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Onboard Security

Cruise ships: A playground for fun or playing field for malevolence?

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Jul 26, 2010

(eTN) - The Cruise Line Safety Act of 2009 is currently waiting for the signature of President Barack Obama. Will he sign it? To get the Act to where it currently rests took strong Congressional support from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Sen. John Kerry (D-CA), and support from Rep. Christopher Shays R-CT).


Not Safe at Sea
During 2009, 25 people went overboard on cruise ships, many endured sexual assaults and robberies, while others have just “disappeared.” Cruise lines have taken the position that they have no legal obligation to investigate crimes and do not have the technical staff to examine the “alleged” offenses. Since they have not been legally bound to report crimes onboard their vessels, they have “voluntarily” notified the FBI when Americans became victims. With the bureau miles from the incident, it is impossible for the agency or other law enforcement departments to take immediate steps to protect the victim, secure the crime scene, or start an investigation. Very often jurisdictional issues prevent the investigative process from even beginning.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) cruise ship security report reviewing a Coast Guard study, recently determined that cruise ships are a target for terrorist boarding’s and waterside attacks.

Almost Twice a Month
Assault statistics for Carnival Cruise Lines claimed that from 1993 through 1999, 108 incidents against both crew members and passengers occurred, including rape, unwanted touching, and unwanted kissing. The accused crew included a cabin steward, an assistant cook, supervisors, engineers, and even a chief security officer. As a result of the assaults, Carnival fired 47 employees over the five-year span, the standard "punishment" in such cases ( ).

CLIA Represents the Industry, Not the Passenger
Between 2008 and 2009, the cruise line industry spent US$11 million for professional lobbying efforts in Washington to avoid legislation. The Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) represents the industry and has pushed hard to avoid legislation. In 2007, CLIA produced a 32-page report that offered no commitment to change. The report asserted that the crime rate for the industry was only .01 percent although the statement was untrue and the falsehood was confirmed in an April 4, 2008 letter from the FBI. Even CLIA’s own expert witness at the Senate hearing, Dr. James Alan Fox, indicated that this was not a valid annual crime rate. It is really impossible to actually determine crime rate at sea as CLIA “officially” does not keep track of crimes.

Accountability: Kerry Bill
Thanks to the efforts of the International Cruise Line Victims Association ( ) directed by Kendall Carver, the Kerry Cruise Vessel Security Act of 2009 will increase security, law enforcement, and accountability on cruise ships operating in international waters. According to Michael Ehline ( ), an LA-based personal injury attorney and expert on injuries at sea, the new legislation, “…will require log book entry and reporting of deaths, missing individuals, and alleged crimes as well as many other things designed to make a cruise safer.”

In addition, the act considers passenger security as it relates to vessel design, equipment, construction, and retrofitting; the use of video surveillance to monitor crime; posting of US embassy locations; maintenance of equipment and medical personnel for sexual assaults on board; confidentiality of sexual assault information; and crew access to passenger staterooms.

The act also prescribes penalties for violations. The secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard operates is required to develop training standards for: (a) certification of passenger vessel security personnel; (b) crew members and law enforcement officials on methods for prevention, detection, evidence preservation; and (c) reporting of criminal activities in the international maritime environment. Vessels carrying US citizens are not permitted unless there is at least one crew member on board who has met training and certification. Persons who violate the requirements are subject to penalties. The secretary is also directed to study and report to Congress on passenger security needs depending on the numbers of passengers - with recommendations for improved security.

Baby Steps
The act takes a baby step toward making the cruise experience safer; however, there are many missing parts. To make the legislation more comprehensive, Attorney Ehline suggests that cruise lines doing business in the USA: (1) review their personnel hiring practices; (2) not hire people from countries hostile to American interests; and/or (3) do a complete and thorough background check on each and every employee – regardless of citizenship. Ehline noted that some countries offering employees jobs on cruise ships do not meet US minimum pay requirements and do not have the “ability to offer a comprehensive data supply to the cruise corporations who employ them.”

The Coast Guard has implemented a few new procedures including: escorts of high-capacity ships (resources permitting), and the review of passenger and crew data.

Passengers: Profits Before People
While the new legislation may be helpful to American travelers, other countries have not been as responsive to the wants/needs of their citizens. According to Ehline, “…Americans have a tort system designed to make them whole when injured. Other countries, other than those operating under the English Common Law Systems, simply allow a more harsh Roman Civil Law approach” which does not offer the framework with the same protections. “Americans take a lot of cruises,” according to Ehline and a large market source are elderly passengers from Florida and California; unfortunately “they get injured… due to design flaws that don’t take them into consideration… More people mean more injuries.”

Weakest Link
Current cruise line hiring practices, according to Ehline, leads to weak links in the chain of safety. “I think the maritime framework with its treaties, the unfair venue provision in the passage contract (forcing an injured victim who lives in Georgia, for example, to sue in Los Angeles, California), the unfair claims filing … requiring a wounded passengers to bring an informal claim within 6 months or you cannot sue…All these sidesteps and loopholes are just perfectly designed for those who would rather not deal in the system of laws…” commented Ehline.

Criminal and/or Civil Law
The cruise ship is a common carrier and Ehline determined that, “…there is at least one case that holds a cruise ship strictly liable to injuries caused due to the cruse ship’s negligence or willful neglect. In the case of a cruise ship employee raping a passenger or co-worker, issues at sea become a criminal issue. If the passage contract says you have to file a civil lawsuit in California State court, the same substantive tort rules for any another California citizen would apply.” The victim is “…usually forced to hire a California lawyer, sue in California…and there are fees to fly in the doctors and other witnesses to and from California (plus the cost of hotels, etc.)”. Ehline finds that cruise ships practice, “Draconian procedural rules.” These rules often “...force an unfair settlement due to economic inability to sustain the lawsuit….and…is exactly what the cruise lines want,” according to Ehline.

So – Sue Me
With Americans being a litigious group, the immediate response to any injury is to sue. According to Ehline, “Often, a good cruise ship injury attorney will be able to resolve claims without suing. But that is rare. My experience has been that suing is the best way to get their attention…The real victory is just protecting the claim itself. Many a legal malpractice claim has arisen due to inexperienced attorneys assuming you have one to two years to sue a cruise ship (and not even knowing about the passage contract that abrogates those rules).”

Ehline offers suggestions for staying safe onboard.
- The safest decision? Don’t go!

However, if you are bound and determined to take a holiday at sea:
1. Don’t fraternize with the crew
2. Travel in twos at all times
3. Never leave your child unattended OR allow them to participate in any cruise ship sponsored activity unless you are THERE the entire time
4. Don’t go on a shore excursion unless you read the passage contract first (cruise ships have some passage contracts that preclude them from liability for cruise ship sponsored activities of the ship)

If an incident occurs:
1. Immediately report in writing the incident to the security department on the ship
2. Get a copy of your written report
3. Take photographs of the scene of the incident before it changes, if possible. If the scene has changed, still take photographs
4. Write down the name, address, and telephone number of each person who is a witness to the incident
5. Go to the ship's doctor to get treatment for your injury
6. If necessary, go to a shore-side doctor at the next port of call and contact a Personal Injury attorney immediately (

With the notion that “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts,” more and more people are taking holidays at sea. Research continues to show that cruise ships out-score all other vacations for perceived value. Many cruise lines are seeing increases in groups including multi-generational, girls’ getaways/man-cations, plus civic and social groups. Fredik Johansson, senior architect for Tillberg Design AB, (QE2, QM2, Crystal Serenity and various Disney ships) predicts “mother ships” that will launch fleets of smaller vessels and space-efficient ferries (PSA Annual Cruise Report, 2008). The Report also forecasts two million passengers by 2010

To further seduce travelers and their families, new onboard amenities are likely to include full-scale aqua-parks, luxury spas and spa suites, increased dining choices, areas dedicated to adults, teens or children, expanded golf programs, and enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity. Popular destinations include the Caribbean, The Bahamas, Alaska, Europe/The Mediterranean and Mexico.

Statistical Odds of Danger
Travel by sea can be as much fun as the advertisements lead us to believe. To keep safe, be prepared by assessing risks and have a viable plan to mitigate the possibility of something going wrong.

Cruise ships: A playground for fun or playing field for malevolence?
Michael Ehline, Esq.

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