It was in 2005 that maritime injury lawyer Brett Rivkind first appeared before Congressional Hearings to address cruise ship safety and security. He was invited to testify as a Maritime expert to assist the members of Congress in addressing safety concerns onboard cruise ships, and answer questions related to the type of problems most prevalent on cruise ships, and what laws govern the cruise ship industry when something does happen to a United States passenger. At the Congressional Hearings, several victims on cruise ships also testified, including victims of cruise ship sexual assaults, and other crimes.
At the time, Rivkind was representing the family of George Smith, whose son George Smith disappeared during his honeymoon cruise on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. His body was never located, and the FBI actively investigated the case for several years before closing the file without any resolution. It was believed that his disappearance was a result of foul play, and it was suspected that he was actually murdered onboard the ship. However, no body was ever found, making it difficult to establish and prove foul play, and no one was ever charged criminally with his disappearance.
Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA)
These initial Congressional Hearings on cruise ship safety and security led to the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, which was signed into law by President Obama. This legislation for the first time created mandatory reporting requirements on the part of the cruise ship industry regarding criminal activity occurring onboard their ships, and provided other provisions designed to address the problem of sexual assaults onboard cruises. The legislation also addressed passengers going overboard on cruise ships, and required the cruise ship industry to implement available technology to detect when a passenger goes overboard so that immediate search and rescue efforts could commence.
Many felt that this legislation did not have enough teeth, and that cruise ship industry was not fully complying with the laws. International Cruise Victims Association, a very active organization representing victims of cruise ship incidents all over the world, has been very active in speaking out about problems on cruise ships, and seeking increased legislation governing the cruise ship industry, as well as seeking to have the prior legislation enforced. Brett Rivkind attended an awards ceremony called the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C., where Kendall Carver, the original founder and president of International Cruise Victims Association was recognized for his tremendous efforts in assisting victims of cruise ship incidents, including sexual assault victims and others who lost loved ones on a cruise ship. Kendall Carver lost his daughter on a cruise ship when she mysteriously went missing during a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska. Her disappearance remains a mystery as the cruise ship company never reported her disappearance promptly. Her family had to hire an investigator to lead them to the cruise which she disappeared on and by the time an investigation became active, evidence was gone, memories faded, and as is typical, without any body being found, the disappearance stayed a mystery and unsolved.
An Overview of New Cruise Ship Safety Laws
The most recent legislation Congress has introduced is called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would also amend the Death on the High Seas Act, an outdated law that denies family members the right to recover intangible damages for the loss of their loved ones due to negligent and wrongful death when the death occurs on a cruise ship in international waters. Intangible damages are the type of damages that compensate family members for the grief, mental anguish, loss of comfort and companionship of their loved ones who are killed due to the wrongful conduct of another.
The Death on the High Seas Act was amended by Congress in 2000 to allow families of international plane passengers to recover damages for the loss of care, comfort and companionship. However, the act was not amended with respect to deaths that happen on cruise ships. There is no conceivable reason that can be advanced for this distinction, other than the cruise ship industry has been very successful in their lobbying efforts to prevent the amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act.
An article stated that since 2013, the United States Coast Guard has investigated at least 80 deaths aboard cruise ships. Hopefully this time the act will pass and the cruise ship industry will be governed by the same laws the airline industry is governed by. Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California, stated in a recent news release that, “standards for victims’ rights should be strong whether on land or at sea.”
Interestingly, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIE), an industry group that represents the interests of the cruise ship companies, responded by pointing to a 90% customer satisfaction rate and a nearly 70% repeat customer rate. Instead of focusing on the problems that Congress has identified and is concerned about, the association continues to fight back, stating the following: “Singling out a high-performing segment of the travel and hospitality industry to impose a new and costly layer of Federal Regulation is unjustified and unnecessary.”
So the question is, unnecessary for who? Unnecessary for the cruise ship industry that does not want to step up to the plate in making cruise ships safer and provide reasonable compensation to family members when the cruise line negligently causes the death of their loved ones in international waters?
What Does the Cruise Ship Passenger Protection Act Regulate?
The highlights of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which includes amending DOSHA, includes the following:
- Ensure a cruise vessel owner notifies the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident.
- Allow individuals access to video surveillance records for civil action purposes.
- Require that the internet website of alleged crimes on cruise ships indicate whether the reported crimes were committed against minors.
- Direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a study determining the feasibility of having an individual charged with victim support services on board each passenger vessel.
- Require integration of technology that can both capture images and detect when a passenger has fallen overboard.
- Create medical standards requiring that a qualified physician and sufficient medical staff to be present and available for passengers, crew members receive basic life support training, automated defibrillators are accessible throughout the ship, and the initial safety briefing includes important emergency medical and safety information.
- Ensure that should a U.S. passenger die aboard a vessel, his or her next of kin could request the vessel to return the deceased back to the United States.
- Ensures families of victims are able to pursue fair compensation after a death on the high sea. This gives cruise passengers the same rights as airline passengers.
Maritime Lawyers Advocating for Cruise Ship Passenger Safety
If you or a family member was injured or assaulted or someone you love was wrongfully killed in a maritime accident, contact the cruise ship accident lawyers at Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind for a free consultation today at (305) 374-0565.