The world was shaken by the cruise ship accident involving the Costa Concordia off the coast of
Isola del Giglio, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. On January 13, 2012, the 114,000 ton cruise ship ran
aground and capsized after being taken off its planned course, in an attempt to sail close to the
island. While the incident was tragic and avoidable, it hasn’t discouraged travelers from continuing
with their plans for a cruise ship vacation. The industry operates by strict safety standards.
Considering the millions of passengers enjoy their voyages without incident, the experience for
many is a good vacation value. However, it doesn’t hurt to know a thing or two about your legal
rights. Tim covered this subject in an article for the Queens Courier in the summer of 2007.
Reprinted with the permission of the Queens Courier
Cruise Ships…Plan To Have Fun, But Be Careful and Know Your Legal Rights
In the 1950’s, ocean travel aboard a ship was something generally reserved for the wealthy. Today,
the explosive growth of the cruise industry has made affordable vacations at sea a fun-filled
possibility for many people.
But before you pack your camera and sunscreen, you might want to know a thing or two about your
legal rights aboard a cruise ship. Not that you should reconsider going on your trip. The vast
majority of passengers enjoy great food, exotic drinks, and fun family activities…all at a great price.
But don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re on a 75,000 ton ship on the high seas.
We were reminded of this in April when the cruise ship Sea Diamond struck a reef and sank in the
Aegean Sea. Last summer, the cruise ship Crown Princess suddenly rolled during an officer’s
attempt to place her on manual steering. The violent tilting resulted in objects sliding across decks,
water spilling from pools, and injuries to dozens of passengers. Aside from such traditional perils
of the sea, we’ve seen various crimes aboard cruise ships. These range from misdemeanors to
serious felonies such as rape.
Although cruise ships can be fun places, if something goes wrong, you might not be entitled to
legal privileges we take for granted within our state court systems. Many passengers don’t realize
they’re not on a U.S. flag ship. Your ship might be registered under the flag of the Bahamas,
Panama, or other sovereign state.
Be aware that a cruise line can impose its own statute of limitations when it comes to accidents.
That’s the time you have to bring a legal action if you were injured during your cruise. This includes
injuries from the ship sinking, colliding with another ship, failing to take action to avoid known
navigational or weather hazards, food poisoning, slipping and falling, being struck by an object
from a deck above, or other mishap. Many cruise lines allow you only one year to bring a lawsuit for
your injuries. Compare that to the New York statute of limitations, which ordinarily gives you three
years to bring such lawsuits.
Read the fine print on your ticket. If anything happens where you need to bring a legal action, you
may be surprised to learn that you might have consented to legal jurisdiction in the state of Florida,
Washington. And with criminal matters, jurisdiction can become complex, depending on whether
the ship was U.S. registered, the crime occurred within U.S. territorial waters, or the victim or
perpetrator was a U.S. national.
When it comes to safety and security, passengers should remember that a cruise ship is like a
large hotel. A cruise ship can contain passageways that are dimly lit and infrequently traveled at
late hours. Female passengers should be careful returning to their cabins late at night.
Passengers should remember that if they drink too much, they can be vulnerable to the same
dangers that they would be vulnerable to when leaving any bar at night.
If you go on a cruise this summer, have a wonderful time. But don’t forget that you’re on a ship at
sea with three thousand other people, and that five decks below, the ocean is rushing by at twenty
are lots of ways to have fun on a cruise ship. But just the same, there are many ways to get injured.
Cruise ships operating under reputable companies are attentive to passenger safety and go to
great lengths to prevent accidents. When you consider the logistics of putting so many millions of
people to sea every year on these ships, safety is of paramount importance. Fortunately, safety
regulations under the U.S. Coast Guard and SOLAS go far to prevent injury and death at sea.
Accidents and injuries on cruise ships arise in a number of ways. The common accident involving
a slip and fall can occur on a cruise ship as easily, if not easier, than on land. It might be because
carpeting is damaged or hasn’t been secured down properly. A passenger might loose footing
because of an obstacle, debris or other foreign object on a stairway or corridor.
The cruise ship accident involving the
Sea Diamond, mentioned below, led to
prosecutions in a Greek Court. A judge
sentenced the captain and other
officers in connection with the sinking
of the vessel off Santorini after it struck
a reef. According to the court, the ship
had been using charts that incorrectly
marked the depth of the area as being
18 to 22 meters, instead of the 5 meter
actual depth. See prosecution of Sea
Diamond cruise ship officers, in