If you are considering a vacation at sea on one of the big cruise vessels, a new U.S. Coast Guard inspection program may interest you. As of just last month, the Coast Guard has begun to board cruise ships in U.S. ports for the purpose of performing unannounced safety inspections. The bi-annual regular inspections already required by law will still be performed, as well.
The impetus behind the new unannounced inspection program is the finding that some cruise lines have a pattern of safety deficiencies that can put passenger lives in danger. The problems found most often during regular inspections involve lifeboats and fire doors, but many other potentially dangerous oversights have also been noted. A Coast Guard spokesperson explained that the new program will focus its efforts on the cruise lines and vessels that have most often had deficiencies in the past. Cruise lines using substandard vessels will be held accountable for the safety issues. The Coast Guard will not allow any passengers to board these vessels at any U.S. port until all of the identified safety problems are fully addressed.
The issue of cruise ship safety has made the news numerous times in the past few years. A norovirus outbreak on a number of vessels is the most recent health and safety issue plaguing the industry. Other recent problems include the fire that broke out last year on the Carnival Triumph, leaving the vessel drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for days, and another Carnival Lines fire, this time on the Splendor, which knocked out power and stranded passengers at sea.
The sheer size of cruise ships like the Splendor or the Triumph make the danger of accidents, fires, or disease outbreaks on board even more acute. Some of the larger vessels can carry up to 8,000 people, including both passengers and crew.
Cruise line vessels are subject to the inspection laws of the country in which they are registered. When these ships dock in U.S. ports to pick up passengers, they must also meet the requirements of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). These international laws cover such safety issues as lifesaving equipment, life boats, fire protection and firefighting equipment, vessel integrity and control, crew competency, and environmental protection. Additionally, any cruise ship leaving U.S. ports is considered a “common carrier,” meaning that by law, passengers are owed a “heightened duty of care” by the cruise lines. Heightened duty of care includes protection from assaults and other criminal attacks, as well as other forms of physical harm, until they arrive safely at their destination.
Many passengers who have been injured at sea on large cruise ships have filed suit against the owner, charter company, operator, or even ticketing companies. Claims involving injuries or assaults at sea are subject to some different laws than those occurring on domestic soil; there may be a combination of state, federal, international, and maritime laws involved in injury/death-at-sea cases. There are also shorter statutes of limitations. All of these considerations make experienced legal help essential in such cases.
It is important that you speak to an attorney if you have been involved in an accident on a cruise ship and feel it was due to the negligence of another party. The Fort Lauderdale accident attorneys of Madalon Law will go over your case with you at no cost and explain the options you have