An Oceania crew member was arrested at Port of Miami for smuggling cocaine (intentionally importing a controlled substance) when the Riviera called at port in Miami on January 2, 2019.

The Miami Herald reports and a review of the Homeland Security officer’s affidavit reveals) that Wilford Thobourne exited the Oceania cruise ship via the crew gangway was arrested for smuggling three and a three-quarter pounds of cocaine which he concealed in the soles of his sandals and in his crotch under five pair of shorts and underwear in his pants.

A copy of the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Mr. Thouborne is here.

Mr. Thobourne’s Facebook page indicates that he is from Johannesburg,  South Africa.*

Coincidentally, four South African women working for MSC Cruises were allegedly recruited by a Jamaican crew member to smuggle cocaine into the port of Miami aboard the MSC Seaside at the end of November.  United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers arrested seven MSC crew members including the four South African women for smuggling cocaine in that incident.  (There is no indication at this time of a connection in this case  between the South African Oceania and MSC crew members.)

The Herald indicated that Mr. Thobourne is scheduled for arraignment in federal court in ten days.

The Riviera has been in the news recently when it was revealed that Giuliano De Cicco, age 38, who was working as Assistant Destination Manager on the Riviera, died on January 2, 2019. The popular Crew Center site reported that he died when he fell from the Riviera cruise ship to the pier at the port of Miami on January 2nd.

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*/ Although his Facebook page indicates that he is from  Johannesburg, (Gauteng Province) in South Africa, several crew members state that Mr. Thobourne is from Jamaica.

Photo credit: Wilford Thobourne Facebook page.

Former Oceania Cruises passenger Toronto resident, Richard Silver, was aboard the Oceania Insignia a few years ago when the luxury cruise ship’s engine room caught fire.

Two contractors and one Oceania crewmember died in the fire while the cruise ship was docked at Port Castries, St. Lucia. Some passengers who left comments on social media criticized Oceania for the crew’s “confusion, lack of information and misinformation” following the deadly fire.

In a subsequent article, I mentioned observations from Mr. Silver that the passengers were herded through the ship during the fire and into a warehouse at the port where they remained without water for nine hours in high heat and without any information about the fire. Mr. Silver took photographs and video of the bedlam on the ship where elderly passengers were carried off of the ship by other passengers, as well as photographs of a passenger who fell into the water between the dock and ship.

After the ordeal, Mr. Silver eventually returned home to Canada without his luggage, exhausted. He explained to the Canadian press what he experienced. Several Toronto’s newspapers and news stations published Mr. Silver’s photographs and vivid account of the fire and Oceania poor handling of the aftermath.  These images belied Oceania’s press statement that “our top priority is ensuring all 656 guests return home as quickly and comfortably as possible.”

Cruise lines like Oceania don’t like bad press. So when Mr. Silver tried to book his next cruise with Oceania on the Sirena last August, he received a phone call from a cruise line representative. As explained by Toronto newspaper Global News, Mr. Silva said that “they told me ‘you’re banned for life.’ Why am I banned? What did I do?” (See video here).

Oceania reportedly returned Mr. Silva’s money but never answered his inquiries, leaving Silva to believe that he was punished for speaking to the media. Silver also claims that Norwegian Cruise Lines, the parent company of Oceania, and NCL’s subsidiary Regent Seven Seas Cruises, banned him from future cruises.

When the newspaper called Oceania for an explanation, Tim Rubacky, the head of public relations for Oceania Cruises, denied that the cruise line was punishing Mr. Silver but he refused to explain further and repeatedly said that he “can’t and won’t comment.”

Cruise lines which act petulantly like this do not limit their retribution to passengers. Crew members who speak to the media or post comments on social media are quickly terminated from their cruise ship jobs. Costa terminated a crew member who posted a video on Facebook when a violent storm broke hundreds of dishes on the Costa Fascinosa. There are many other examples.

Cruise lines rely on carefully crafted images of idyllic vacations at sea to sell tickets. But when passengers or crew members take their complaints to the press or social media, cruise lines often respond vindictively.

Like Vegas, what happens on cruise ships stays on the ships. A passenger or crew member who breaks this unwritten rule will find out that they are no longer welcome on the ship. Its seems that NCL, and its related brands like Oceania, will not hesitate to punish customers, who exercise their freedom to speak about what happens on the high seas, by blacklisting them from cruising in the future.     

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Oceania RivieraYesterday we received information about the current cruise of the Oceania Rivieria which is sailing through the Caribbean (Miami March 20-April 3). "The captain came on the intercom yesterday informing the passengers that a large number of passengers had come down with flu like/gastrointestinal issues and the CDC had been informed. The ship ported at their first stop Santa Marta, Colombia as scheduled today."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now officially reported the third norovirus outbreak on the cruise ship.  

The first recent outbreak was during the November 18 – December 2, 2015 sailing and involved 74 ill passengers. The second outbreak occurred during the  February 12-22, 2016 sailing which had to be ended early and involved at least 124 sick passengers. We wrote about how the crew members had to work overtime, often off the clock and without extra pay, to try and super-clean the cruise ship. 

This latest outbreak involves at least 52 passengers who are ill with norovirus. Zero crew members were reported ill during the current cruise.

Unfortunately, the under-staffed CDC never tries to conduct a meaningful epidemiology assessment to determine whether the outbreak can be traced to a particular type of food contamination, an ill food handler, poor cleaning of the ship or an ill passenger who brought the noro aboard the ship. 

Expect the number of affected passengers to increase during the cruise notwithstanding the extra hours spraying and wiping by the crew. 

So far this year, there have been 8 gastrointestinal outbreaks reported to the CDC by cruise ships calling on U.S ports. 

Photo Credit: Kefalonitis94 CC BY-SA 4.0, creative commons / wikimedia.

Oceania Riviera The Oceania Riviera, which was scheduled to be on a cruise until tomorrowreturned to the port yesterday with passengers sickened by norovirus. 

The virus has reportedly sickened at least 119 of 1,225 passengers, which is 9.72% of the passenger population on the ship. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has verified that the passengers who are suffering are suffering from nausea and vomiting are infected with gastrointestinal illnesses caused by norovirus.

This cruise ship was last contaminated with norovirus during a cruise from November 18 – December 2, 2015 and had to return to Miami for what the cruise industry often calls "enhanced cleaning."

All crew members on cruise ships dealing with a gastrointestinal illness outbreak know that they are going to increase their work and lose sleep whenever noro is aboard the cruise ship. Crew members are pressed into spraying and wiping virtually every inch of the ship’s surfaces in order to give the ship a "deep clean" whenever there is a GI outbreak,  This is now happening on the Riviera where the entire crew has been compelled to work long hours to try and eradicate the nasty virus before the next group of passengers come aboard the cruise ship tomorrow.

Several crew members, who wish to remain anonymous, have contacted us to complain that they are working from early in the morning until the very late hours / early morning hours of the next day. Some crew member report working around 18 to 20 hours a day for the past days. The crew members say that they are forced to work hours far in excess of the maximum permitted under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). They are told to sign out and work the extra time "off the clock."  The result is that they are not being paid and are working past the point or mental and physical exhaustion.  

Few passengers may be thinking about the welfare of the crew members, who have not only had to clean up the vomit throughout the ship on a daily basis, but now have to work an unreasonable number of hours to "super-clean" the ship and kill all of the noro left by the last round of sick passengers.

The crew is undoubtedly feeling the pressure from the top as the cruise line CEO Frank Del Rio told USA TODAY last October that "I insist on spotless ships." This attitude is definitely on the minds of the ship managers even when there is no norovirus outbreak. When noro strikes, the managers are pushing the crew past the maximum hours permitted to work.

Flagrantly violating the MLC 2006 Convention is not an unusual thing on some cruise ships. It is honored in the breach on many ships. There is tremendous pressure to work and keep the department heads happy. A super-clean ship where the crew works like a beaten dog is hardly a safe and secure workplace.

Unfortunately, there is not much a crew member can do in this situation.  Hiring a lawyer may end up with a wage claim but it will surely result in the crew member finding himself or herself on a one way flight back to their home country.  

Photo Credit: Kefalonitis94 – Creative Commons 4.0, Wikimedia

February 22 2016 Update:  The cruise industry’s trade organization, Cruise Line international Association (CLIA), posted this tweet on Twitter: "Our work never ends. Crewmembers continually clean & sanitize cruise ships to ensure passenger & crew #health"  It’s one tweet from CLIA that is literally true, crew members often work 18 to 20 hours a day to super-sanitize cruise ships when there is a noro outbreak.

Our firm represents a young crew member who was raped while she was unconscious aboard the Marina cruise ship operated by Oceania Cruises.

We usually do not write about cases we handle, but we are doing so only after the Oceania defense lawyers in Miami felt compelled to write an article about the case on their website.

The young woman (identified as Jane Doe in order to maintain her confidentiality as a victim) was found unconscious on the floor of her cabin by her roommate. The cruise ship doctor diagnosed anal tears and other signs of rape injuries. Oceania MarinaThe ship doctor did not permit the crew member to leave the ship (which was in the South Pacific) for medical rape-crisis psychotherapy or counseling. The crew member contracted herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), and sustained substantial physical and mental injuries, due to the rape.

After Oceania refused to cooperate, we flew the rape victim to Miami, where the cruise line and hiring agent are located, in order for the cruise line to provide medical and psychological treatment within their network of doctors. We allege that Oceania refuses to provide the rape victim with ongoing and uninterrupted medical and therapy, as well as the “maintenance and cure” to which she is entitled as a crew member.

The defense attorneys explained on their web page that the case “stemmed from the crew member’s allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a fellow crew member. She filed suit against the defendants in Florida state court alleging Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, failure to provide medical treatment, failure to provide maintenance and cure, and failure to pay seaman wages. In addition to those claims, the crew member brought common law tort claims arising from the cruise line’s alleged conduct for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, spoliation of evidence, invasion of privacy, and fraudulent misrepresentation.”

The federal judge ruled that all of the causes of action were subject to international arbitration and, as such, the case cannot be pursued in state court in Florida. The cruise line defense firm rejoiced in the decision, stating that “we invite you to contact us to discuss the ruling, its effect, or for other creative solutions to your legal issues.

Of course, this case is not remotely “solved.”

Next week we will proceed in the court-ordered arbitration process and will seek to bring this disturbing case to a hearing as soon as possible.

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Photo Credit: Jordandkatz licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Oceania MarinaA gastrointestinal outbreak on the Oceania Marina has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

69 passengers reported being ill with nausea and vomiting during the last cruise. 11 crew members reported being sick.

This is the 8th gastrointestinal illness outbreak in just the first 5 months of this year.

Last year there were 9 outbreaks in all of 2014.  In the last two years, Princess and Royal Caribbean have been the leaders with the most sick ships.

According to a newspaper in Hawaii, the outbreak was determined to be norovirus and “a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises said a total of about 100 passengers were affected by the virus over several days.”

The Eternal Debate: After each outbreak, the armchair quarterbacks debate how the norovirus outbreak occurred. On one side is the cruise industry and cruise line employees who always blame the passengers. “Those dirty passengers with their filthy fingers” they say “waddling up to the buffet after using the toilet and not washing their hands.” But where is the scientific analysis  by the epidemiology experts?

The CDC doesn’t even try to figure causation out and the cruise line don’t want the scientists to figure it out.  God forbid that the experts blame the outbreak on contaminated cruise line water or food, or dirty surfaces laden with norovirus particles, or a cook or waiter working while ill with acute GI or inadequate cleaning or air contamination.

In 2013, ABC News published an interesting article titled Norovirus: Why washing your hands isn’t enough. Here’s a portion of the article:

“It gets in your food, in your laundry, it sticks to plates and it might even float into the air when you flush your toilet . . . .”

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Photo Credit: “Ms Marina Martinique” by Jordandkatz CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

National Geographic Traveler magazine ombudsman Christopher Elliott is often asked to try and recover canceled cruise fares when passengers suffer serious illness, a death in the family or other misfortune.

All cruise passenger tickets contain draconian terms and conditions, drafted by the cruise line attorneys, which address what happens when a passenger is forced to cancel a cruise because of sickness or death. Depending on when the cruise is canceled, the cruise line will keep all or a Oceania MS Marina substantial portion of the passenger’s money.

Mr. Elliott writes about the plight of a couple from Canada who booked what they described as a cruise of a lifetime with Oceania Cruises aboard the Oceania Marina in the South Pacific for $43,000 ($29,000 for the cruise fare and $14,000 for the airfare). But the wife was diagnosed with lung cancer and they had to cancel the vacation. The couple did not buy insurance.

Oceania pocketed the entire $43,000 even though the cruise line sold the couple’s cabin to another couple and even though the airline refunded the $14,000 airfare to Oceania.

A cruise line keeping a refunded airfare is clearly illegal “unjust enrichment.” I find it outrageous and unconscionable.  It seems no different than theft to me, and a theft by a large rich corporation while the victim is in a weak and vulnerable position.

Mr. Elliott was successful in convincing the cruise line to return the couple’s airfare. The fact that Mr.Elliott writes a widely-read consumer blog no doubt helped.

Oceania refused to refund the cruise fare. Yes, the couple should have purchased insurance. But I find this scenario repugnant. It may be technically legal but it is still unconscionable and immoral. Oceania promptly sold the cabin to other passengers, remember. Oceania didn’t lose a penny. In fact, it obtained a double profit. Cruise corporations should not be permitted to make double profits because of the death and personal suffering of their guests.

Oceania’s parent company, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), likes to do this too. NCL kept the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the day of the cruise. NCL said “sorry, no refund.” The passenger also tried to donate his cabin to a child with cancer, but the cruise line refused that too. NCL then sold the cabin on the Norwegian Sky for a double profit.

Speaking of children with cancer, NCL also refused to return the cruise fare after a family learned that their five year old child was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo emergency medical treatment. NCL pocketed the family’s money and sold their cabin for more profit.

NCL also refused to either refund or credit the cruise fare to a 66 year old passenger and his wife after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent emergency surgery.

It’s cruel, greedy, heartless and outrageous conduct by Oceania and NCL.  Yes, it’s technically legal. All cruise lines have their lawyers write their tickets to protect only the cruise line’s interests. But it’s unfair and unjust.

If cruise lines can’t apply compassion to situations where their guests are stricken with cancer, and companies like NCL and Oceania are motivated only by money, legislation should be passed to protect consumers when they are in a time of crisis. Cancer victims shouldn’t be victimized a second time by a greedy cruise line. They should be entitled to a full refund so they can pay their medical bills and try and beat cancer.

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Photo Credit: M/S Marina – Jordandkatz – licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many cruise passengers began asking us when the Insignia will sail again, even before the ship’s burned-out engine room stopped smoldering.

Of course we don’t know. The investigation into the fire is just beginning. Investigators from the Marshall Islands (the flag of the Oceania cruise ship) has just started. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) flew from Miami to St. Lucia to accompany the Marshall Islands investigators.

The ship will undoubtedly sail long before the official investigations are concluded. I doubt that the Oceania Insignia Cruise Ship Fireofficial reports will be ready for publication by the end of next year. It remains to be seen whether the Marshall Islands will release the reports to the U.S. public, notwithstanding the involvement of the USCG and the NTSB. Pursuant to the flags-of-convenience scheme, the Marshall Islands has jurisdiction over the investigation and decides if the reports are published. This means that the reports won’t be published if the owners and operators of the Insignia (Oceania, Prestige and now new parent company Norwegian Cruise Line) don’t want the information released.  Trust me, the Miami-based Oceania/Prestige/ NCL people will keep the accident info secret.

This morning, I read a few articles about the aftermath of the fire.

The first article was in the St. Lucia News Online, which first covered the story, explaining that the last passengers out of St. Lucia spent “12 hours in the port terminal with very little food or water,” and then another couple of hours in a bus and five and one-half hours stuck on an airplane before they finally headed to Miami without their luggage.

Another newspaper reported that a Canadian complained that the passengers were herded through the ship during the fire and into a warehouse at the port where they remained without water for nine hours in high heat and without any information about the fire. The passenger first learned of the plans to send them to Miami and the crew/contractor deaths via Google. All of this belied Oceania’s press statement that “our top priority is ensuring all 656 guests return home as quickly and comfortably as possible.”

A third news station interviewed a couple from Long island who said that the fire fighters didn’t seem trained regarding what to do nor did the cruise line keep the guests informed.

Amongst the death and destruction, the cruise line quickly announced that it will give the passengers their cruise fares back and a 50% credit toward a future cruise – a calculated and inexpensive way to hook them into another cruise.

But no one is saying anything about the crew members who just lost their jobs and won’t be able to support their families in the foreseeable future. No, the cruise line doesn’t pay salaries to the crew who are considered to be expendable. Many crew member work primarily on tips and without paying passengers there are no tips.  Yes, some of the lucky ones will be shuffled to other Oceania ships, but the majority will return to the Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc., unemployed and with no benefits and certainly no Christmas bonus. A bleak Holiday Season no doubt.

But nowhere as bleak as what the families of the dead crew and contractors will face.

Maritime wrongful death claims are subject to the archaic Death on the High Seas Act (1920). “DOHSA” excludes emotional distress, sadness, bereavement, pain & suffering and other emotional damages suffering by the widows and children of the dead. Plus, Oceania will move to dismiss any claims asserted by the family members and seek to send them to “arbitration” in London, subject to the laws of the Marshall Islands. This is a strategy to make the crew claims more difficult and expensive to pursue while limiting the available damages to the suffering families.

But no one seems to thinking about the crew members or their families. They just want to know when their cruise ship is ready to sail for their vacation.

December 15, 014 Update: We have been contacted by cruise passengers who dispute that the passengers were kept in the dark, or denied water, etc. One passenger videotaped the cruise line’s interaction with the passengers in the port terminal and posted the videos on You Tube:

Photo Credit:  St Lucia News 4

Video Credit:  C. Andrews You Tube Page

Don’t forget to read an article I wrote nearly five years ago (before the Splendor, Triumph, Insignia, etc. cruise ship fires: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires – Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

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The St. Lucia News Online reports that a fire aboard Oceania Cruises’ Insignia cruise ship has resulted in three people being sent to the hospital this morning.

The online newspaper states that a fire broke out on the Oceania cruise ship which was docked at Port Castries this morning.

The newspaper further states that according to the St. Lucia Fire Service, one of the three persons is being treated for exposure to the fire (smoke inhalation & respiratory distress). There are no reports Oceania Insigniaregarding the medical condition of the other two persons. The reports do not mention whether these individuals are passengers or crew members.

There are hearsay comments on the Cruise Critic boards that a crew member died, although this has not be confirmed at this time.

The information currently released is that sometime after 9:00 a.m., the fire broke out in the engine room of the Insignia which was moored in Berth 5 at Port Castries. 

The Insignia is an old ship, constructed in 1998. 

December 11 2014 Update: Oceania has confirmed that the fire caused three (3) deaths. The cruise line released this statement:

"Three crewmembers and two contractors who were working onboard were transferred to a local medical facility. We are deeply saddened to learn that two contractors and one crewmember did not survive. We extend our deepest condolences to their families during this very difficult time." 

According to the St. Lucia News Online, the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA) stated at a press conference that the three men died after sustaining "severe burns." 

If you have information regarding the fire, please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Ivan T.

Oceania CruisesReuters reports that Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is in "advanced talks" to purchase Prestige Cruises for approximately $3 billion.
 
The owner of Prestige Cruises, private equity firm Apollo Global Management, owns 20% of NCL. 
 
Prestige Cruises is based in Miami and operates the Oceania and Regent brands, which has eight luxury cruise ships.