A retired Supreme Court justice is suggesting that all Bahamas-flagged cruise ships require that passenger disputes (including claims involving personal injury) be arbitrated in the Bahamas, according to the Tribune newspaper.
The Bahamian newspaper reports that former justice Rubie Nottage told a group of arbitrators yesterday that arbitrating cruise passenger disputes would generate a "significant volumes of business."
The Tribune states that "with many of the major cruise lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, operating Bahamas-flagged ships, Mrs Nottage called on them to insert a clause into passenger contracts ensuring “that matters that arise on Bahamas-flagged vessels be arbitrated in the Bahamas."
Currently, cruise passengers are entitled to trials in the United States federal courts. Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line passengers are required (according to the cruise lines’ tickets) to file suit in Miami. Princess cruise passengers are required to file suit in Los Angeles. Holland America Line passengers must file suit in Seattle. All cruise passengers are entitled to have juries decide their claims against the cruise lines.
However, if arbitration clauses are inserted into cruise line tickets, and such provisions are enforced, cruise passengers would lose their right to a jury trial in the U.S. Passengers would also be required to travel to Nassau, incur additional expenses,and risk being a victim of crime there. The murder rate in Nassau is many times higher than in the U.S. The Tribune reports today that a former government official said there is something “drastically wrong” with the government in the Bahamas and a "spirit of fear, sparked by escalating crime, shrouds the country."
As far fetched as it may sound, the prospect of cruise passengers bring forced into arbitration and losing their right to a jury trial is possible. The cruise lines began requiring all crew members, including U.S. crew members, to submit to foreign arbitration in the last decade. Our firm is now now prosecuting crew arbitration cases in Panama and Europe where the applicable law is that of Panama, Norway or the Marshall Islands. The cruise lines resorted to this tactic to take rights away from their crew members.
Last year, the Tribune reported that the Bahamas had “a very good chance of being the arbitration centre of choice” for thousands of crew member cases generated annually. Michael Crye, a U.S. lawyer and former Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) executive vice-president, remarked that the Bahamas’ long-standing ties to the cruise industry placed it in position to “grab a substantial amount of this opportunity.”
It is questionable that a U.S. citizen could obtain a fair hearing before a Bahamian arbitrator deciding a case involving a cruise line which registers its cruise ships in the Bahamas. In addition to the inherent conflict of interest, there is a culture of corruption in Nassau. Consider the two comments to the article in the Bahamian newspaper. One comment mentioned "we are not an impartial jurisdiction, and the corruption will prevent anyone from using Bahamians as arbitrators." The other comment said: "I would only come here and when i already bribed everyone involved, that’s how it works here . . ."