Royal Caribbean Boycotts Rotterdam Shipyard After €1,000,000 Fine?

Three and a-half years ago, I wrote about a large fine leveled against Royal Caribbean for violating labor rules and regulations while the Oasis of the Seas was dry-docked in the Netherlands. Dutch labor inspectors had arrived at the shipyard in Rotterdam and found that numerous employees who were working on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship lacked proper residence papers and worked excessive hours (some up to 16 hours per day).

The Oasis had been undergoing maintenance and repairs while in dry-dock in Rotterdam when 45  inspectors from the Netherlands labor department boarded the ship. The inspectors determined that as many as 124 ship employees were not part of the regular crew and the cruise line should have Keppel Verolme - Oasis of the Seasapplied for work permits for them.

The finding of the Dutch labor inspectors ("arbeidsinspectie") led to a  €1,000,000 fine. This was an unprecedented action by a port state enforcing their local labor regulations against a large cruise company.

I asked at the time that "it remains to be seen whether Rotterdam receives any more work from Royal Caribbean in the future."

Upon notice of the fine, Royal Caribbean quickly decided that the dry-dock repairs needed for its sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, would be performed in Cadiz, Spain. Since then, Royal Caribbean has avoided any maintenance of its ships in Rotterdam. Just last month, Royal Caribbean sent the Brilliance of the Seas from Amsterdam to a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.  

Royal Caribbean had used the shipyard extensively in the past, including projects like stretching and installing a mid-body section in the Enchantment of the Seas back in 2005. 

The CEO (Kommer Damen) of the shipyard in question (Damen Shipyards, formerly Keppel Verolme), recently criticized the fine in a Dutch newspaper, Maritiemnieuws (auto translate via Google Chrome).  Mr. Damen was interviewed in the Dutch VNO-NCW opinion forum

Mr. Damen essentially stated that the strict enforcement of the labor regulations of the Netherlands caused the shipyard to lose up to "about 1 billion euros" over the past 4 years. Mr. Damen characterized the fine as "simply unwise policy." The opinion piece states that Royal Caribbean allegedly objected to and did not pay the labor fine.

Mr. Damen explained that, in his opinion, it is "entirely customary" for foreign shipowners to deploy their own ship employees ("riding crew"), as opposed to local employees employed by the shipyards, during maintenance projects. But, as Mr. Damen further argues, only the Dutch labor inspectors interpret and enforce the international regulations for labor on board ships in such a way that it is not possible to employ over a hundred ship employees not hired pursuant to the local labor laws. He cites the situation in countries such as Germany or France, where the the local inspectors permit the shipping companies to fly in extra crew for specialized projects taking place at shipyards. 

We originally reported that Royal Caribbean had employed over 100 ship employees (and as many as as 77 Filipinos) to work on the Oasis of the Seas project during the dry-dock in Rotterdam. The cruise line was reportedly working these crew members as long as 16 hours a day (far in excess of the Dutch labor regulations) and likely for a fraction of what would have been paid to Dutch workers.  

But when a labor fine results in lost revenue of a shipyard catering to the multi-million dollar business of a cruise line, its appears that labor inspectors will be forced to look the other way when ship workers work far-more-hours and for far-less-money than permitted by law. 

Have a comment? Please leave a message or join the discussion on our Facebook page where I ask the question: Do you trust the cruise lines and shipyards to look after the labor rights of crew members?

Photo credit: Damen Verolme Rotterdam YouTube - Videoclip - Keppel Verolme dry-docking OASIS OF THE SEAS

Seven Ways Cruise Lines Are Screwing Crew Members

Yesterday was the "Day of the Seafarer," which is sponsored by the International Maritime Organization ("IMO") on June 25th every year. It was interesting to watch the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), promote the day on it's social media pages like Twitter and Facebook.     

Crew members on cruise ships find themselves in a precarious position in 2016. Cruise lines overwork and underpay crew members from countries like the Philippines, India and Indonesia with impunity. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival pay no U.S. taxes by incorporating themselves in foreign countries like Liberia and Panama and registering their ships in third world countries like the Bahamas (the New York Times just published Tax Dodging on the High Seas). Although cruise ships are collecting record billion-dollar profits each year, they provide no job security, no meaningful union representation, or Day  of the Seafarerbasic benefits like retirement programs of any significance. Moreover, cruise lines have taken an adversarial attitude against their ship employees where they have systematically stripped crew members of the legal rights historically reserved for seamen. 

Here are at least seven ways that cruise lines are abusing crew members today:

Cruise Lines Unreasonably Overwork Crew Members - Cabin attendants, galley employees and waiters and other crew members work a minimum of ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes far more, seven days a week, for eight to ten months a year. They have no time off.  It's all legal because cruise lines don't have to comply with U.S. labor laws due to their foreign incorporation and flags of convenience.  Cruise lines are supposed to have been obligated to work their crew members a maximum number of hours with mandatory rest periods pursuant to MLC2006. But many companies flaunt the maritime labor code. Crew members are still often prohibited from logging in to work when they appear on duty to prepare their work stations or attend meetings. Department heads and supervisors often force crew members to sign out of the Kronos time system and keep working "off the clock." Compliance with the strict USPH standards leads to the managers overworking the crew. I chronicled the abuse aboard the Oceania Riviera earlier this year where crew members were forced to work 18 to 20 hours a day.

The excessive manual labor is hazardous to the crew members physical and mental health. "Cumulative trauma disorder" is a term I learned while representing crew members working for Royal Caribbean.  Sometimes the pressure causes crew members to snap, as this recent altercation between a cook and a chef demonstrates, and it may be one reason perhaps why there are so many suicides at sea.

Univision Noticias and the Columbia Journalism School just published an exhaustive research project and multi-media presentation "Vacation in No Man's Sea" with a section on the abuse of cruise ship employees - Sweatshop On The High Seas (by Damia S. Bonmati). 

Cruise Lines Under-Pay Crew Members:  Crew members working these insane hours are often paid exclusively by passenger tips. It's quite a scam where the non-tax paying cruise line require their tax-paying U.S. guests to pay the cabin attendants and waiters for the long hours they work. Cruise lines are all increasing their automatic gratuities with the implication that the extra nickel-and-dimming is for the crew members. But the reality is that the cruise lines are either diverting the tips to pay the non-tip-earning employees' salaries or they just steal the money outright. Meanwhile, many passengers refuse to pay the auto-gratuities and then refuse to pay any tips to the crew

Cruise Lines Prohibit Crew Members from Organizing or Protesting -  A number of readers suggest that crew members should organize and protest their mistreatment.  But the last time that crew members protested low wages, Carnival fired all of the waiters on one of its cruise ships and black-balled the crew members from the cruise industry.

Cruise Lines Fire Crew Members at Will - Crew members know that if they complain about the working hours, or the pay, or the stolen tips, they will find themselves on a one-way flight back to Mumbai. Cruise lines, notwithstanding the language in the employment contracts about the right to appeal, etc., can terminate the employment of a crew member for any reason, good reason, bad reason or no reason. Cruise lines often terminate the jobs of crew members who complain of work-related injuries and can do so with little legal recourse.  We receive literally dozens of emails a month from crew members back in India or in east Europe who have completed their medical treatment and are at MMI ready to return to work and have waited for months without word from the hiring partner trying to get back to work. They are being played by the cruise lines and are waiting in vain. 

Cruise Lines Provide Few If Any Benefits to Crew Members - A couple of years ago, Carnival terminated the retirement program for Filipino crew members, some of who had worked over a decade for the company. Royal Caribbean still has a nominal retirement benefit, around $5,000 if a crew member works for 10 years. If Royal Caribbean follows the Carnival model, it won't be around when RCCL crew members retire in the next few years.

Cruise Lines Force Crew Member to "Arbitrate" Their Disputes - Following NCL's decision to send the cases of Filipino families of  crew members killed in the boiler explosion on the SS Norway in 2002 to Manila for arbitration under the POEA, all U.S. based cruise lines (except Disney Cruises) inserted mandatory arbitration clauses in crew member employment contracts. By doing so, cruise lines stripped the rights of seafarers to file suit in the United States before a judge and jury. Cruise lines also inserted foreign law from countries like Panama, or Bermuda or the Bahamas into employment agreements which have few laws protecting seafarers.   

Cruise Line are Working to Strip Crew Member from the Protection of All U.S Law which Protect Seafarers at Sea - Lobbyists for CLIA have convinced certain lawmakers to insert anti-crew member legislation as add-ons to bills before Congress designed to strip the protections of seafarers from U.S. laws such as the Jones Act,  which has provided the right of seafarers to sue maritime employers who act negligently, in U.S. courts.  This has been the centerpiece of crew member maritime law for 96 years. CLIA has been at the forefront of these efforts. It panders to the sentiment of some US. lawmakers that U.S. courts should be be closed to "foreign" seamen notwithstanding the fact that the cruise industry is essentially comprised of nothing but foreign corporations (except NCL America), based here in Miami, which benefit from their free use of over 25 federal agencies like the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, USPH, and the CDC not to mention the tremendous protection of the cruise lines' vast revenues by loopholes in our U.S. tax code.

Many cruise fans selfishly feel that paying a fair wage to crew members will result in higher fares to them. Their arguments that crew members "make more than at home" or "they can quit if they don't like it," seem like flippant "let them eat cake" afterthoughts.  Meanwhile fat-cat executives like NCL'S Frank Del Rio make obscene salaries and perks (CEO Del Rio alone raked in almost $32,000,000 last year). 

Don't let CLIA's recent hollow praise to seafarers fool you. This is a cruise industry which is busy screwing crew members at every turn - at sea, in the courtroom, and in Congress. 

Slave Ship? Brazilian Police Board MSC Magnifica after Crew Members Complain of Long Hours, Abuse, Intimidation & Sexual Harassment

The BBC reports that Brazilian police boarded a MSC cruise ship and rescued 11 crew members working in "slave-like conditions." 

Brazilian officials say that the 11 crew members were forced to work up to 16 hours a day on the MSC Magnifica. Some of the crew members were subjected to sexual harassment.

The Brazilian authorities have been investigating the labor abuses for the past month, following a tip-off MSC Magnifica - Slave Shipfrom MSC crew members. 

"The fact that they had signed a contract, even an international contract, does not mean that the basic human rights should not be respected," Labor Ministry director Alexandre Lyra said. 

A publication in Brazil contains additional details of the working conditions. The Blog Do Sakamoto talks of exhaustive work on the MSC cruise ship with stories of abuse, bullying and fraudulent time recording.

"We have no doubt that it is slave labor," said Alexandre Lyra, head of Brazil's Division of Surveillance for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

You can see two statements of the working conditions written by MSC crew members here.

Another newspaper in Brazil reported that crew members were subjected to racism and homophobic threats and taunts. 

MSC issued a statement denying everything.

In December and March, we posted videos and photos of MSC dumping garbage bags into the sea off the coast of Brazil from the MSC Magnifica.  If the recent allegations are true, it seems that MSC treats its employees worse than the sea it pollutes. 

 

Photo Credit: Reporter Brazil

Injured Seaman Wins Award Against Maersk Lines in Miami

Today a jury here in Miami returned a significant award against a major shipping company, Maersk Lines. 

The case involved William Skye, a 57 year old Jones Act seaman (crewmember) from New Jersey, who worked for Maersk Lines Limited as a Chief Mate (the crewmember rank just under Master / Captain) aboard a Maersk container vessel called the Sealand Pride.

Mr. Skye was represented by Jason Margulies and Michael Winkleman, of the law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman, who I interviewed for this article. 

According to Mr. Margulies, "this case is, to our knowledge, a case of first impression that has never before been brought."

Maersk Sealand Pride Container Ship LawsuitMr. Skye alleged that he was assigned and required to perform so many duties in connection with his job as a Chief Mate for Maersk that, over a 4 year period of time, he was required to violate the work/rest hour laws that comprise the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping).

The STCW provides, in part, in 46 USC 8104(d), that "A licensed individual or seaman in the deck or engine department may not be required to work more than 8 hours in one day."; and in 46 CFR 15.1111 (a) "Each person assigned duty as officer in charge of a navigational or engineering watch, or duty as a rating forming part of a navigational or engineering watch, on board any vessel that operates beyond the Boundary Line shall receive a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period."

While there are some exceptions to the foregoing, the rest received may not be less than 70 hours in any 7 day period. Further, he must receive at least a 6 hour uninterrupted rest period daily.

As part of his required job duties, Mr. Skye alleged that he was required to stand two 4 hour watches a day, and then perform additional tasks of his approximately 28 additional job duties associated with his position as Chief Mate. On average, the Plaintiff alleges that he was required to work approximately 15.75 hours a day; violating both 46 USC 8104(d) and 46 CFR 15.1111.

As a result of his long working hours and inability to receive enough uninterrupted rest, Ms. Skye alleged that he was diagnosed with Left Ventricular Hypertrophy by his cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Wachspress, in June 2008.  This condition is a physical thickening of the left ventricular portion of the heart, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood and significantly increasing chances of a heart attack. Further, he Maersk - William Skye - Lawsuitwas diagnosed with an adjustment disorder by his psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold Goldman, in 2008. Both his cardiologist and psychiatrist related his injuries to his working conditions aboard the Sealand Pride and recommended that he retire early, at age 54, from working aboard ships. During his last year of work, he earned approximately $171,000 and received approximately $36,000 in fringe benefits (food, shelter, medical care, etc.)

Mr. Skye was also a licensed attorney. He went to law school in the 1980's and practiced for a short period of time thereafter, deciding to return to a life at sea thereafter. Although his doctors do not restrict his ability to earn a living as a lawyer,  because he has not practiced law since the 80's, he is currently finding it very difficult to earn any significant amount in his practice as a lawyer. Nevertheless, Plaintiff's vocational rehabilitation expert, Dr. Robert Lessne, testified that if he were able to find a job with a law firm as a lawyer, he could expect to earn approximately $69,000 based on his current level of expertise. Dr. Lessne further testified that William Skye's working life expectancy, from the point that he retired in 2008 was approximately 17 more years.

During trial, Plaintiff presented the testimony of two former Maersk employees, Michael McCright and Steven Krupa. Michael McCright was a former relief Chief Mate aboard Maersk ships and he testified as to the difficult job that chief mates working for Maersk faced and that it was impossible to do the job without working a significant amount of overtime, which was exhausting. Steven Krupa was a former fleet manager for Maersk and testified that ultimately Maersk was responsible for complying with the STCW laws but that Maersk did not affirmatively do anything to check that its crew members were able to complete their job duties and comply with the STCW work/rest hours.  Mr. Skye also presented the testimony of one of the Maersk captains under which he worked, Cpt. James Brennan, who testified that William Skye was a good and competent Chief Mate who would complain to him that complying with the STCW work/rest hours was difficult.

Maersk - Sealand PrideFurther, Mr. Skye introduced evidence that showed that Maersk actually budgeted 185% of the Chief Mate's base salary to overtime; far more than the overtime budget for any other position on the ship (by comparison Maersk's overtime budget for the Captain was 26% of his base salary).

Maersk was represented by defense attorneys, David Horr and Stephanie Wylie, who are two of the best lawyers defending shipping companies and cruise lines in Miami.They presented arguments that it was primarily Mr. Skye's responsibility as Chief Mate to make sure that the work/rest hours were complied with. Further, they argued that Mr. Skye failed to delegate tasks which would have made it feasible for him to comply with the work/rest hours and allowed him to obtain uninterrupted rest.

Additionally, Maersk argued that Mr. Skye's injury was caused by cardiac conditions which he began complaining of in 2000 and, as such, his filing of a lawsuit in May 2011 violated the applicable three year statute of limitations. Maersk also presented testimony from cardiologist, Dr. Theodore Feldman, who testified that the left ventricular hypertrophy did not preclude him from working aboard ships and was easily controlled with medication.  Maersk also presented testimony from maritime safety expert, Captain Douglas Torborg, who went through three and a half years of duty logs (work hour logs) regarding Mr. Skye and testified that, based on the exceptions to the work/rest hours of the STCW, the working hours did not constitute a violation of the laws.  Douglas Torborg admitted that he has billed Maersk's lawyers approximately $60,000 for his work in reaching those opinions. Lastly, Maersk argued that Mr. Skye had long planned to retire in 2008 before finding out about his hear condition. 

In the end, the jury did not find that there was statutory violations of the STCW laws. They did, however, find that Maersk was negligent and that its negligence was a legal cause of Mr. Skye's injuries.  As a result of such injuries, which were first able to be discovered by Mr. Skye in 2008, he was forced to retire 10 years early. They awarded $2,088,549.00 (present value) for those 10 years of lost wages.  The jury also found that Mr. Skye's non-economic damages totaled $273,750.00. They found Maersk 25% negligent and William Skye 75% comparatively negligent.

I asked Mr. Horr if he has a comment and we will  update this story if we receive additional comments from the defense side.

 

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