Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday which will strengthen the rights of cruise passengers to seek compensation when cruise lines negligently cause the death of their loved ones on the high seas.

As matters now stand, the statute which governs deaths in international waters, the Death on the High Seas Act ("DOSHA"), bars the recovery of emotional damages, such as pain and suffering and mental anguish, when a passenger dies outside of state territorial waters. This means that when a non-wage earner, such as a retiree or a child, dies due to a cruise line’s negligence, their surviving family members can recover only very limited compensation, usually only burial and funeral expenses.

Proposed improvements to the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, if enacted, would permit the families of Miami Cruise Linespassengers who die on ships in international waters as a result of the negligence of a cruise line to seek "non-pecuniary" compensation, as permitted by most states, such as damages for grief and bereavement. 

Congresswoman Doris Matsui, Congressman Ted Poe and Congressman Jim Himes sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives, while Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Edward Markey sponsored similar legislation in the Senate. You can read a press statement by Congresswoman Matsui here and the statement of  Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Himes here.

Congress originally enacted DOSHA back in 1920 when few state wrongful deaths statutes permitted family members to recover damages for the emotional suffering experienced by family members who lose a loved one. Since then, the majority os states have substantially improved their statutes to permit the full recovery of emotional damages. In 2000, Congress amended DOHSA to permit damages in commercial aviation accidents which occur in international waters. DOSHA used to bar emotional damages in such cases.

At the moment, DOHSA remains the same in maritime cases as when it was enacted 97 years ago. The proposed amendments to DOSHA will ensure that families of victims at sea are provided with the same rights as airline passengers.and are finally able to pursue fair compensation. 

Kelly Hammer Lankford and Jill Hammer Malott, the daughters of Larry and Christy Hammer, who perished during a deadly river cruise fire last year, are part of the efforts to amend DOSHA. Their parents died aboard the Estrella Amazonica, operated by International Expeditions of Alabama, on the Amazon River in Peru. International Expeditions is trying to dodge accountability by using DOSHA as a liability shield. (International Expeditions subsequently renamed the ill-fated La Estrella Amazonica as the Amazon Star). The daughters commented on the proposed legislation, saying:

“We are thrilled that our legislators are trying to do what the cruise companies have not: Protect passengers. Through legislative reform, American travelers would finally be able to hold cruise companies accountable when tragedy strikes, stopping these companies from hiding behind an antiquated law to avoid responsibility for their actions.”

The cruise industry, which has lobbied heavily against efforts to reform the antiquated maritime statute, is expected to resist the proposed legislation.

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Photo Credit: Jim Walker

April 28, 2017 Update: The Miami New Times covered the story in Congress Introduces New Cruise Ship Safety Regulations.

Amazon River Cruise BoatOne of the very first articles I wrote when I started this blog almost eight years ago was about the Death on the High Seas Act. "DOHSA," as it is commonly called, is one of the cruelest and most unfair, if not completely callous, laws imaginable. When an adult child loses a parent on the high seas (defined as outside of U.S. state territorial waters, including the rivers and waters of foreign countries), the law permits, at best, the recovery of only "pecuniary" (financial) losses, such as lost wages (assuming the person is employed). If the person is a retiree, the only damages permitted are the expenses of burying their loved one. Emotional damages such as grief, bereavement, mental anguish, sadness and suffering are prohibited. 

The article was titled The Death on the High Seas Act – Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years. It explains how families are not compensated because DOHSA prohibits non-pecuniary damages when their loved ones die on international waters. The cruise lines love DOSHA. Cruise lines have lobbied heavily over the years to keep the ancient maritime law on the books. DOSHA punishes families when they lose a parent, or child, on the high seas, notwithstanding the negligence of a cruise line. 

Today, Jill and Kelly Hammer, the daughters of Larry and Cristy Hammer, were reminded of the cruelty of DOSHA when several newspapers covered the latest development regarding their deceased parents, namely that the operator of the La Estrella Amazonica was reportedly grossly negligent and caused the fire which killed the Hammers while they slept in their cabin on La Estrella Amazonica, a river cruise boat on the Peruvian Amazon. It’s a sad story which we wrote about earlier last year – Deadly Amazon River Fire Update: International Expeditions’ La Estrella Amazonica (photos and video).

La Estrella Amazonica has now been renamed by International Expeditions as the Amazon Star.  

The Wall Street Journal’s article today, When People Die at Sea, Cruise Operators Often Get a Pass, is "subscription only" although the title suggests that cruise operators are literally getting away with, if not murder, deadly criminal negligence.  Another article, published by the World-Herald Bureau, titled Report on Gretna Couple’s Death in Cruise Ship Fire Finds Fault with Ship’s Safety Features, Crew’s Training, reaches the same conclusion.  

You can read these articles and make your own mind up about the reportedly unsafe conditions aboard La Estrella Amazonica, the lack of training and qualifications of its crew, and the shifty conduct of the owner and operator of the river cruise boat, International Expeditions, and its president, Van Perry, whose underwriters demanded that Jill and Kelley agree to a gag order (which they rejected) before the cruise operator would meet with them and talk about the circumstances surrounding their parent’s death. 

The point to come away with after reading about this terrible ordeal is that this is the exactly the result that the cruise lines want after cruise passengers have been killed. Christina Perez, PR person for the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that if DOHSA was amended to permit fair damages "droves of foreign litigants would "burden an already crowded U.S. judicial system." She also resorted to other scare tactics, saying that "insurance rates for cruise ships would skyrocket, increasing prices and potentially jeopardizing thousands of jobs created by the industry." 

This is hardly true. The cruise industry is a rich, billion-dollar business, where it’s CEO’s regularly collect tens of millions of dollars a year, and which registers its cruise ships in foreign countries like the Bahamas and Panama, in order to avoid the taxes, labor laws and safety regulations of the U.S.  

Ms. Perez later contradicted herself by claiming that the U.S. Congress did not amend DOHSA to permit additional damages (like it did in aviation cases) because the "maritime industry has a superior safety record."*  

CLIA has poured around $30,000,000 into the pockets of Congress in the last decade, according to the Wall Street Journal, to keep the DOHSA legislation which it loves. 

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April 13, 2017 Update: Fox News Travel, today, published Cruise ship responsible for couple’s death, report finds which covered the story and discusses the harsh limitations of DOSHA.  

April 14, 2017 Update: The U.K.’s Daily Mail, the world largest online newspaper, published Cruise company is finally found responsible for fire that engulfed Amazon tour boat and killed retired Nebraska couple.

May 8, 2017 Update: Fortune: The Cruise Industry’s Priority Is Clear: Profits Over Passenger Safety.

Photo credit: Wall Street Journal 

*/The cruise industry, in fact, has experienced far more deaths on its ships than the U.S. commercial aviation fleet in the last decade, although commercial airlines transport over 30 times as many passengers a year. Read our article from several years ago: Cruise Ships: The Deadliest Form of Public Transportation

Continue Reading Cruise Operators Continue to Hide Behind the Death on the High Seas Act

In November of 2015, a 78 year old passenger from South Korea drowned in a swimming pool on P&O Australia’s Pacific Dawn cruise ship that did not have a lifeguard.  The cruise ship was sailing from Brisbane, Australia to New Guinea.

The ship’s un-monitored closed circuit television recording showed the passenger enter the adult-only lifeguard-less swimming pool around 10:37 A.M. and swim around.  At 10:51 A.M., another cruise passenger in the pool noticed that he was lying on the bottom of the pool and began to shout for help Pacific Dawn Drowning Report - MAIBone minute later. A security employee happened to see the bystander waving his arms and ran down to the pool. The drowned passenger was removed from the pool  and another security personnel called the bridge and the emergency telephone number. At 10:55 the bridge team made a tannoy announcement and summoned the medical department. Other passengers began chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.    

The ship’s medical team (consisting of two doctors and three nurses) arrived promptly once summoned at 10:57 A.M. and administered treatment including the use of an external defibrillator. At 11:20 A.M., the senior doctor declared the passenger to be deceased.  

A subsequent autopsy found some signs of artery disease but concluded that the primary cause of death was drowning.  

Because the P&O ship was flagged in the U.K., the death was investigated by the U.K.’s Marine Investigation Branch (MAIB) which has done excellent work in other cruise drowning cases like the  passenger drowning case on the Princess Sapphire Princess last year. The MAIB concluded in that case that "a lack of dedicated pool attendants potentially delayed the emergency response, and that risks relating to the use of the swimming pools by unsupervised passengers had not been formally assessed and documented." The MAIB recommended to Princess Cruises that it perform a "suitable and sufficient risk assessment" regarding the cruise ships’ swimming pools.

In this case involving the Pacific Dawn, the MAIB concluded that "constant poolside supervision by lifeguards provides the best assurance of pool user safety." The cruise line also was required, but did not perform prior to the death, a risk assessment to determine whether pool supervision was necessary. 

Among other factors, the MAIB noted that "constant poolside supervision" is necessary when, among other factors:

  • the pool has water deeper than 1.5 m (the pool was deeper than this);
  • crowded conditions are expected;
  • food or alcohol will be available to pool users.

The MAIB noted that although the medical team’s response was swift once they were finally summoned, "if a dedicated pool attendant had been monitoring passengers in the pool, Mr Oh’s (the decedent’s) situation could have been identified and an emergency response initiated at the earliest possible opportunity." 

The MAIB also said that the frequency of near drownings in unsupervised swimming pools should be considered when conducting risk assessments "so that an appropriate level of pool supervision is maintained in all circumstances." Consistent with other reports, the MAIB said that "constant poolside supervision" is required whenever "the pool will be used by unaccompanied children aged under 15 years."

As we have discussed many times, there have been numerous drownings and near-drownings on NCL, Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the last several years. 

It’s a real shame that most Miami-based cruise lines which do not bother to hire lifeguards or conduct swimming pool risk assessments (because they usually flagged in places like the Bahamas or Panama) are not subject to criticism from reputable authorities like the MAIB.

Photo credit: MAIB gov.uk 

Hat Tip: Safety4Sea

Island Princess Several crew members and other people have informed me that the FBI is investigating the death of a Princess Cruises crew member yesterday.  

The cruise ship was in Colon, after cruising in the Panama Canal, when a crew member was discovered dead in his cabin. Some people are saying that it is an apparent suicide but others are stressing that the FBI has not disclosed an official cause of death. 

He was a young, newly hired galley employee on his first contract. We are not disclosing the crew member’s name nor the alleged mechanism of his death at this time. 

The cruise ship apparently had to cancel the next port of call in Limon, Costa Rica.

Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Boulet, CC BY 3.0, creative commons / wikimedia.

March 19, 2016 @1:56 P.M. Update:  Princess released the following statement: 

Island Princess Statement
March 10, 2016

"We are saddened to confirm a crew member aboard Island Princess took his own life while the ship was in Colon, Panama yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the crew member and also with our crew members working aboard Island Princess.

Local authorities were immediately contacted and we facilitated full support in the endeavor to investigate the incident. Island Princess was required to stay in Panama overnight so that authorities could conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. The ship has completed departure formalities and received clearance from local authorities to sail.

As a result, we have been required to cancel our scheduled call to Limon and sail directly to Grand Cayman, where the ship will arrive as scheduled at 7:00 AM on Saturday, March 12.

Island Princess departed Ft. Lauderdale on March 4 for a 10-day Panama Canal cruise, scheduled to return on March 14." 

August 2, 2016 Update: A newspaper in Mexico raises the question whether the 21 year-old crew member Eduardo Smith was murdered.

FOX 4 Fort Myers aired a gruesome video last night taken by passengers on the Carnival Ecstasy of blood pouring out of the top of the elevator running down the elevator door like a sheet. The passenger said "it sounded like a rainstorm . . . "

The news account reported that the couple were heading to dinner on the 10th floor of the ship Sunday night when they saw the horrifying scene.

The video apparently shows the aftermath of an elevator accident where a crew member who was in the elevator shaft was mortally injured.

The FOX channel reported that cruise ship employees told the couple that the accident seriously injured an electrician who later died.

The Miami-Dade Police Department identified the victim as 66-year-old Jose Sandoval Opazo.

The family reportedly said that Carnival offered to pay for them to go to three counseling sessions.

WARNING: Graphic content. 

January 5 2016 update: Ms. Sandoval’s daughter left a message (below) seeking relevant information, saying in part: "Does anyone know the truth, and why he was there alone. anyone who wants to help me, my contact is singa1982@hotmail.com Thanks Carolina"

 

http://up.anv.bz/latest/anvload.html?key=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

Sapphire PrincessInstead of hiring trained lifeguards in response to the drownings on the Sapphire Princess, Princess has tasked bartenders, dishwashers, and other crew members to add an hour of work each day to being "pool monitors" or "pool rovers".

The U.K.’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) recently criticized Princess after a passenger drowned on the Sapphire Princess. The cruise line did not hire lifeguards around the pool, it failed to conduct a risk assessment and the ship employees had no training on CPR or pools safety. 

A second passenger, a child, also nearly drowned last month. The child sustained serious, permanent injuries in a pool on the same lifeguard-less cruise ship.   

Despite these two tragedies, Princess still refuses to hire trained and experienced lifeguards. Instead, supervisors in the hotel and food and beverage departments on the Sapphire Princess are instructing their employees, hired to work in the galley, bars or passenger cabins, that they must work an extra hour around the ship’s swimming pools as "pool rovers."   

This is an unpaid position. It is not considered a part-time job. These crew members people have no training in CPR, they have no idea about lifesaving techniques and procedures, and they have no clue what to do in case of a real emergency. There has been no training for these positions. These are inexperienced and non-trained "rovers" playing by it by ear. 

Sapphire Princess is in service to the Chinese market now. That means that virtually 100% of passengers are from China and only Mandarin Chinese. Most crew members cannot speak Chinese. There is a significant language barrier on the cruise ship.  What will happen in case of a real drowning involving another Chinese passenger?

The "pool rovers" are just instructed to hold a radio and call the Bridge if they see someone drowning. 

This is hardly what the MAIB recommended when it released its recommendations following its investigation into the drowning on the Sapphire Princess. 

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Photo Credit: Spaceaero2 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via creative commons / wikipedia.

Multiple crew members are confirming that a young woman employed in the Carnival entertainment department was found dead on the Carnival Sensation

The cruise ship was last in Nassau, Bahamas. Bahamian news sources reported that "on Monday 1st June 2015 shortly after 6:00am, police received information that the lifeless body of a female crew member was reportedly found dead on board a cruise ship while in Bahamian waters." The Bahamian police never disclose the specific name of cruise ships involving such incidents. 

The woman was reportedly found hanging in an officer’s quarters. We are withholding the crew Carnival Sensationmember’s name and other details.

This is the second apparent suicide within a 24 hour period involving a crew member. Yesterday, we reported on the death of an officer on the Disney Dream

Like the Disney Dream, the Carnival Sensation is flagged in Nassau, Bahamas in order for the cruise line to avoid U.S. taxes and labor laws. Any investigation into this incident will be conducted by the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it is our experience that the Bahamas refuses to cooperate with the families of crew members who die or are missing from cruise ships flagged in the Bahamas.

There is always mixed reaction and debate when we report on crew member deaths on cruise ships. Cruise lines don’t like there to be any mention of it. There have been literally dozens of crew members who have gone overboard and lost at sea in apparent suicides since we have been writing this blog over the past six years. 

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Photo Credit: Sensation in Nassau – WikiEK via Wikipedia Creative Commons 3.0

Disney Dream Several people informed me that there has been a death aboard the Disney Dream.

An officer was reportedly discovered dead on the cruise ship yesterday. The officer reportedly was discovered hanging, in what I am told is an apparent suicide. His body was located in an air conditioning room reportedly on deck seven.

The body of the Disney officer was reportedly removed from the cruise ship in the Bahamas.

The cruise ship was last in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. It returned to Port Canaveral and is now heading back to Nassau.

The Dream is registered in Nassau Bahamas. Any investigation will be conducted by the Bahamas Maritime Authority.

We made an inquiry to Disney Cruise Line but it has not responded.

June 1 2015 Update: Bahamas Police Probe Deaths of 2 Employees of Cruise Lines

June 2 2015 Update: There has been a second crew member death, on a Carnival ship, within a 24 hour period – Suicide on the Sensation.

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Photo Credit: Nozzleman75 via Wikipedia Creative Commons 3.0

Carnival ConquestThe Cayman News Service is reporting that a 31 year old cruise passenger from the Carnival Conquest was killed after his jet-ski was struck by a jet-ski operated by a fifteen year old boy from the Carnival Paradise

The 31 year old had rented a jet-ski with his 37 year old girlfriend and they are from Virginia. A Carnival PR representative told the AP that the couple were not participating in a shore excursion sold through the company.

The incident occurred the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa.

The 15 year old boy is from New York and was jet-skiing with his brothers and father. He reportedly was driving the jet-ski alone at the time of the accident. It is unknown whether his family had rented the jet-ski independently or they were on a cruise excursion.

A local news station in Virginia is reporting on the accident.

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Photo Credit: "Carnival Conquest" by Matt Howry Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. and Travel Pulse report that a cruise passenger on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth died while attempting to board the cruise ship from a tender.

The accident occurred while the cruise ship was in the port city of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. 

There are no details of the accident in either publication. 

The Telegraph contains the cruise line’s official statement: "We can confirm that a passenger died  Queen Elizabethearlier today following an accident whilst boarding Queen Elizabeth from a tender. Two of our crew members reacted very quickly and jumped in to rescue her. She was then taken to the medical centre but despite our very best efforts, she died."

It is possible that the passenger was being assisted from the tender to the cruise ship and the two vessels came apart due to rough weather and the passenger fell into the water, a situation we see from time to time. There could also have been a ramp or other device providing a means to transfer the passenger from the tender to the cruise ship which broke or malfunctioned.

In contrast to the duty of "reasonable care" or ordinary care typically owed by the cruise operator to the passenger, a cruise line has a duty of "high care" when a vessel transfer is taking place. 

 

Photo Credit: 663highland via Wikipedia / Creative commons 3.0