Mother Jones published an interesting article this morning by Stephanie Mencimer, "Will the Cruise Industry Do BP’s Dirty Work?" about how the cruise line lobbyists may join forces with BP to help the oil company dodge liability for the eleven workers killed on the Transocean drilling rig.
You see the drilling rig is considered to be a vessel for purposes of maritime law. And when an employee (or passenger) is killed on a vessel in international waters, the case is governed by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA).
Enacted in 1920, DOHSA prohibits the families of loved ones lost at sea to recover any compensation for their grief, sadness and bereavement or their children’s loss of love, nurture and guidance. We have written about this outdated and inequitable law before: "The Death on the High Seas Act – Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years." The cruise industry and its trade organization spend millions each year lobbying against efforts to repeal DOHSA.
So when the BP oil well exploded and killed the oil workers, the lawyers for BP undoubtedly began to educate their negligent client that liability for the dead men would be limited under DOHSA solely to the wages they earned. There is no liability for the dead men’s pain and suffering after they were burned and lay dying, or their fear of imminent death, or the mental anguish and suffering of their wives and children.
Mother Jones points out that one of the rig workers who was killed was single and childless. That means his family would only be entitled to recover funeral expenses under DOHSA. But because his body was never found after the rig blew up, there is nothing to bury. BP could get away with paying as little as $1,000 for his death.
There are representatives in Congress, including Senator Leahy, who will introduce legislation to repeal DOHSA so that families of the oil workers are reasonably compensated. But the article predicts that:
"There’s another powerful industry with an interest in doing BP’s dirty work to preserve the status quo. That would be cruise line operators – and when it comes to Beltway battles, the cruise lobby is no Love Boat."
The article addressed the sad story of Son Michael Pham (photo right), the vice president of the International Cruise Victims Association. (Mr. Pham is the founder of the non-profit organization Kids Without Borders).
As the article explains: "In 2005, his parents went on a Caribbean cruise and never came back. Carnival Cruise Line, one of the world’s largest cruise operators, never offered any explanation for what had happened, and has refused to discuss the incident with Pham and his family since then. That was how Pham discovered the horrible divide in the way the law treats people killed through negligence at sea. "We couldn’t take legal action to get justice," he says. Long before the BP explosion, his group was lobbying Congress for DOHSA to be overhauled . . .
Finally, in 2009, the cruise ship victims succeeded in getting legislation introduced with help from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) that would have updated DOHSA in just the way Leahy has proposed. That change would have allowed families of cruise ship victims to sue for non-economic damages – a huge deal for cruise-goers, because so many are retired and have no salaries that would provide the basis of a legal award under the current law . . .
But the cruise industry spent $2.2 million fighting these changes. The Carnival cruise line company alone has donated more than $400,000 since 2007 to members of Congress from both parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The offending provision was eventually removed from the cruise-ship safety bill.
The Cruise Lines International Association did not return requests for comment. But Pham says he has no doubt that the DOHSA revision will not slip by without the lobbyists’ notice. "Cruise lines absolutely didn’t want DOHSA to be part of that [2009 bill] at all," he says, noting that the industry would suddenly become liable for all sorts of incidents that it’s currently able to dodge legal responsibility for – everything from on-board murders to rapes to mysterious disappearances like that of Pham’s parents. "It’s an industry that self-polices. When there’s an incident on board, there’s nobody but themselves investigating themselves. You’re not going to turn yourself in."
What do you think of DOHSA? Please leave a comment below.
Are you a travel agent or cruise specialists who is a member of CLIA? Do you think that CLIA should spend millions of dollars a year lobbying to make certain that families on cruise ships lose their rights under DOHSA?
Deepwater Horizon Explosion U.S. Coast Guard