Cruise Ship Regulation: How the Cruise Industry Has Manipulated the System
A family vacation where the majority of your food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment costs are included sounds like an excellent option in today's economy, and the cruise industry has certainly made it an affordable one. The low cost of these dream vacations should be a warning because costs are being cut somewhere or there would be no profit in the rapidly growing cruise ship industry.
Major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia. Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and therefore avoid all U.S. federal taxes, labor laws and safety regulations. The staff on these ships often work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, some without tips or a break, for what amounts to less than $2 per hour. They are threatened with dismissal if they do not comply.
Unlike the airline industry that is closely regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, there is no federal agency regulating the safety operations of cruise lines. The FAA has the authority to shut an entire fleet of planes down based on a sample of aircraft that fail safety inspections, but there is no such governance of cruise ships. A ship is subject to the laws of the country under whose flag it sails, and the regulations in those countries are much more lax than what Americans are used to. Even though ships that dock at American ports of call are required to pass a U.S. Coast Guard inspection once every 12 months, the Coast Guard does not have the necessary staff to conduct thorough inspections and even if they did, they could not possibly inspect every inch of a floating city in the time they are allowed. The cruise lines operate their ships virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Cruise ships do not make money unless they are operating. The cruise lines push the ships extremely hard - a ship out of service for even a week for routine maintenance means the loss of tens of millions of dollars and thousands of unsatisfied customers.
Cruise ships are supposed to follow guidelines set by the International Maritime Organization and the recommendations in the Safety of Life at Sea. But the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations organization, does not have any authority to enforce its own guidelines. It cannot impose fines or criminal sanctions against cruise lines that ignore Safety of Life at Sea recommendations. This obligation of enforcement is the responsibility of the flag states, like the Bahamas and Panama.
The result is that cruise lines are mostly unregulated because they choose countries whose safety, environmental, and labor standards are minimal - low enough where they can easily comply while still operating virtually non-stop. They offer low-price cruise fares to lure passengers on-board and then make large profits from alcohol sales; casino, spa and photography activities; shore excursions; and other add-ons.
Instances like illness outbreaks or the fire aboard the Triumph are rare according to cruise industry representatives trying to deter cancellations amid the aftermath of last week's Triumph debacle. The truth is that they aren't as rare as they should be. The last few years have seen a rash of engine fires aboard cruise ships -- many of which have led to an almost total loss of electrical power. In just over 2 years, there were at least 10 fires aboard cruise ships that cause some level of disability to the ships functions and were covered by the media. In addition, there were many small fires that garnered little or no attention from the media and barely any acknowledgement from the industry itself as they claimed that the fires were small put out quickly. There is nothing insignificant about a fire on-board a ship at sea filled with thousands of passengers. And the CDC reported that just in 2012 there were 16 outbreaks of nor-virus on-board cruise ships.
The Ticket Contract that was covered in the previous post is yet another example of the cruise industry taking advantage of every legal loophole. Even though the contract could prove unenforceable, many courts defer to the law of the flag country. After the Costa Concordia tragedy in Italy just a year ago, one passenger who lost all of her luggage and nearly her life was compensated with a mere $9,000. Settlements such as this are not rare, and unfortunately add insult to injury for many victims of tragedy on cruises.
While there is no doubt that more thorough safety regulation is needed, more consumer education is also warranted. Passenger should walk up the gangplank with both eyes open to the possibilities of what could happen on a cruise and what their rights will be if tragedy strikes on the high seas.
Have you or someone you love been injured or suffered emotional distress due to another party's negligence? The Law Offices of Casey W. Stevens provides free, no obligation, case evaluations to explain your rights and explore your legal options.