A Miami-Dade County jury returned a verdict against Royal Caribbean Cruises of more than $20,000,000 on behalf of an officer who was injured on the Voyager of the Seas during an accident in 2008.

Royal Caribbean officer Lisa Spearman was seriously and permanently injured when a watertight door crushed her right hand when she came to the assistance of the cruise ship nurse. The ship nurse stumbled while attempting to walk past the door during an emergency test, according to the lawsuit which her attorneys filed.

Ms. Spearman alleged that following the accident, Royal Caribbean refused to re-hire her and then refused to pursue disability benefits on her behalf. She sued the cruise line for negligence under the Voyager of the SeasJones Act, unseaworthiness of the vessel under the General Maritime Law, failure to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical care (also under U.S. General Maritime law), failure to pay wages under 46 U.S.C. 10313, retaliatory discharge and breach of contract.

The jury returned a verdict of $20,300,000 after a three week trial. 

Ms. Spearman was represented by Miami maritime lawyer Tonya Meister-Griffin, who was assisted by attorneys Deborah Gander and Susan Carlson of the Colson, Hicks Eidson law firm.  

Congratulations to Ms. Meister and the team of lawyers who represented Ms. Spearman.

Royal Caribbean was represented by David Horr of the firm Horr, Novak & Skipp.  

Currently, crew members are prohibited from filing lawsuits before a judge and a jury because cruise lines like Royal Caribbean have inserted one-sided arbitration provisions in the ship employees’ contracts. Absent a change in the law, Ms. Spearman, whose employment contract dates back to 2008 and did not contain an arbitration requirement, undoubtedly will be one of the last crew members who are able to try their case before a jury in the Miami-Dade courthouse.  

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Update: The Miami Herald covered the story in an article this afternoon (with photographs).  Newsweek also published CRUISE WORKER WINS $20M PAYOUT AFTER HAND CRUSHED BY DOOR ON ROYAL CARIBBEAN SHIP.  Stuff (New Zealand) New Zealand woman Lisa Spearman wins US$20.3m payout from cruise ship giant Royal Caribbean.

Photo credit: Spaceaero2 – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia. 

Three and a-half years ago, I wrote about a large fine leveled against Royal Caribbean for violating labor rules and regulations while the Oasis of the Seas was dry-docked in the Netherlands. Dutch labor inspectors had arrived at the shipyard in Rotterdam and found that numerous employees who were working on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship lacked proper residence papers and worked excessive hours (some up to 16 hours per day).

The Oasis had been undergoing maintenance and repairs while in dry-dock in Rotterdam when 45  inspectors from the Netherlands labor department boarded the ship. The inspectors determined that as many as 124 ship employees were not part of the regular crew and the cruise line should have Keppel Verolme - Oasis of the Seasapplied for work permits for them.

The finding of the Dutch labor inspectors (“arbeidsinspectie”) led to a  €1,000,000 fine. This was an unprecedented action by a port state enforcing their local labor regulations against a large cruise company.

I asked at the time that “it remains to be seen whether Rotterdam receives any more work from Royal Caribbean in the future.”

Upon notice of the fine, Royal Caribbean quickly decided that the dry-dock repairs needed for its sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, would be performed in Cadiz, Spain. Since then, Royal Caribbean has avoided any maintenance of its ships in Rotterdam. Just last month, Royal Caribbean sent the Brilliance of the Seas from Amsterdam to a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.

Royal Caribbean had used the shipyard extensively in the past, including projects like stretching and installing a mid-body section in the Enchantment of the Seas back in 2005.

The CEO (Kommer Damen) of the shipyard in question (Damen Shipyards, formerly Keppel Verolme), recently criticized the fine in a Dutch newspaper, Maritiemnieuws (auto translate via Google Chrome).  Mr. Damen was interviewed in the Dutch VNO-NCW opinion forum.

Mr. Damen essentially stated that the strict enforcement of the labor regulations of the Netherlands caused the shipyard to lose up to “about 1 billion euros” over the past 4 years. Mr. Damen characterized the fine as “simply unwise policy.” The opinion piece states that Royal Caribbean allegedly objected to and did not pay the labor fine.

Mr. Damen explained that, in his opinion, it is “entirely customary” for foreign shipowners to deploy their own ship employees (“riding crew”), as opposed to local employees employed by the shipyards, during maintenance projects. But, as Mr. Damen further argues, only the Dutch labor inspectors interpret and enforce the international regulations for labor on board ships in such a way that it is not possible to employ over a hundred ship employees not hired pursuant to the local labor laws. He cites the situation in countries such as Germany or France, where the the local inspectors permit the shipping companies to fly in extra crew for specialized projects taking place at shipyards.

We originally reported that Royal Caribbean had employed over 100 ship employees (and as many as as 77 Filipinos) to work on the Oasis of the Seas project during the dry-dock in Rotterdam. The cruise line was reportedly working these crew members as long as 16 hours a day (far in excess of the Dutch labor regulations) and likely for a fraction of what would have been paid to Dutch workers.

But when a labor fine results in lost revenue of a shipyard catering to the multi-million dollar business of a cruise line, its appears that labor inspectors will be forced to look the other way when ship workers work far-more-hours and for far-less-money than permitted by law.

Have a comment? Please leave a message or join the discussion on our Facebook page where I ask the question: Do you trust the cruise lines and shipyards to look after the labor rights of crew members?

Photo credit: Damen Verolme Rotterdam YouTube – Videoclip – Keppel Verolme dry-docking OASIS OF THE SEAS.

Yusmaidys Ortiz Perez MSC OperaA MSC crew member who stayed in Grand Cayman last month, when her cruise ship left port, was sentenced to three months in prison for illegally remaining on the island. 

As we previously reported, 34 year old Yusmaidys Ortiz Perez, employed as a bartender on the MSC Opera, was reported by MSC to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service four days after the ship left Grand Caymen after she did not return to the cruise ship. The woman was eventually located safe on the island, although the cruise line never explained why it delayed four days before reporting that she did not return to the ship before it left the country.

At the hearing last Friday regarding Ms. Ortiz Perez’s decision to  illegally remain in the Caymans, her defense lawyer reportedly told the court that Ms. Ortiz Perez “broke down” after leaving the ship because her a manager on the cruise ship was “exploiting” her, according to the Cayman Compass.  (He also reportedly stated that her partner in her home country of Cuba had allegedly "threatened to kill her"). 

Ms. Ortiz Perez reportedly told the court that “while on the ship, she was exploited by a manager and she was asked to perform certain duties and if she didn’t, she was told she would lose her job.”

The newspaper article in the Cayman stated that "Ms. Ortiz Perez did not welcome the attention from the manager. When invited to his room or other places on the ship, she would say no because she had been working 11 hours or because she did not want to." Ms. Ortiz Perez’s partner back in Cuba allegedly stated that he was going to kill her over suggestions that she had begun a relationship with her supervisor. 

Ms. Ortiz Perez apparently received a message to the effect that "as soon as you come to the dock, somebody will be waiting and this is what is going to happen to you.”

The judge sentenced Ms. Ortiz Perez to three months in jail, although reportedly stating that “I accept you are in distress and find yourself in a difficult position.”

Question for crew members: Have you been a victim of sexual harassment on a cruise ship?

Photo credit: Crew Center

M/S ArcadiaA passenger aboard the P&O Arcadia reports today via the P&O Cruises’ Facebook page that a lifeboat has broken from its cabling and has fallen from its davits into the sea while the cruise ship was in Ponta Delgada, Azores.

The passenger (who wishes to remain anonymous) states that "the back appears to have been ripped off and is still hanging from its cradle……" 

He posted two photographs on his Facebook comments to the private page (which he gave permission to post them here). One photograph (bottom) shows the lifeboat being removed from the water and the other photo shows the lifeboat lying damaged on the quayside at the port (middle0. 

There reportedly were five crew members in the lifeboat at the time of the accident. One crew member’s injuries are apparently serious enough for the ship employee to be hospitalized.

There have been a number of serious accident involving lifeboats drills during cruises over the years. Virtually all of the accidents involved crew members who were in the lifeboats when they were being lowered or raised during drills.

Last year a lifeboat broke free from the Grandeur of the Seas was in the the port of Charleston, South Carolina. No one was in the lifeboat when it fell into the water.

In September of 2016, two crew members were killed and other crew members were critically injured after a lifeboat fell from the Harmony of the Seas, which was docked in Marseilles, France. Five members of the ship’s navigation crew were on board during a drill when the lifeboat became detached and fell ten meters into the water.

Several years ago, the trade organization Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) announced that Arcadia Lifeboat Accidentcruise lines were prohibited by the MLO from raising or lowering lifeboats with crew members aboard. Many cruise lines have ignored this safety rule.

Eight crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill in 2013 on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed and 3 were injured.

In July of 2016, a rescue boat drill resulted in the boat falling into the water with four crew members from the Norwegian Breakaway while the cruise ship was in Bermuda. Two crew members were killed and two other seriously injured.

Between these two events, there have been several other lifeboat mishaps. In January of 2016, a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill while the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira. Fortunately, no one was injured. In August 2015, an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea apparently broke a cable while it was being lowered in Montenegro. Photographs sent to me shows what appears to be a lifeboat dangling on the side of the Costa cruise ship. In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed.

Word from the passengers on the Arcadia reportedly is that the ship has already left port to continue on with its planned itinerary. 

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January 12, 2018 Update: UK’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) demands urgent action over lifeboat safety.

Photo credit: Top – M/S Arcadia –  Politikaner – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia; middle and bottom – anonymous.

Arcadia Lifeboat Accident

 USA TODAY published an article today titled USA TODAY’s Guide to Cruise Ship Gratuity Charges

This is a topic which we write about quite often, as the cruise lines try to maintain their high profits while building bigger and bigger cruise ships which are getting more expensive to operate.  

Any discussion involving cruise ship gratuities really involves three issues, in my view: (1) cruise lines are dictating that everyone pay a gratuity of a certain amount, regardless of the level of the services, (2) cruise line are diverting monies paid in gratuities to fund the salaries of crew members "behind the scenes" (like cooks, cleaners, etc.) who typically do not receive gratuities, and/or (3) cruise lines are Carnival Cruise Gratuitiesdiverting the income paid in gratuities into the cruise lines’ profits?

The article addresses the first issue head-on and points to the general belief of the public that "tipping is a personal matter that should be left to passengers." Many critics of mandatory/automatic gratuities say that a gratuity must be earned; if the guest receives excellent service, they will tip well (sometimes more than the recommended amount), but if the guest believes the service is bad, they will pay a lower amount or perhaps nothing at all. 

But many crew members such as waiters or cabin attendants do not receive any salary at all. They earn 100% of their income from passenger gratuities. For the longest time, Royal Caribbean paid its waiters and cabin attendants received a salary of only $50 a month, although hard working waiters and motivated cabin attendant could collect several thousands of dollars a month from tips and gratuities. But the tips are tighter now and, with the auto-gratuities, less likely to end up with the waiters and cabin attendants. It is unfair for them to work for a pittance. 

Many cruise lines permit the guests to adjust or remove the gratuities while they are on-board the ship. NCL requires its guests to go through a onerous process of filling out forms after the cruise before a gratuity can be lowered or removed. 

Many crew members complain that many passengers wait until the last day of a cruise to remove all of the gratuities from their bills. 

Last year, Carnival crew members published a Facebook post (since taken down) showing the names (subsequently redacted) and cabin numbers of Carnival passengers who removed their automatic tips. Some of these people may have removed the pre-paid gratuities and paid cash but many may have stiffed the crew.

The real problem as I see it is that cruise lines are not being transparent with who exactly receives the automatic gratuities. The USA TODAY article writes that cruise lines say that the increased gratuities "will be passed on to crew members in recognition of their service." But many guests do not want to tip crew members who they never see (such as a galley worker). Many also believe that the cruise lines should pay their crew members decent wages and not require the passengers to be responsible for the crew’s salary.

The USA TODAY article touches upon this issue, writing that "some see the charges as a thinly disguised method for cruise lines to push the responsibility for paying crew members to their customers." Disguising the real purpose of a gratuity is a type of fraud, in my opinion, where a cruise guest may believe that he or she is paying the extra gratuity to their wonderful waiter or cabin attendant who went above and beyond for their family for a week, but the reality is that their gratuities are spread throughout the housekeeping and dining room departments to pay salaries as well as for "alternative services," according to Carnival. (See Carnival’s explanation of where the tips go here; and Royal Caribbean’s explanation here; NCL does not disclose any details as far as I can tell). The USA TODAY article says that "as much as 95% of pay for some cruise ship workers now comes from automatic gratuities, according to CruiseCritic."

And does anyone really trust that the cruise lines are not pocketing the gratuities as part of onboard revenue? The USA TODAY article does not touch this topic. Over 25 million people will sail on cruise ships this year. Whereas the luxury lines like Azamara, Crystal, Seabourn, Regent and SeaDream do not charge automatic gratuities, the mass lines like Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean do. If 15 million passengers are charged at a rate of several hundreds of dollars a week in auto-gratuities, there are many hundreds of millions of dollars at play over the course of a year. (Carnival charges an average of over $360 a week for a family of four staying in a standard stateroom). 

NCL’s CEO Frank Del Rio said during an earnings conference in 2015 that for every dollar collected in an increased gratuity, NCL earns an extra $15,000,000. Does anyone really think that the crew members are enjoying this extra income?

Between the greedy cruise executives and the miserly passengers who remove gratuities, the hard-working crew members seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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April 3, 2017 Update: A crew member wrote today, to me saying: Yes cruise lines are diverting tips to pay salaries of . . . even managers . . they use the tips to pay the bar manager, asst bar manager, housekeeper chief, asst housekeepers manager and food and beverage manager – they all get a slice of the tips."

A number of newspapers are reporting that an explosion on board the Emerald Princess cruise ship claimed the life of a Princess crew member at a port in New Zealand earlier this week.

The incident occurred when crew members were reportedly using a cannister of nitrogen, for deploying a lifeboat, on one of the decks near the stern of the cruise ship.

A passenger on the ship was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying that “There was an explosion, it was pretty loud … all I saw then was the gas bottle spinning on the (wharf).”

Filipino Crew Member Killed Emerald PrincessA photograph (right) posted on Twitter shows a large cylinder, which killed the crew member, lying on the wharf near the Princess cruise ship. 

What has not been widely reported is that the deceased crew member was a young Filipino man, married with two young children. 

The Filipino’s death comes just a couple of days after Lizzie Presser’s insightful article about the plight of crew members from the Philippines working on cruise ships was published. Titled Below Deck – Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t, the article explains how young men from the Philippines who go to sea on cruise ships to seek better lives for their families, face 12 hour work days for up to 10 months at a time and are prohibited from filing lawsuits in the U.S. They are subject to a draconian scheme of minimal compensation if injured on the job. If they are killed though the negligence of the U.S. based cruise line, their families receive a maximum pay-out of only $50,000 and only $7,500 per child.

The article quoted Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as saying "if cruise lines know their workers are kept from holding them accountable in court, they’ll have little incentive to provide them with a safe work environment.”

I was alerted of the death when a concerned passenger on the Princess cruise ship first alerted me to the tragedy:

"I’m currently on board the Emerald Princess at Dunedin. I was on board at the time the explosion happened that killed the crew member. He was a Filipino 33 yr old father of two small kids. I’ve been absolutely appalled to learn from crew (over 80% on this current cruise are Filipino) about their employment conditions. This entire industry seems to profit from the exploitation of workers from developing countries. And here we are with someone killed while doing their job on board."

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Photo credit: Twitter via Express newspaper.

Yesterday, investigative journalist Lizzie Presser’s article about the plight of crew members from the Philippines working on cruise ships was published. Titled Below Deck – Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t, the article follows the lives of several young Filipino men who went to sea for Miami-based cruise lines in order to provide a better life for their families. But when they were injured after working unreasonably long hours (12 hours a day for as long as 10 months without a break), the crew members found that they had no real legal rights to hold their employers responsible. 

Carnival Imagination - Filipino Crew Members This is an issue which I have written about regularly over the years, explaining the legal problems Filipinos face while working on cruise ships owned by companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean:

Filipino Labor Board Punishes Burned Crew Member.

Screwing Filipinos & Imprisoning Lawyers: Seafarers "Protection Act" Protects Cruise Line Employers.

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Photo credit: Kevin Kunishi via https://story.californiasunday.com

Investigative journalist Karen Foshay of KCRW published a muli-media presentation this week, chronicling the plight of seafarers who work long hours, away from their families and far from home, for a pittance.

When the crew members become injured, these "foreign" (i., e., non-U.S.) ship employees are barred from filing suit in the U.S. against their U.S.-based employers. Instead, they are forced to resort to filing arbitration claims where their disputes are resolved by arbitrators (usually paid for by the shipping company), in contrast to a judge and jury. 

The situation is particularly unfair to Filipino crew members who have to agree to a scheduled compensation scheme where they are limited to small pay outs when they are seriously injured due to the negligence of their employers.

Take a minute and read or listen to the the articles and watch the introductory video below. 

Her two-part special is entitled  Troubled Waters – a private justice system leads to secrecy and mistreatment on the high seas.

The investigation has two parts: Part one is titled the Secret World of Arbitration: 

http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/kcrw-investigates/troubled-waters-low-wages-on-the-high-seas/embed-player?autoplay=false

 

Watch the video below:  Troubled Waters: KCRW Investigates Exploitation on the High Seas. 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=vXUjyxEBEKg%3Frel%3D0

 

Newspapers in France are reporting that one crew member has been killed and four other crew members were injured after a lifeboat fell from the Harmony of the Seas, which was docked in Marseilles, France.

According to 20 Minutes newspaper, five members of the ship’s navigation crew were on board during a drill when the lifeboat became detached and fell ten meters into the water. The newspaper reports that two of the crew members injured are in critical condition. The deceased crew members is reportedly a Filipino citizen.

Several years ago, the trade organization Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) announced that Harmony of the Seascruise lines were prohibited from raising or lowering lifeboats with crew members aboard. Many cruise lines have ignored this safety rule.

Eight crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill in 2013 on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed and 3 were injured.

In July of this year, a rescue boat drill resulted in the boat falling into the water with four crew members from the Norwegian Breakaway while the cruise ship was in Bermuda. Two crew members were killed and two other seriously injured.

Between these two events, there have been several other lifeboat mishaps. In January of this year, a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill while the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira. Fortunately, no one was injured. In August 2015, an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea apparently broke a cable while it was being lowered in Montenegro. Photographs sent to me shows what appears to be a lifeboat dangling on the side of the Costa cruise ship. In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed.

It is currently unknown whether a cable broke or whether the lowering mechanism malfunctioned or was performed incorrectly. 

Several years ago, Cruise Critic published an article: Lifeboat Tragedy: Did Cruise Line Ignore Safety Guidelines? It quotes an expert on lifeboat drills: "Alan Graveson, Senior International Secretary of Nautilus the U.K.-based seafarers’ union, said: "I issued instructions seven years ago that preferably nobody should be in the lifeboat during a safety drill, and if that’s not possible then there should be a maximum of two people. We also contacted Captain Ben Lyons, who has sailed as an officer on both larger mega-ships and smaller expedition ships, to get an insider’s perspective on the incident. "Lifeboat drills are almost invariably considered one of the most dangerous parts of life at sea for a cruise," he told us in an e-mail. "There is a strong sentiment amongst many seafarers that lifeboats (through drills) have killed and injured many more people than they have saved."

CLIA has removed the language of the policy from its website, but you can review a cached version here ("Under this policy, for safety considerations, the loading of lifeboats for training purposes is to be performed only while the boat is waterborne and the boat should be lowered and raised with only the lifeboat crew onboard.") 

September 15 2016 Update: Nautiluc International UNION CALLS FOR RADICAL ACTION AFTER ANOTHER LIFEBOAT ACCIDENT.

Photo Credit: By kees torn – UNION BEAR , Harmony of the Seas & EN AVANT 20.

Filipinos are the most mistreated seafarers on the high seas. They work long hours every single day on tankers and cargo & cruise ships far away from their families for long periods of time for little money.   

When Filipino crew members are injured and disabled in accidents or due to the cumulative trauma caused by harsh long term work conditions, Filipinos are required to return home and accept the minimal payments outlined in a modest schedule of benefits published by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The skimpy benefits pale in comparison to compensation awards in the U.S. They are an embarrassment to the labor agency and employers of any civilized country.  

As you can see, a standard POEA employment contract  limits a maimed crew members who, for example, loses his or her entire hand, by amputation between the wrist and elbow joint, in a gruesome work-related accident, to a total maximum benefit of only $29,480. Such a paltry amount hardly compensates the crew member for his past and future lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish and disfigurement for the rest of his life.

Under the POEA, death benefits are as little as $50,000 plus $7,000 for each minor child, not Filipino Seafarerexceeding four in total. So the surviving family members of a crew member with two children killed at sea by the gross negligence of a cruise line employer receive a total payment of $65,000 including a nominal payment of $1,000 toward the family’s funeral and burial expenses.

Once a crew member or or their families receive a death or disability payment, they waive the right to file a claim against the cruise line employer and operator of the cruise line. This is in violation of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Such low payments trivialize the worth of a Filipino life. It is an insignificant if not meaningless amount in the eyes of the billion dollar, non-tax paying U.S. based cruise industry. Compare, for example, the money collected by the far cat cruise executives here in Miami (like NCL executive Frank Del Rio who collected over $31,000,000 in 2015).  A common thought of a cruise line risk adjuster or P&I representative when a davit fails and a lifeboat from a cruise ship falls several stories into the sea is that it’s cheaper to have a Filipino aboard who’s killed than any other nationality.  

Further injustice occurs when crew members suffer from ill health such as high blood pressure, heart problems and other sicknesses caused by the stress of hard work and long working hours. Manning agencies and cruise line employers are increasingly refusing to acknowledge that the injuries and illness suffered by crew members are "work-related," a requirement for the payment of such benefits. Crew members must submit to an examination of a single doctor, retained by the employer, who often assign a low impediment percentage, resulting in a minimal benefit, or claim that the illness pre-existed the crew member’s shipboard work, resulting in no payment.  Company doctors are known to work with an eye toward pleasing the employer and its lawyers, at the detriment of the injured seafarer.

Even when a crew member receives an award by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), maritime employers often choose to appeal the award and seek a deduction.

Several years ago, I wrote about the plight of a Filipino seafarer Lito Asignacion who worked as a Burn Unitsenior engine fitter on board a bulk carrier who sustained serious burns of his abdomen and legs when scalding water overflowed a tank do to unsafe working conditions on the vessel. The crew member underwent extensive and painful medical treatment in the burn units of West Jefferson Medical Center and Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Louisiana, U.S.A.  Asignacion was treated and underwent skin grafting burns of 35% of his body.

Mr. Asignacion thereafter returned to the Philippines where he continued undergoing medical treatment at a number of hospitals and with a number of doctors who performed plastic surgery. He is now unemployed, disabled and scarred for life.

His employer argued that under the POEA, the burned crew member suffered a grade 14 disability which would entitle him to only 3.74% of USD $50,000. 

The Filipino Labor Board agreed and awarded Asignacion just $1,870.

The labor board made a point of stating that the shipping company had offered the disabled crew member $25,000 “out of compassion and generosity," implying that the injured crew member had foolishly rejected the "generous" offer. 

The vindictive labor board also cited language from a prior decision that compensation for serious injured Filipino seafarers is low because Filipino seafarers are perceived as crew members "who complain too much.”

This patronizing and inherently evil sentiment is alive and well in the cruise industry today. Insurance entities like protection & indemnity clubs in the U.K. who are responsible for minimizing payments by its rich shipowner members are taking steps to make it even harder for Filipino crew members to receive reasonable compensation for career-ending injuries and illnesses.

Recently, a claims director at UK P&I Club in a P&I Club publication praised the new Seafarers’ Protection Act. Ironically enough, the new law does not protect the Filipino seafarer from the greedy cruise lines, or the P&I companies and defense lawyers who do their bidding, but targets who UK P&I Clubthe P&I Club villainize as the "ambulance-chasing" lawyers who pursue "spurious claims." 

The claims representative, Tony Nicholson (photo left), argues that the new "Seafarers’ Protection Act is designed to protect Filipino seafarers and their families from the unscrupulous practices of such lawyers and came into force on 21 May 2016. Under the new law, any individual or group – whether lawyers or not – found to be soliciting directly or via agents will be imprisoned for one–two years and/or fined PHP 50,000–100,000 (approximately US$1–2,000)."

The UK P&I Club further proposes permitting maritime employers, which are ordered by arbitration panels to pay benefits to the disabled seafarers, permission not to pay the awards pending an appeal. This will encourage the wealthy employers and cruise lines to place financial pressure on the injured seafarers and force them to accept cheap settlements. 

As the sad case of Lito Asignacion demonstrates, the Filipino labor system already permits maritime employers and their insurance companies to abandon those seafarers who have sacrificed and suffered greatly for their families. Imprisoning lawyers who advocate greater rights for seafarers, and permitting maritime employers to withhold the payments of arbitration awards, make a further mockery of a system which works to protect the rich while screwing the injured and impoverished seafarer. 

August 19 2016 Update:  The Inquirer in Manilla publshed this article as an op-ed titled Seafarer ‘Protection Act’ shields ship owners, not seafarers.

Photo Credit: Top – By Maxime Felder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia; bottom – UK P&I Club