One of the purposes of this blog is to educate the public of dangers of cruising and the legal hurdles passengers face when things go wrong during a cruise.  

One of the first issues I felt compelled to write about when I started this blog over two years ago was the Death On The High Seas Act ("DOHSA").  DOSHA does not permit cruise passengers to recover pain, suffering, grief, or bereavement if a loved one dies outside of the territorial waters of the U.S.  DOSHA provides only limited financial damages, such as lost wages. 

If a child is killed during a cruise or shore excursion due to the cruise line’s negligence, there is no recovery at all because the child is not a wage earner.  I wrote about this in my series of the "ten reasons not to cruise" –  Reason No. 5:  If You Are Retired Or A Child, The Cruise Line Considers Your Life Worthless.

Cruise lines love DOSHA.  It eliminates all consequences of their negligence and provides no incentive to act responsibly.  The cruise industry spends millions of dollars lobbying Congress to make certain that DOSHA is not amended to provide reasonable compensation to grieving families.

This weekend, I received the following comments from a Mom who lost her daughter during a  Holland American Line cruise, while on HAL’s "private island" Half Moon Cay.          

Holland America Line’s "Family Cruise" – Half Moon Cay

"My 3 year-old daughter was killed on Christmas Eve of last year while on a Holland America cruise with her biological father. She drowned in the designated children’s swim area of a private island Death On The High Seas Act - Holland America Line -  Cruisein the Bahamas owned by HAL.  This tragedy occurred in plain view of hundreds of people present and right near where a lifeguard SHOULD have been actively on duty.

I would never have considered allowing her on the cruise if I believed for a moment that I was putting her in harm’s way.

Imagine what it feels like to receive a phone call on Christmas Day and fully expecting to hear a relative calling with a Christmas greeting.  Instead, you are informed, with no preamble or warning, that your darling daughter is dead.

Holland America has made it perfectly clear to us that they feel they have no responsibility in the matter, and even if they did have any liability, that their interests are fully protected by the Death on the High Seas Act.  Never mind the fact that the children’s swim area contained many bright toys to lure children into the water, and deliberately lulls the guests into a false sense of security with signs nearby that say "Paradise — you’ll want to stay forever" (or similar.)  Because the DOHSA does not cover pain and suffering (only loss of a paycheck, and let’s face it, my daughter didn’t have a steady job), they have informed me that I am entitled to absolutely nothing.

Thanks, Holland America. And a Merry Christmas to you as well.

Be aware of this stance before you go on one of Holland America’s "Family Cruises" (one of their employees told me their target market is families for their Christmas Cruises).  Holland America is only too happy to take full advantage of their supposed protection under a law that they themselves have so much as admitted as being archaic.  For some terribly naive reason, I actually had hoped that instead of hiding behind the cover of an inappropriate law to protect themselves from their failures to provide a safe environment for my child, that they would actually be moved to simply do the right thing.  Silly me.

The DOHSA Act was originally passed in 1920 to cover scenarios of a fisherman (read: breadwinner) lost at sea.  The intent of the law was certainly never to cover the loss of a child on a cruise, but the cruise industry is taking full advantage of its existence and has opposed efforts to change this law.

The lesson that Holland America has taught me with their brush-off treatment of my complaint is loud and clear: pain and suffering are worthless.  I can’t even bring myself to contemplate what their message communicates with regards to their perceived value of the life of my daughter."


Were you on the cruise or at Half Moon Cay at the time of this incident? 

Should DOHSA be amended to provide the same remedies as land based law?

Please leave a comment below . . .


For other articles on DOHSA, consider reading:

What Does BP, Al Qaeda and a Cruise Line Have In Common? 

Death On The High Seas Act Protects BP and Cruise Lines at the Grieving Family’s Expense

  • summe

    i dont know much about law but many years ago a very old and wise lawyer said ‘ theres always a loop hole in law, u just got to find it ‘
    so i pray that this mom and Jim finds it. This child was not earning but she would have earned as she grew up and she would have helped and seen to her mom like so many of our children do when we old and they earn their living. Who will be taking care of this mom when shes old and would need her daughter. This co is responsible and needs to see then that they stand in for the daughter she lost.. i am a older mother and i know how much one needs ur children when u older and they grown up. Please dont give up, il pray for u.

  • Denise

    Thank you. I will NEVER take my children on a cruise now. The very least they should be required to do is provide a warning to all parents on cruises. The way cigarette manufacturers must warn their customers.

  • Derrick

    These cruiselines like to claim they’ll take care of everything for you – food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, etc… but it’s painfully clear they can NOT be counted on to look after the safety and wellbeing of their guests. And though they might be protected from legal recourse by the DOHSA, they can never be absolved of their ethical responsibilities as hosts and caretakers. Remember that.

  • Tink

    Another reason to cruise. Too bad we don’t have their lobby in Washington.

  • Nathalie

    They should be sued. I’m sure you will win this as this is so unacceptable. Make a huge fuss about this and it will be won. Has to.

  • Renee

    Thanks for the warning I’ll make sure never cruise with them. And I’ll pass this massage on…
    You would think they would take responsibility! It makes me sick!!!

  • Tanya Rhodes

    Protection of children should be of the highest concern, especially where water is concerned.

  • Jeff

    While that is indeed a tragic story, my question is, where was the biological father that was referenced? If he was neglectful in his parental duties to keep the kid safe, the mother should be going after him, not the cruise line. Ultimately it is the parent’s responsibility to keep their kids safe. Now if the cruise line misrepresented about having a life guard or proper staffing, then she has a case.

  • Suzane

    I am so sorry for this terrible loss. Thank you for making me aware of this injustice.

  • Todd D.

    I have to agree with Jeff (above). The biological father was the sole primary gardian of this child. Any other measures were secondary- not primary.

    Once you leave the US, you leave the laws that govern us behind. I know that’s harsh to hear but true. Had this happened at disney, and the staff were at fault, then the us laws would apply and some legal action could happen. However, that’s not the case here. This is a very sad a tragic story but I’m afraid it’s not a legal one.

    My prayers are for both parents of this child. All parents should realize from this experience that they are the primary gardians of their children.

  • Jeff and Rodd:

    Lots of people like to talk about “personal responsibility” without mentioning “corporate responsibility.”

    The HAL cruise and Half-Moon Cay are operated by a corporation to make money. HAL has corporate responsibility to the child and her parents. Operating a lagoon without a active lifeguard on duty reflects a serious lack of legal responsibility.

    Jim Walker

  • Fred

    I was looking into a cruise for my family last year. One of the Cruise lines I spoke with was telling me “how relaxing it would be, there are activities for everyone in your family”. There was even a “cruise Camp” for the kids. They said you can drop them off and you have the day for yourself. When I vacation its to spend time with my family not be seperated. This moms story is tragic. Shame the company making so much money off families don’t know the importance and value of each and every member from the parents to the smallest child.

  • Mandy

    Such a heartbreaking story.

    My initial thoughts are centered around why the parent wasn’t supervising his child. I’m concerned that any parent would leave their child unsupervised, (or under the supervision of a stranger) around water, let alone while surrounded by “hundreds” of strangers.

    This truly is a tragedy but I agree with Jeff and Todd, trying to shift blame to the cruise line is misdirected.

  • Mandy:

    Thanks for your post, but all landowners and recreational facilities owe a duty of reasonable care toward the public. Not having a lifeguard present around children in or near water is unreasonable and reflects corporate negligence, notwithstanding the duty owed by a parent to a child.


    Jim Walker

  • lankisha

    Im so sorry for this mothers lost…The cruise line should b held responsible because their should have been a lifeguard..@its quick for peopleto judge ..but what if this was your child the people talking about her father.

  • Debbie

    I can understand this poor mothers pain but we were on that very cruise and the account of this tragedy is distorted. We have been to Half Moon Cay 3 times and cruised all around the world with our children- without incident. The play area in that section of water is brightly colored and attracts children because it is meant as a play area for children.Just like anywhere parents take children swimming THEY need to watch their children. Has anyone seen a life guard at a hotel pool in years? I have not. Just because you are on vacation does not mean someone else needs to watch your children. This is not Holland Americas fault. It was a very sad day and broke our hearts to watch as the Dad was practically carried back on board to collect what he needed from his cabin to be airlifted off the island with his precious girl.

  • Jane Lledo

    OMG Debbie you are a heartless soul for defending HAL.
    I just wish KARMA never comes around that fast for you.

  • John Cordey

    I was at this location a week later, on a P&O cruise liner Oceana.This is NOT a holiday destination with hospital facilities or emergency services SO the ship has to act as the only means of support.for the HAL company to shun responsibility under the DOSHA umbrella is absolutely criminal.i remember the staff on our ship were out in force on the island and monitored ALL passengers to maintain safety and assurance.But they also advised people before leaving the ship not to swim in the sea or leave children unattended.if you can prove that advice was not givento passengers before going ashore,that staffing levels and supervision were not sufficient then the shipping company ARE negligent.This should have no bearing on whether or not someone is in a job earning money.The ship has a responsibility to the safety of each passenger from the point of boarding to the point of disembarkation period!!!!

  • Steph

    My child would never be farther than my reach. Safety is most important. I’m sorry this poor little girl lost her life. I have seen more drownings in family pools than the occasional incidents while on vacation.

    I’d recommend not to rely on lifeguards. Get trained in CPR and watch your kids. If the water is unfamiliar many cruise lines/vacation spots off life jackets or bring your own. Take care and protect yourself always. Accidents happen. 🙁

    Be safe folks. Xo

  • Tony

    My heart goes out to this family and I mean this comment with absolutely no disrespect or disregard to the family’s loss – however, it must be said that as a society we have become so litigious that we have lost our sense of personal responsibility, especially as it relates to our children and the environment. Do we forget that we are talking about the ocean here? The sea is a dangerous place and if, as a parent, you decide to take your child into it – you are assuming liability for that decision and the risks involved. No one can be held responsible for the ocean being dangerous – nor can anyone ever change the fact or fully eliminate the risks. Why would any parent let their small child play in the ocean (even a shallow children’s area) without keeping a constant eye on them? How is this the cruise line’s fault?

    If someone gets seriously injured on a playground because they fall off of the monkeybars- is that the playground’s fault? Or is it the parent that allows their child to play on them and assumes the possibility that their kid might fall and get hurt?

    I just read in the news that a couple in Dallas, TX is trying to sue the city because their child was running around barefoot in a city park and suffered serious burns on their feet because of the summer sidewalk temperature. The city of Dallas is no more responsible for those burns than HAL is responsible for this tragedy. Both are extremely sad… but parents are ultimately the only one’s in charge of supervising their children.