouette recounts many actual examples of cruise-ship insecurities that have been swept under the carpet or or spun by the cruise industry: pirate attacks, fires, onboard crime, and the mysterious disappearances of cruise-ship passengers."

I also had an opportunity to critique the book.  My comments are published on the back cover.

"Cruising for Trouble" is available at the Greenwood Publishing Group and on Amazon

 

Cruising for Trouble - Mark Gaouette - Pirates, Terrorists, Criminals

Better Safe Than Sorry - Spring Break Safety Tips

From time to time, Cruise Law News has a guest blogger. Caitlin Burke is a recent graduate from the University of Florida.  She majored in Recreation, Parks and Sport Management.  Ms. Burke wrote a senior honor's thesis entitled a "Qualitative Study of Victimization and Legal Issues Relevant to Cruise Ships."  She is working as a case manager for Walker & O'Neill as she prepares for law school.  

Caitlin discusses her experiences in a cruise port of call two years ago, and offers 5 safety tips for students:

In March of 2008 I took a cruise over Spring Break with one of my friends from the University of Dominican Republic - Cruise - Port of Call - Taxi Ride Florida.  It was technically my "last spring break” so naturally I wanted to make the most of it.  I decided to take a 9 day cruise.

I boarded the Norwegian Pearl and set sail around 5 p.m., pina colada in hand.

The first night was like everyone else’s first night of spring break - a mess.  Lots of alcohol, lots of socializing, lots of exploring, lots of alcohol, lots of alcohol . . . lots of alcohol.  (Don’t judge me).  It was indeed a great first night of spring break. Needless to say the next morning my friend and I were feeling slightly under the weather. (I blame the stress and exhaustion of school and midterms, some will argue it was the massive amount of tequila consumed the prior night).

We awoke slightly groggy but ready to disembark and explore our first port of call in the Dominican Republic.  We boarded the small tenders, becoming evermore nauseous as we bounced up and down with every wave.  I bounded off the boat praying I wouldn’t lose the greasy breakfast I had just consumed at the cruise ship breakfast buffet.

Finally on firm land, we looked for a taxi/excursion/attraction to begin our exploration.  At first look, Semana seemed like a tourist hot spot - there was a strip of brightly colored shops and restaurants.  Some of our friends took taxis for informal "tours."  But we walked down the road, window shopping and trying to find something that was more “local” (i.e., less touristy).  As soon as we made it to the end of the strip, we made a right hand turn, which we almost immediately began to regret.

All of a sudden buses, cargo vans, motorcycles, vespas, bicycles all began to fly past us honking, yelling, screaming, hollering, and whistling at us as my friend and I looked at each other in disbelief.

Cruise - Port of Call - SafetyWe continued to walk down the road but felt increasingly uncomfortable. The local men were intensely staring at us, whistling, and making inappropriate comments.  We looked at each other, fear in our eyes, turned around, and bolted back to the tourist strip. Still nauseated from the tugboat ride over, we decided to eat some lunch and let our stomachs settle before returning back to the cruise ship.

We sat at a restaurant that was as close to the cruise ship as possible (also flooded with other passengers from our ship) and ate a burger for three and a half hours.  We were disappointed about not being able to see the island but happy to have made it back unharmed from the 20 feet we ventured off.

After working at a law office that handles only cruise ship related incidents - like shore excursion and port-of-call assaults - I’m thankful that I trusted my gut and did not venture out to see the island.  We were able to see other ports and island destinations in depth as the trip continued, but we regretted even getting off the ship in Semana.  I recommend anyone traveling to foreign ports to be cautious, trust your gut, and don’t venture off if you’re even the least bit skeptical of your surroundings.

Like your mom always tells you, better safe than sorry. 

Caitlin's 5 Safety Tips for Spring Break:

Cruise - Spring Break Safety Tips1. Don't drink too much. Have a designated sober person who can look out for the group.

2. Travel in groups. Never let anyone wonder off alone. Even if they say "I'll be right back," go with them.

3. Always watch your drinks being opened, being prepared, and being poured. Date rape drugs are common and easily accessible on cruise ships and in foreign ports. Do not trust the bartenders or waiters preparing your drinks.

4. Never leave your drink unattended (as college students we tend to our drinks pretty well, so this is probably the easiest rule to abide by).

5. Use your common sense and don't let your guard down. Crimes occur on cruise ships and in the ports of call.

 

Update March 9, 2010:

Caitlin's blog was named one of Lexblog's Ten Best Blogs of 3,000 law blogs for the week!

Way to go Caitlin!

 

Asleep At the Wheel: What Does the Delayed Reporting of Neha Chhikara's Disappearance from the Monarch of the Seas Reveal About Royal Caribbean's Shipboard Security?

Asleep Security Guard - Royal Caribbean Cruises - Cruise ShipThe tragedy of Neha Chhikara's disappearance from the Monarch of the Seas raises a lot of issues.    
 
Why did her husband, described as a Royal Caribbean "manager," wait 8 hours before reporting his distraught wife missing?  Why almost a ten hour delay from the time of Ms. Chhikara going overboard until the cruise line reported the incident to the US Coast Guard?
 
Ms. Chhikara was picked up on CCTV video when she went overboard.  But does Royal Caribbean monitor its own video cameras? 
 
Were any security guards awake?

When finally notified, the US Coast Guard scrambled an HU-25 Falcon jet crew, an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, a C-130 Hercules aircraft and the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Cormorant to search for Ms. Chhikara. But this was 10 hours after she went overboard.

The cost of this search could have easily paid for 10 camera operators and 10 more security guards. The technology has long existed for a computerized system using motion detectors tied in with the video cameras to signal an alarm to the bridge when the cameras/detectors are triggered by a person going overboard (whether they jump or are pushed). The video image would be captured on a bridge computer screen and the exact location of the overboard would be documented. Then the Coast Guard would at least have a chance to save the day. 
 
Royal Caribbean needs to spend some of its billions investing in security guards, surveillance camera operators and bringing its security technology up to the standards of the 21st century.
 
But this is a game of money and Royal Caribbean is behind the 8 ball.  It's still scratching its head trying to figure out how it can pay for both the Oasis of the Seas and her sister mega-ship Allure of the Seas which will arrive in less than a year.
 
Royal Caribbean is content on letting the U.S. Government foot the bill for the rescue which was doomed by the cruise line's delay. This is unfair, particularly considering that Royal Caribbean pays no Federal income tax for the almost $6,000,000,000 (billion!) in annual ticket sales and onboard revenues (alcohol, casino, excursions, you name it) which the cruise line collects from tax paying U.S. passengers.
 
So if you buy a cruise with your after-tax-dollars, and a wife of an allegedly abusive Royal Caribbean crew member jumps overboard to end her suffering, and Royal Caribbean calls the U.S. Coast Guard 10 hours late - U.S. taxpayers get to pay for the $600,000 or so spent by the U.S. Coast Guard flying jets and helicopters and patrolling cutters around in circles looking for a needle in a haystack.
 
To make matter worse, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean know they are not going to pay any real Asleep At The Wheel? - Royal Caribbean - Securitydamages even if they get sued for their malfeasance.  Royal Caribbean's ultimate exposure to damages is limited by the Death On The High Seas Act - which we have written about in prior articles.
 
This scenario of overboard passengers and delayed reporting will repeat itself unless the cruise line faces financial accountability - or Congress gets involved and mandates some meaningful safety improvements on these foreign flagged cruise ships.    

The story also raises larger issues regarding passenger safety.  If someone can go over a rail and into the water "undetected" by Royal Caribbean security, someone (like a terrorist) can come over the rail and onto the ship just as easily and hold the ship's crew and passengers hostage.    

These types of stories reveal that there are not enough security guards patrolling the decks of Royal Caribbean cruise ships.  And no one looks at the surveillance cameras - until it is too late.
 
Is anyone awake at Royal Caribbean?
 
 
 
Photographs credits:
 
Oluniyi D. Ajao Blog
 
Charles James Wright Blog