Today, the Miami Daily Business Review (DBR) reported on an arbitration award entered against Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) on behalf of a seriously injured crew member.

The DBR article, titled “Miami Attorney Helps Secure $3.3M for Man Whose Arm Was Amputated After Seeking Care for Flu-Like Symptoms,” explains that the case involved a 30 year-old crew member from Serbia by the name of Ilija Loncar who was employed by NCL as a waiter aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.

Mr. Loncar, who previously worked as a carpenter prior to working on the NCL cruise ship, was treated by the NCL shipboard team for flu-like symptoms in March of 2016. NCL had earlier hired a doctor, Sebastian Campuzano, who the arbitrator described as a “young, inexperienced, Columbia trained physician (licensed in 2013) who was hired by NCL just 4 months before the subject accident.”

Dr. Campuzano prescribed promethazine which the ship nurse injected in a massive dose too quickly, causing an intensely painful and  harmful reaction.  NCL then failed to timely medically evacuate Mr. Loncar from the ship, squandering any chance his arm could be saved.  As a result of the malpractice and delayed medical evacuation, Mr. Loncar developed Compartment Syndrone and required the eventual amputation of his dominant right arm.

The arbitrator’s decision reflects what appears to be completely abysmal medical care by an inept doctor and nurse who demonstrated a complete lack of basic medical knowledge, training and experience. The arbitrator found that: Dr. Campuzano had no experience or familiarity with the drug which he ordered to be mistakenly injected intravenously in Mr. Loncar’s arm rather than intramuscularly in his buttocks; he first attempted to schedule a consultation via the internet with a medical facility in South Florida for advice but he gave up after he could not establish a connection; he didn’t read the relevant physician desk book, medical literature, package inserts or warnings for the medication; he never warned Mr. Loncar of the risks associated with the medicine or obtain his informed consent; and he didn’t consider ordering a lower dosage or other medicines available on the ship which did not contain the risk of such catastrophic injury.

Dr. Campuzano tried to refute his deposition admissions after the fact via an “errata sheet” which the arbitrator rejected. The decision seems to indicate that the arbitrator did not find Dr. Campuzano or the ship nurse (Marco Oracion) or NCL’s defense particularly credible.

The case was the result of “arbitration.” NCL is one of many cruise lines which prohibit injured crew members from filing cases in the U.S. legal system and require them to pursue “arbitration” cases where a single arbitrator, paid by the cruise lines, applies the law of the Bahamas.  NCL started the trend toward arbitration after a decrepit, poorly maintained steam boiler on NCL’s 40+ year-old SS Norway exploded at the port of Miami in 2003. The explosion killed eight NCL crew members and seriously burned another nineteen crew members. NCL forced the families of the dead Filipinos to pursue the limited benefits permitted under Filipino law, as opposed to the full range of damages permitted under U.S. law.

The arbitration award, which you can view here, was rendered in June of this year. The arbitrator awarded past pain and suffering in the amount of $337,500, and $3,000,000 for future pain and suffering (estimated at 48 years), loss of future earning capacity (over the course of 35 years) and future medical expenses, including the replacement of the crew member’s prosthesis.

One of the reasons NCL requires arbitration (as opposed to a trial by a U.S. jury) is to keep awards to a minimum in catastrophic injury cases like this.

The case was handled by Thomas Scolaro and  Mason Kerns of the Leesfield Scolaro firm here in Miami. NCL was represented by  Curtis Mase and Larry Krutchik of the Mase, Mebane and Briggs firm.

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Photo credit: Dickelbers (Dick Elbers) CC 3.0 wikipedia / commons.

 

P&O Cruises announced last week that it is ending the mandatory daily service charges effective May 2019, according to the Express newspaper in London.

Cruise passengers seem to have welcomed the news, thinking that the change will make cruises cheaper for them.

The majority of cruise passengers in the British market seem to have resented the mandatory charges, stating that they always remove the charges and, allegedly, decide who and how much to tip.  Many correctly view the mandatory charges as an effort by the cruise line to require passengers subsidize the meager wages paid to crew members or, worse, to divert the tips as profits for the company.

Many crew members state that passengers who stand in line to remove the service charges rarely tip at the end of the cruise.

Several years ago I posted photographs of pages and pages of documents showing that passengers routinely remove automatic gratuities from their sail and sign accounts. A crew member sent me the photos of the removed gratuities. Read: Carnival Hikes Pre-Paid Gratuties But Will Passengers Secretly Remove Tips?

There appears to be a significant difference between British based cruise lines and U.S. based cruise lines like Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean. These cruise line routinely gouge their customers with high auto-gratuities which many believe are pocketed by the companies to increase profits.

Cruise passengers may like the news of no more auto-tips on P&O Cruises because they can keep money in their pockets (and out of the pockets of the cruise lines), but what about the hard-working crew members?

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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