When you fly on a commercial airplane, you have an expectation that the airline has met specific safety regulations. The same goes for a trip on an Amtrak train. However, such an expectation is absent, or at least should be, when you purchase a ticket on a cruise ship. Why? Because the cruise ship industry is an unregulated industry. This is extremely concerning to our team of cruise ship injury attorneys.
International Waters: Free For All
When a cruise ship visits a U.S. port, it must meet some regulations and is subject to inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard. However, if you are taking a cruise that goes into international waters (e.g., cruise voyages to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, etc.) only the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has authority over safety and operational standards. The IMO is part of the United Nations and generally does not exercise strict regulatory oversight. In fact, the IMO has never ordered the docking of multiple ships based on safety concerns and it is unclear that it even has that authority, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
This is not to say that the IMO is completely useless. The organization established some measures aimed at preventing cruise ship accidents, but they only apply to “new ships” and the IMO largely relies on the companies to self-report if and when an incident occurs on board.
Obfuscating U.S. Oversight?
Cruise ship companies like Carnival, Viking, etc. intentionally register their cruise ships in virtually every country other than the United States. Why? Because that allows them to avoid U.S. oversight, taxes, and labor laws. For example, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean International, the two largest cruise companies in the country, have their corporate headquarters right here in Florida. However, their cruise ships are registered in other countries, predominantly Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Malta, according to the aforementioned San Francisco Chronicle article. These ships are required to meet the safety and health standards of their registry country. It will probably not shock you that many of these countries do not have stringent health and safety regulations on the books or perform routine inspections.
Incidents Keep Occurring, Yet Not Much Changes
A Carnival Triumph cruise ship arrived in a port located in Mobile, Alabama four days after losing propulsion and power to run even basic systems. Imagine being stuck at sea for four long days without any electricity, heating, cooling, etc. Even worse, an Eastern Star cruise ship capsized in June 2015 resulting in the deaths of over 300 passengers and crew members.
To make matters even worse, we can only focus on the tragedies that are actually reported. Many on-board incidents, ranging from theft, sexual assault, and serious physical injuries, go unreported to regulatory entities. This lack of quantifiable data encourages the status quo rather than recognizing deficiencies and implementing solutions. For example, we know that a young woman suffered debilitating, life-altering injuries after hitting her head on board a Carnival Victory cruise ship in September 2015. Do we know how frequently such serious head injuries occur? Unfortunately, no.
When it comes to cruise ships, it is the wild west on the water.
Speak to a Cruise Ship Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one is seriously hurt on a cruise ship, do not delay in speaking to an experienced maritime lawyer. In these situations, you have a limited amount of time to take legal action. The law firm of Gerson & Schwartz, PA is here to help. They know how to handle these cases and offer free, confidential consultations.