WKMG Local 6 (ClickOrlando) aired a special report last night on the issue of children drowning on cruise ships. In the last year, four children 6 years old or younger have drowned or nearly drowned in the pools of Carnival, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ships. 

In all cases, the cruise lines did not employ lifeguards.   

The news station interviewed the parents of a 6 year old child, Qwentyn Hunter, who drowned during a Carnival Cruise Ship Drowning cruise aboard the Carnival Victory.  

I believe that it’s clear negligence for a cruise line not to employ a lifeguard to supervise cruise ship swimming pools. Yes, it a matter of personal responsibility of the parents to supervise their children, but its also a matter or corporate responsibility of the cruise lines to staff their pools with trained lifeguards.  A sign saying things like "swim at your own risk" or "no lifeguard on duty" is not only meaningless to a child, but it’s legally insufficient to exculpate a cruise line.  

The cruise lines are able to hide behind a maritime law also known as the "Death on the High Seas Act" which prohibits the recovery of emotional damages such as pain and suffering, grief, bereavement, and mental anguish. As matters now stand, the cruise line face virtually no financial consequence when children die in cruise ships pools with no lifeguards.

The news station interviewed me during the program. Here’s what I said:

"’Children are not wage-earners and because of this archaic law pertaining to cruise ships there’s no financial incentive for cruise lines to do the right thing,’ said Jim Walker whose law firm deals exclusively with legal issues on cruise ships.

Walker called it the cruise industry’s dirty little secret.

‘The cruise lines love that law that doesn’t permit any recovery so they’re completely isolated and when you isolate a large corporation from all legal and financial consequence basically what you’re saying to them is it’s OK if children die in your pool because it doesn’t really affect your bottom line. That’s a terrible situation. That needs to change,’ said Walker.

. . . Walker contends there’s another troubling issue. He says no cruise employees, other than medical personnel are trained in CPR.

‘If you’re going to assign someone to a pool deck to hand out the towels and take drink orders, you’ve got to train them on basic CPR because CPR can save a life,’ said Walker who also says he believes the cruise line industry could pass the cost of employing lifeguards on to the passengers.

‘If you charge each one a dime you’re going to have enough money for a lifeguard. How about a dime for each person? Isn’t a child worth a dime?’ said Walker.

Walker believes it is going to take some type of legislation really to force the cruise lines to take added safety precautions."

We have discussed this issue in prior articles:

Imperfect Parents & Corporate Irresponsibility: Why No Lifeguards on Disney Cruise Ships? (Disney now has lifeguards on its cruise ships).

Dangerous Cruise Ship Swimming Pools: Thoughts from a Concerned Cruiser

Have a thought about this issue? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page. 

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Photo Credit: Ariza Talent & Modeling Agency via CBS News

  • Debbie

    I don’t mean to sound cruel here but parents should not be more than an arm’s length away from their children in a pool. Even if there was a lifeguard on duty that would not prevent some children from drowning. The signs around the pool are very clear, swim at your own risk. This means if a parent wants their child to swim in the pool they are assuming the risk.

  • Debbie:

    Thanks for your comments. However, there is no such thing as “assumption of risk” in maritime law involving passengers.

    Jim Walker

  • tinikini

    Didn’t the father state that he was a couple of feet away from his child??? I measured my arm…it is a couple of feet long. So in my opinion he was with his child. Maybe the pool is too overcrowded???? If you had lifeguards they could control a crowded pool better I would think. This is so sad…what a cute little man.

  • Steve

    Jim,
    Let’s assume the cruise lines decide to provide life guards. If someone drowns or is injured while a life guard is on duty, does this change the liability exposure of the cruise lines? Will they loose the full protection of Death on the High Seas Act?

  • The cruise lines will still enjoy the protection of the 1920 law DOHSA if they assign lifeguards to the pools. That’s why the cruise lines spends $$$ millions lobbying Congress not to change the law.

  • terri

    If you don’t feel safe on cruise ships then do not cruise. They are overcrowded anyways. It is really sad that it happened. However; I really don’t understand if the father was only 2 arm lengths away and paying attention how did this happen?