The cruise industry is attempting to prevent its crew members from using U.S. law when they are injured or when they have been denied appropriate medical treatment.
The cruise lines’ lawyers and lobbyists have inserted language in the Coast Guard Re-Authorization Act to strip "foreign" crew members of their rights under U.S. law after they have suffered an accident or when they are a victim of bad medical care.
The prohibition strikes at the heart of cruise lines employeess. The vast majority of crew members are "foreign" (i.e., non-U.S. citizens).
Historically, non-U.S. crew members have been covered by U.S. law when they become injured and when they have been denied appropriate medical care on U.S. based cruise ships. The "maintenance and cure" doctrine, which has applied to seaman on U.S. based cruise lines regardless of the crew member’s nationality, is one of the oldest legal doctrines in the United States. It requires the cruise lines to be responsible when their ship employees become ill or injured. Without this doctrine, the cruise lines can simply terminate and abandon their crew members at the next port of call when they become ill.
The irony of the proposed legislation is that none of the major cruse Ines are U.S. corporations. Carnival, for example, is a Panamanian corporation and Royal Caribbean is a Liberian (Africa) corporation. Cruise lines are incorporated in foreign countries and register their cruise ships there in order to avoid U.S. taxes and wage and labor laws. By stripping its ship employees of their legal rights, the cruise industry will create a situation where they can avoid paying their employees’ medical bills. Foreign incorporated cruise lines will not take take adequate care of their ship employees workers. U.S. hospitals and clinics (and U.S. taxpayers) risk bearing the cost of providing medical care for non-U.S. workers.
The efforts of the cruise industry to kick crew members out or the U.S. are unnecessary. Cruise lines have already been successful in forcing crew members to resort to international arbitration where many arbitrators apply non-U.S. law to crew member cases. In addition, many maritime cases are already thrown out of U.S. courts. Procedures already exist for the dismissal of cases that do not belong in U.S. courts. For example, when a foreign seaman is injured by the owner of a foreign-flagged vessel, owned and operated outside of the U.S., and the injury occurs outside the U.S., the doctrine of f"orum non conveniens" will result in the dismissal of the case.
In Florida, we are calling the office of Florida Senator Nelson (202) 224-5274 and asking him to oppose the cruise industry’s efforts. If you care about the welfare of crew members, please contact your Senator and do the same.