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Passengers Badly Rattled As Cruise Ships Ventured Through Superstorm Sandy

As Americans continue to tune into coverage of the massive land damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, it may be inconceivable to many that cruise ship operators did not uniformly cancel Florida-based cruises that were set to sail into or near the well-mapped hurricane. Yet, while some cruise operators made the sound decision not to expose cruise passengers to the risks of Sandy, others directed their ships to proceed full steam ahead, with only minor course adjustments, arguing that modern cruise ships’ elaborate stabilization systems would protect them from the ravages of severely rough seas and exposing them to any accident or injuries. Unfortunately, top-heavy floating resorts proved no match for Sandy, and passengers trapped on these during the hurricane ended up witnessing frightening chaos and destruction.

The Show Must Go On, Say Cruise Operators

The October 29, 2012 edition of the Salisbury Post recounted the experience of a North Carolina family whose cruise on Disney’s Fantasy put them into the path of the storm. That account credits the ship’s captain with charting a course that avoided the fiercest zone of the hurricane, and with warning passengers to stay in their cabins; but it also conveys the great anxiety suffered by the family when it realized that “anything not bolted to the walls or floors was sliding side to side,” and that “deck chairs had crashed through doors.” Ultimately, said the mother of this family, one had to resort to faith in God in order to survive the terrifying ordeal.

At the time superstorm Sandy was brewing, the Bradley family of Cascade, Iowa, was scheduled to sail from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean on Disney’s Dream. According to coverage by KWWL TV in Iowa, the Bradleys tried to cancel their cruise reservations when they learned of the impending storm, but they were told by Disney that they would not receive a refund if they cancelled, and that they should rest assured that the cruise would safely avoid the path of the storm. Thus pressured to sail, the Bradleys traveled to Florida and boarded ship, but only hours after setting sail, the ship began to experience direct effects of the hurricane. According to the news report, the Bradleys watched unanchored objects rain down from shelves, and felt their cabins rattling. The severe rocking of the ship caused the Bradleys’ grandson to fall out of bed. Mrs. Bradley told KWWL that Disney “should have canceled instead of putting our lives in danger out there in 20 foot swells.”

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Due to a lack of safety standards, the Costa Concordia ship ran aground off the Italian shore of Giglio on January 13th, killing 32 people. To this day, there has been a quest for information as to what contributing factors caused this terrible incident to take place. Finally, the Costa Cruise line has announced a series of new safety initiatives which are intended to prevent a disaster like this from occurring again. Hopefully, these new safety measures will keep passengers safer on board. Nevertheless, it is questionable as to why these standards were not up to par to begin with.

Costa has introduced seven new rules, according to CNN, which are intended to keep guests and crew members safer on the seas. Among these is safety training and electronic tracking of the guests to ensure that they do not miss emergency training before the ships leaves the port. The safety guidelines will be sent via memo, to any guests who do not attend the training sessions in person.

During the Costa Concordia incident, Captain Schettino, who is currently still under house arrest, did not appropriately make passengers aware of the seriousness of the incident. Rather, he allegedly jumped ship to save himself, leaving his passengers and crew members behind to suffer or die. Thus, under the new guidelines, crewmembers will also be required by law to issue orders and report incidents, so that the entire livelihood of a ship does not depend on one captain’s orders alone, or lack thereof.

According to new standards established by the Cruise Lines International Association, this past April, a new bridge access policy has been put into place in order to minimize any unnecessary disruptions or distractions to the bridge during periods of time where extreme vigilance is required to safely maneuver a ship. These instances include, but are not limited to departure and arrival at ports, heavy traffic situations, or poor weather conditions. In this way, the captain will not be able to be distracted by any visitors during this critical navigational period.

Another important change which has been applied to the new standards, requires that a ship’s route be monitored at all times. Consequently, the position and course of a ship is always known on board by the captain and crew, as well as on land by Cruise ship International Association Officials. Moreover, the entire cruise ship industry is now required to carry more life vests on board during cruises.

Will these new and improved measures prevent anything like what took place on the Costa Concordia from happening again? That is to be determined. Maritime attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA are all too familiar with the downfalls of the cruise ship industry when it comes to keeping passengers on board ships safe. Personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA have represented hundreds of people who have suffered due to the negligence of the cruise ship industry, and continue to collect damages on their behalves.

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Miami FL February 9, 2012 – Half submerged off the western coast of Italy, the Costa Concordia cruise ship is an all-too-vivid reminder that the international cruise industry is in dire need of safety reforms, says veteran Miami injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson. Indeed, the industry, says the long-time advocate for cruise ship injury victims, has operated for decades in a regulatory vacuum that has left crew certifications and training lacking — and put passengers at risk.

“One hundred years after the Titanic nothing has changed,” says Gerson, the senior partner at Miami’s Gerson & Schwartz. “The way the industry operates, it is a disaster waiting to happen, and on the night of January 13 that, unfortunately, is exactly what we got. After the ship grounded and lives were lost and saved, there was a great focus on the actions, or inactions, of the captain. But as the investigation continues, what we’re seeing now is the crux of the problem in the cruise industry today: inadequately trained crews and a regulatory black hole. It’s something that should have been fixed decades ago.”

On the surface, the cruise industry is all glamour and luxury, floating hotel palaces on the seas. But behind the scenes, says Gerson, a longtime advisor to the International Cruise Victims Association, the picture is far less rosy. “Crew members are generally not long-term employees of a specific cruise line, but independent contractors who sign aboard for a few months at a time, and often move from vessel to vessel, cruise line to cruise line,” says Gerson. “Crews are poorly paid and inadequately trained. And what compounds the problem is that there is scant regulation and enforcement. A crew member who is ill-prepared for an emergency on his first cruise will likely be ill-prepared on his fiftieth cruise. He’ll move from ship to ship and operators have little incentive to foot the cost of his training — and often, little legal obligation.”

As the Costa Concordia investigation unfolds, it is becoming clear, says Gerson, that a poorly trained crew was a primary factor contributing to the tragedy. “What we are hearing, both from official channels and from Costa Concordia passengers who have contacted our firm, is that many crew members just didn’t know what to do. They were telling passengers to return to their cabins, that it was just an electrical fault, when it was, of course, an urgent emergency. There were heroic crew members, to be sure, but by and large, the people who survived did so because of their own good judgment.”

As details of the disaster and its aftermath emerge, the public will get a full picture of training and safety deficiencies that not only plagued the crew of the Costa Concordia, but the entire cruise ship industry, says Gerson. “We have to make the changes that should have been made years ago,” says the veteran Miami injury lawyer. “First, we have to have uniform, mandatory, and strictly enforced certifications of competence and ongoing training for all cruise ship crew members. And it has to be done on an international level, not the loose, lax, piecemeal regulatory structures that exist — in some places, for some crew — today.”

The next step, says Gerson, is to eliminate the current liability caps that limit the financial responsibility of ship operators. “These caps are not only unfair and unrealistic, but dangerous. If a ship’s operator has little fear of liability, they have little incentive to strengthen their safety training requirements, because doing so costs money. As the catastrophe off the coast of Italy makes clear, without the prospect of substantial liability, safety and training will be compromised. It’s time to change that — and changing the laws will be a big step in the right direction.”

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MIAMI, FL—Human error is said to have played a role in the horrific Jan. 15 Costa Concordia cruise ship accident that left a confirmed six people dead off the western coast of Italy, according to information provided by Bloomberg and CNN. Italian coast guard officials say 29 people remain missing following the Mediterranean cruise disaster—which appeared to have occurred after the cruise liner’s captain strayed off the programmed course, causing the ship to run aground and tip over in close proximity to Giglio Island (Isola del Giglio), just off the coast of Tuscany.

According to Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman of Carnival Corporation’s Italian subsidiary, Costa Crociere (Costa Cruises), “We can’t deny that there was a human error… The route had been properly programmed in Civitavecchia. The fact that the ship strayed from that course can only be due to a maneuver that was not approved, not authorized nor communicated to Costa Crociere by the captain of the ship.”

Reports indicated the Costa Concordia departed from a port in Civitavecchia—located in the province of Rome— on Jan. 13, only capsize off the coast of Tuscany a couple days later. There were approximately 4,200 individuals aboard the massive cruise vessel when it veered too close to the island of Giglio, causing it to run aground and tip over. Photos of the wreckage show the cruise ship—which has more than 2,000 tons of fuel on board (potential environmental hazard)— partially submerged on its side.

As cruise accident investigations and search/rescue operations are underway, Captain Francesco Schnettino remains in the custody of Italian authorities. Francesco Verusio, chief prosecutor of Grosseto, Tuscany, told reporters that Costa Concordia’s captain could potentially spend 15 years in prison if he is indeed charged and ultimately convicted of abandoning ship, shipwreck and manslaughter in connection with the tragic cruise disaster.

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MIAMI, FL—September 20, 2011 – Norwegian police officials appeared to believe an engine room explosion was to blame for the blaze that was ignited aboard a Hurtigruten cruise ship on Sept. 15, claiming the lives of two crew members. According to information provided by the Denver Post, the deadly cruise fire spurred the evacuation of hundreds of cruise ship passengers and also caused three rescuers to suffer minor wounds.

While police suspected that a blast in the engine room of the MS Nordlys, which is operated by Norwegian cruise ship company Hurtigruten, resulted in the deaths of two cruise employees, a full investigation will be required to confirm such assumptions. According to Ålesund Police operations head Trygve Oedegaard, “Nothing indicates sabotage or points to terror… But, of course, we have to investigate all options.”

Reports indicated that when the MS Nordlys docked in Ålesund, Norway, smoke coming from the ship spread to area buildings, forcing authorities to block off certain portions of the town. Although an excess of 100 cruise ship passengers were initially evacuated from the burning ship and put onto lifeboats, 55 cruise ship workers, along with the remainder of the total 207 passengers, disembarked the vessel in Ålesund.

Two cruise line workers were killed in the engine room fire and nine other crew members suffered various injuries, for which they were hospitalized. Two of the injured cruise employees’ reportedly sustained severe burns as a result of the engine room blaze. A full investigation into the fatal cruise ship fire was expected to be underway.

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MIAMI, FL— July 12, 2011 – An overcrowded ship capsized on the Volga River in Russia on July 10, 2011, resulting in at least 55 fatalities and leaving dozens of additional passengers missing. Although the Russian riverboat had a maximum passenger capacity of 150 people and was only equipped with 156 life vests, 208 people were aboard the vessel  “Bulgaria” when it sank, as reported by CNN.

While 79 accident victims have been rescued thus far, many remain missing as the Emergency Situations Ministry regional office is expected to soon bring search and rescue missions to a close. Many of the survivors were reportedly taken to area hospitals to be treated for unspecified injuries.

Noting that the exact number of cruise passengers missing was unknown, officials said there was a possibility survivors may have swam to the riverbank or one of the several neighboring islands. More than 80 rescue divers have taken to the water so far.

According to the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, the corroded and overcrowded Bulgaria cruise ship, which was constructed in 1955, was not a certified passenger ship. Furthermore, the riverboat had not undergone repairs in more than three decades and was operating despite the fact that its left engine was broken before it sank.  

According to a crew member aboard the vessel Arabella, which recovered numerous survivors following the capsize disaster, “It all happened so fast. The crew did not have time to pull out the lifeboats and were able to lower only two inflatable rafts. Many passengers simply jumped into the water. Few escaped from the chaos in the water, I’m afraid.”

Following the deadly Russian ship accident, President Dmitry Medvedev contended, “It is clear that such an accident couldn’t have taken place if safety rules were followed, even despite the difficult weather situation… We have to establish why the owner of the ship operated a ship that was in such a poor technical condition.”

Medvedev noted that “a total inspection of all public carriers in Russia” would be underway on the basis that it is “obvious that this ship was not the only one with issues.” Investigations into the cruise ship wreck are underway.

The Miami cruise ship injury attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz note that it is often difficult to hold vessel owners accountable for negligent actions, which can leave passengers and ship crew members subject to preventable harm. For accidents to be prevented and victims to obtain just compensation for their injuries and damages, changes must be made to the cruise industry, which has long lacked sufficient regulation. Reform is imperative.

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MIAMI, FL— July 14, 2011 – The death toll in the Russian riverboat accident that occurred along the Volga River has risen from 55 confirmed deaths to 104 deaths, 20 of whom were children. The Moscow Times reported that the recent boat sinking is being regarded as the worst on record in the past three decades.

According to the Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, it took only three minutes for the seemingly corroded ship “Bulgaria” to sink with 208 people on board, 58 more than the maximum passenger capacity permits. Search and rescue missions continue for 25 victims that remained missing and were feared dead following the river disaster.

As of July 13, 95 of the victims who died in the ship accident had been identified. While a crew member that survived the ship wreck argued that the boat capsized as a result of a two-meter wave, the Federal Meteorological Service contested such allegations, maintaining that the waves were not that high and could not have caused such a catastrophe.

Meanwhile, two people have been arrested and charged in connection with the Russian boating accident. Those two people included Svetlana Inyakina, the manager of the company that rented the ship out, as well as Yakov Ivashov, a senior inspector employed by the River Register’s local office. The River Register is the government agency responsible for upholding safety within the river transport industry.

According to the Miami cruise ship injury attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, it is often difficult to hold ship owners liable for negligent acts that can pose dangers to both passengers and ship workers. To prevent future accidents from occurring and causing harm to passengers and crew members alike, changes must be made to the river transport and cruise ship industries.

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MIAMI, FL— July 7, 2011 – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating a cruise line based in San Francisco after yet another norovirus outbreak plagued passengers aboard the Alaska-bound Sea Princess cruise ship. According to information provided by the San Francisco Examiner, there have been more than 350 confirmed cases of the gastrointestinal illness since May 10, 2011.

Reports indicated that a total of four cruise ship norovirus outbreaks were reported over a span of less than two months, causing hundreds of passengers aboard the Sea Princess, which is operated by Princess Cruises, to fall ill.

When the Sea Princess departed on May 10, 44 passengers fell ill. There were 2,049 people aboard the cruise vessel during that trip. The second outbreak was reported on the voyage beginning May 20, leaving 128 out of 2,049 travelers aboard the ship sickened. Then a third outbreak was reported on the Alaska cruise voyage that departed from the Port of San Francisco on May 30, causing 142 of the total 2,128 passengers aboard to suffer from norovirus symptoms.

The final outbreak was reported on the June 19 Alaska cruise trip. A total of 53 passengers were infected in that case. Also, the Princess Cruises-owned Coral Princess vessel was reportedly plagued by a norovirus outbreak this year, though it was not clear how many passengers and/or ship crew members were infected.
Norovirus is an extremely contagious viral infection that causes gastroenteritis. Symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, fever and chills. Norovirus has been known to cause approximately 50 percent of all gastroenteritis outbreaks, CDC data suggested.

From 2006 to 2010, there were over 80 cruise ship norovirus outbreaks reported. 
Karen Candy, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises, suspected that an alreadyinfected passenger caused the most recent outbreak, stating, “In addition to our cleaning procedures, we rely on passengers’ compliance and good hygiene habits… and the two of these must work in tandem to eradicate an outbreak.”

The CDC is investigating the slew of cruise line norovirus outbreaks.

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MIAMI, FL— June 9, 2011 – A few months after a 15-year-old girl lost part of her leg in a South Florida boat accident, two 16-year-old boys have been charged in connection with the boating mishap. According to information provided by the Associated Press, the accident victim was badly injured upon swimming up to the boat, which was positioned near the Juno Beach Fishing Pier in Palm Beach County, and attempting to climb aboard.

Reports indicated Gabby DeSouza was swimming near the Juno Pier when a boat occupied by a couple of her friends arrived. Although several lifeguards apparently used their horns and whistles to warn the young boaters that they were operating their watercraft in an area meant for swimmers only, DeSouza decided to try to climb on board anyway. Unfortunately, her foot became entangled with the watercraft’s propeller as she attempted to do so.

Immediately after the February 5, 2011 boating accident, the two boys allegedly left the scene and avoided contacting authorities to report the mishap. Reports did not specify how the accident victim made it to shore before being transported to the hospital to be treated for her injuries.

On June 7, officials from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) arrested the two unidentified teenagers that initially fled the scene and subsequently booked them into an unspecified juvenile detention center. They were charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injury, as well as culpable negligence, in connection with the Palm Beach accident.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), 4,730 recreational boating accidents, which resulted in a total of 736 deaths, were recorded in the United States during the year 2009.

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MIAMI, FL—June 7, 2011 – Eight days after a violent jet ski crash landed singer Sean Kingston in the hospital with critical injuries, the Miami-born musician’s publicist told reporters he took his first steps and was now breathing on his own. According to information provided by CNN, Kingston had water in his lungs and broke both his jaw and wrist after crashing his personal water craft (PWC) into a Miami Beach bridge on May 31.

While Sean Kingston, 21, remained hospitalized at Jackson Memorial Hospital, his condition was upgraded to “serious” as he began to walk and breathe on his own again. According to sources, it will likely take the singer six weeks to recover from the injuries he sustained in the Miami boating accident.  

Authorities from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) told reporters Kingston was operating his Sea Doo jet ski off Miami Beach when it crashed into the Palm Island Bridge. Kingston’s life vest reportedly fell off on impact.

Witness Jonathan Rivera, who was boating with his wife at the time, contended, “I pushed him up, and he was vomiting what seemed like water, and then there was some blood coming out.”

Kingston was rushed to Jackson Memorial’s intensive care unit in critical condition following the jet ski wreck. Cassandra Sanchez, 23, was also riding on the jet boat when it crashed. She was hospitalized with what appeared to be non-life threatening injuries in the crash.

Though it was not clear what caused Kingston to lose control of his jet skia full investigation into the injurious boating accident was expected to be underway.

Twenty-two percent of 4,730 recreational boating accidents reported during the year 2009 involved personal watercrafts, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) suggest. Furthermore, boat crashes resulted in 736 fatalities that year.

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