In 2004, The Miami New Times interviewed me as part of an investigation into how cruise lines treat their crew members once they become ill or injured. The article was entitled "Screwed If By Sea – Cruise Lines Throw Workers Overboard When It Comes to Providing Urgent Medical Care."

The article focused on the two largest cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Around 75% of U.S. passengers sail on cruise ships owned or operated by these giants. Virtually all crew members are non – U.S. employees, from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, or Honduras where medical care is either non-existent or spotty at best.  

Maintenance and Cure – the Oldest Legal Doctrine in the United States

Cruise lines are legally obligated to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to their crew members whenever they become ill or injured on the cruise ships. The doctrine is called "maintenance and cure," and has existed in the U.S. for almost 200 years. It is one of the few absolute legal doctrines in the world. Traced back to the Medieval Sea Codes, the doctrine evolved over the centuries out of a concern that hard working crew members should not be abandoned in distant ports. Shipowners are required to provide medical treatment and sustenance so that the crew members will recover from their illnesses. In a nutshell, the maintenance and cure doctrine requires the cruise lines to treat crew members as if they were their own children.

Neglectful Parents in 2004

The "Screwed If By Sea" article revealed that Carnival and Royal Caribbean were very neglectful parents.

The article hit the cruise industry like a bomb. The public learned that the cruise lines were acting outrageously. The New Times revealed that Royal Caribbean kept a seriously burned crew member in his cabin with nothing but Ibuprofen, and then tried to ship him back to the Caribbean from Alaska with no arrangements for medical care. In another case, Royal Caribbean sent a crew member with cancer home to die with no medical treatment. Although the cruise lines were based here in Miami and their cruise ships regularly called on ports in Florida where appropriate medical care is readily available, the companies schemed to send the ship employees to the far corners of the earth where the crew members would languish and their medical conditions would undoubtedly worsen.

How Are Carnival and Royal Caribbean Behaving Today?

The article was published in 2004, five years ago. How are these companies treating their crew members today?

Carnival is doing better. Although some maritime lawyers may disagree, I have found that Carnival is making an effort to more or less provide appropriate care to their sick crew members. For example, we represent a crew member from India who suffered a serious knee injury. He developed osteomyelitis. Once we became involved, Carnival authorized and paid for treatment at the Mayo Clinic where the crew member received outstanding medical care by a team of orthopedic and infectious disease specialists. Carnival efficiently arranged for transportation, food and living accommodations. Our client improved. Carnival did what it was legally required to do. Our client benefited.  A win-win situation.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, has gotten worse. In 2004, Royal Caribbean paid $25 a day toward the living expenses of its crew members – a figure which could provide a meager sustenance for some but not all employees. But now, Royal Caribbean provides only $12 a day. No one in the world can eat, cover their rent and utilities, and pay for transportation on such a pittance. Royal Caribbean knows it, but does not care.

Royal Caribbean has also adopted a strict keep-them-out-of-the-U.S. policy. The company saves money by sending its employee to places like Nicaragua and St. Vincent. But these places lack basic medical facilities and basic medicines. The crew member’s heath and life are compromised in the process.

A Royal Money Game

Unlike Carnival, Royal Caribbean is saddled with huge debts. It is struggling financially to bring the $1,000,000,000 Oasis of the Seas, an unnecessary extravagance, into service.  But it is nickeling its crew members, literally, to death. We lost one client to cancer because Royal Caribbean refused to schedule a follow up appointment over the course of five months. Royal Caribbean is neglecting other crew members with serious medical problems, like debilitating neurological injuries and leukemia.

Royal Caribbean is one cruise line which continues to demonstrate that it cares more about money than its crew members.


Photo credits

Photo of cruise ship and Royal Caribbean crew member, Mr. Doran McDonald – Jonathon Postal, Miami New Times      

Cruise Inc. – Big Money On the High Seas – CNBC      

  • Ana

    I am with you is a shame how these companies just angry for money and forgetting their employers, and the worst of it is now they say if a tourist write up bad about the crew member they will work without pay for 2 weeks, this is ridiculous, can anyone do something about this, I think the Governor should see their contract because it sails in American water, things most change is a shame the bigger boss do nothing, how can people do not think for others, they have family depending on them, they have to travel far away from family is not easy! What is happening with the human race of today, the richer want to get richer but where do you carry that money? Or until when? What about their emotional status?

    These Companies only want to have a number that’s what the crew members are. Everyday is new rules, new management, the good ones never stay for long, after comes one that only want to put order, but if we are living with Nazis in those days, just has the holocaust is a big shame. These Companies only like to treat crew member bad and all what sometimes passengers say. No one is there to stand up for their crew member. Why? Just for someone who win a ticket for this week, or someone who go and pay tomorrow! They forget the crew member is working so many hours without a day off, and pretty sure not eating the right meal.

    The only next thing I have to say is that someone should see about these types of treatment, and take care of their workers emotionaly.

  • Antonio

    Mr Walker your “cruiselawnews” is amazing information for every one and i personaly just like to see all the news in the news papers also as NEW YORK TIMES etc because this company above of all just want to screw-up the crew with stupid excuses ignoring the people and build up an empire of cruise ships.

    Shame, shame, USA should know in particular the US
    governament how much violations they do against
    US law and after all they are free of tax. I think the US government needs to review the law
    for this company.

  • Marizza

    My brother been working for RCCL five years, each contract he work without pay in dinning room department called over there “out team”, 45 days per contract. The assist. waiters make the rotation of work in dinning room department calling this the OUT TEAM in rotation sistem, for example, you work 4 cruises in dinning room restaurtant treating the guests, providing services to them and for that you have tips.But, for work in Windjamer (buffet restaurant), company dont pay nothing except 50 dolar per month but..DURING THE CONTRACT YOU HAVE TO WORK 45 DAYS WITHOUT PAY OR IN THE SISTEM “OUT TEAM” (in any ship of Royal Caribbean), I think, shut be care about.
    Thank you

  • Mathew

    I am a Canadian citizen who recently terminated his employment with Royal Caribbean after 6 and a half years.
    The reasons are numerous. The employees of Royal (and I’m pretty sure all the other cruise lines), have no rights. 7 to 10 month contracts with NO days off. Not 1. The public needs to be aware of the situation on these ships. The atrocities need to be exposed on a large scale. The companies are guilty of breaking many laws. Environmental laws, labour laws, workers rights, access to medical treatment and basic human rights. You name it, they will crush it. The company rules with fear. It’s almost admirable how incredibly efficient they are at crushing their employees will to fight back.

  • Tiffany SK

    I am an American citizen who worked for Royal Caribbean for 4 contracts. I left the ship in the last quarter of my last contract with an injury. It was even tough for me to get RCCL to cover decent medical treatment for me as an American citizen. I cannot even imagine what it is like for crew members who are sent back to their countries of origin. Forget about any sort of living compensation while shoreside for treatment. I was able to live with my parents, but if I hadn’t had that option I would have had quite a bit of difficulty. It is shameful the way they sign crew members off of ships to fend for themselves.

  • franblu

    We need the beautician so we can win anoth 2.9 million

  • rhon harvey

    My brother died on 11-26 2010 on this ship and there is a lot of un-answered questions. He once told me it is one of the hardest work he has ever done and for a Jamaican to say that it must be very hard.All i wish is to know the cause of death and that there is no cover up.Darell R.I.P bro.

  • robert


    Fully aware of these pigish, greedy, self-centered pricks, you all can do a lot about it, solution is simple, don’t take cruises at all, ever, there many other places in U.S. to take vacation, for less money that you would spend on cruises, airfare, onboard casinos, on board Duty Free Shops, drinks, paying dining room crew, and housekeeping, and dining room managers, so on and so forth. I live in FL and been a crew member off and on for 15 years, and seen things you as passengers will never see, could not even imagine, I told my wife, I’ll never ever take a cruise, why, they rip you off, it’s fact, they charge you for drinks at 300-400% profits on a single drink, they rip you off on shore excursions, by at least $40 per individual, and they charge you so called fuel surcharge of about nearly $10 per person per day, did you ever looked at small print, when you book a cruise, let me ask you this, how much total cost you a cruise????? Let’s make a quick math, airfare average, $400 for two, cruise for two 3 days $300, you spent in casino $200 per person, you spent another $300 per person in Duty Free Shop, you spent on shore excursions in 3 days another $50 per person (average), plus you spent another $200 in 3 days in ports of call, plus fuel surcharge of $10 per day per person that’s $60, we all know multiply that amount with 2300 passengers for that cruise… $138,000, and now we all know that 138,000 worth of fuel is never consumed in 3 days, with todays engine tech. for cruise lines that advanced a lot in terms of fuel safe… that’s only in 3 day, a month that’s summons to 1,380,000 only for a fuel surcharge, so now you’ll still tell me that cruise lines are struggling financially, aeven we know they’re not paying any taxes in U.S. whatsoever, of course let’s not forget about executives pays, bonuses and stock options, cruise line makes money off of you my dear passengers and mostly off of crew members by paying them average $900 a month for a 13 hour shift 7 days a week. Give me a break, please, people, wake up, honestly, and look at the reality as it is… Back to calculations the cost for two on a 3 day cruise with everything would be $2600, gratuities for crew not included, sweathaert. let’s round up to $3000, for that money I can a have a blast on vacation anywhere else in U.S. and still will come home with cash left over in my wallet, and will not be limited with space, time and rude, drunk crowd of people. There you go, think it over if you still wanna take a cruise, and not lose your son or daughter being raped by crewmember, or being thrown overboard.

  • andrew simpson 863239

    I want to make a brief apology and to let the staff and crew of the medical team on grandeur of the sea’s that it was never intended for me to act on any thoughts that I had on the night in question, and for such treatment I had received before my departure was never acceptable but for that I forgive, and thanks anyhow for giving me the opportunity for spending some time with my mom who passed away lastnight on the 10/24/14. The effort of me telling the doctors that I’m fit and capable of doing my job and am of well sound mind, and it is very human of me to feel sad and cry tears doesn’t dictates that am suicidal not now nor never will I be.

  • Antonio silveira

    During my vacation I met with an accident my right hand got fractured I did surgery, to whom I contact for my expenditure insurance..