Late yesterday afternoon the cruise industry’s trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), announced in a press release that it was adopting a cruise passenger "Bill of Rights."

The "Bill of Rights" is primarily a reaction to the adverse publicity following the Triumph "cruise from hell" stories where passengers were stuck on the disabled and sewage filled Carnival cruise ship without electricity, running water or operational toilets.   

The "Bill of Rights" is being largely praised as a step in the right direction, but there are a number of problems that most people in the media are missing. 

First, the "rights" actually contain limitations of liability. In disasters like the Carnival Triumph, a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rightspassenger would have very limited recourse. The "Bill of Rights" provide only for "a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early" due to mechanical failures.

After the Triumph fiasco, Carnival not only fully reimbursed the passengers their cruise fare, but provided them with a free voucher for a future cruise, waived all on board purchases and reimbursed the passengers’ travel expenses. Carnival also gave each passenger $500. Ironically, the proposed passenger Bill of Rights actually provides substantially less compensation than Carnival previously provided to the passengers voluntarily.

CLIA representative David Peikin is quoted in the Miami Herald saying that "the rights will become part of passengers’ contracts of carriage and will be legally enforceable."  This means that the very limited compensation of only a "partial refund" in a "cruise from hell" situation can be legally enforced by the cruise lines against the passenger!  In Triumph-like poop cruises, passengers will not be entitled to a full refund, or a free cruise voucher, or a waiver of onboard charges, or cash compensation. The bill is actually taking rights away from the passengers. 

The cruise Bill of Rights is a strategic move to preempt Sen. Charles Schumer from introducing a more stringent bill before the U.S. Senate and to avoid a bill which may be enacted into law with penalties and fines.

The Bill of Rights is entirely voluntary and there will be no financial consequences or punitive measures if the cruise lines violate the enumerated rights of the passengers.

It is nothing more or less than a promise to treat the cruise passengers right.

Historically, there may be cause to question the cruise lines’ sincerity. A number of years ago, Crystal Cruises promised to never dump wastewater in the Monterey Marine Sanctuary. Later, the cruise line was caught dumping over 35,000 gallons of waste and sewage into the protected waters. As cruise expert Ross Klein pointed out in his testimony before Congress, the cruise line responded by stating that we did not break the law, merely our promise.

If the cruise lines are serious about extending rights to the passengers, then they should propose that the Bill of Rights be enacted into statutory law with certain penalties to be imposed against them if they violate their guests rights.

There are also some parts of the "Bill of Rights" which are misleading.

For example, one of the rights is "the right to have available on board ships… professional emergency medical attention…"

This sounds great. However, passenger tickets of all cruise lines state that ship doctors and nurses are independent contractors for whom the cruise lines are not responsible. In cases where the cruise passengers are seriously injured or killed due to the absence of appropriately trained and experienced medical providers on cruise ships, the cruise lines refer to the language in the passenger tickets and argue that they are not responsible. A cruise ship is the only place in the world where you can be a victim of medical malpractice and have no recourse whatsoever.

Will the cruise lines remove this exculpatory language in the passenger tickets? I am sure that they won’t. As such, this provision in the Bill of Rights is not only meaningless but it is misleading and potentially fraudulent.

If the cruise industry wanted to be transparent and agree to extend meaningful rights to cruise passengers, it would state clearly that passengers have the right to seek relief when they are maimed or killed by incompetent ship doctors. It should also agree that there are no limitations of liability that the cruise lines can legally enforce.  

The biggest problem with the Bill of Rights is that it primarily addresses inconveniences and nuisances which cruise passengers may face from time to time. It includes no rights regarding more important matters, such as when the cruise passenger is a victim of a crime.

The cruise news recently has been dominated by a controversy involving a 33 year old Disney crew member who molested an eleven year girl on the Disney Dream cruise ship. It is alleged that the cruise line refused to timely report the incident, which occurred in U.S. waters in Port Canaveral, to the local police. The cruise ship then left the jurisdiction and sailed to the Bahamas where it was impossible to obtain a criminal prosecution. The crew member is now free at home in India and the victim and her family are left with no justice.

In order to deal with outrageous situations like this, the proposed cruise passenger Bill of Rights should contain rights which require the cruise line to immediately report crimes to the local authorities, require the disclosure of surveillance videos and statements that may assist in the prosecution of crew ship criminals, and include significant penalties when the cruise lines do not behave appropriately.

May 24 2013 Updates

Schumer Not Satisfied with Cruise Industry "Passenger Bill of Rights"

What can cruise passengers expect from their own Bill of Rights?