Cruise ship lawyers Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. weighed-in this week on concerns raised by Senator John Rockefeller IV in his letter to Carnival Corporation CEO Mickey Arison. Last month, Rockefeller wrote a very publicised letter to Arison, following an engine room fire aboard the Carnival Triumph. That incident resulted in a complete loss of power aboard the ship, subjecting Triumph’s passengers to five days of reportedly horrid conditions while the ship was towed from Mexican waters back to port in Alabama. Rockefeller notes a disturbing trend of serious events on Carnival ships within the past five years.
“This recent marked deterioration in crew conditions as a result of the cruise lines no longer threatened with having to directly answer for their actions in U.S. courts, we believe, directly coincides with an increase in incidents which have risked the safety of the U.S. cruising consumer.”
The maritime law firm offers up a possible explanation: Crew members face longer working hours and declining working conditions because they no longer have the protection of the U.S. court system.
“Sadly, we have connected the dots between an obscure legal maneuver made by the cruise lines and the increase in shipboard accidents,” said Jason Margulies, shareholder with the firm. “A few years ago, the cruise industry started placing foreign arbitration clauses in its crew contracts. While it may seem insignificant where disputes are resolved, we have drawn the conclusion that because worker’s rights are no longer protected by U.S. courts, dangerous conditions are not being properly defended and ultimately the cruise passenger suffers.”
The cruise industry now forces its crew into foreign arbitrations when they have an issue with their employer. In its letter, the maritime law firm explains that: “Requiring crew to submit exclusively to foreign arbitration to address wrongdoing which led to their injuries means that cruise lines escape responsibility for decisions which lead to dangerous conditions for crew.”
Ultimately, the crewmembers who run and maintain the cruise ships are deprived of the historic protections of U.S. law. The consequences can be significant. The letter to Rockefeller references an arbitration in the Philippines where a crewmember who was burned over 35% of his body was awarded less than $2,000 against his employer. The result, the firm explains, is that the cruise lines removed any deterrent to cutting operating costs by subjecting crew to harsh conditions – creating an overworked crew that is jeopardizing the safety of passengers.
“United States citizens fill the ships and the coffers of the major cruise lines, but their own employees don’t have the protection of the U.S. court system,” said Margulies. “As we saw with the Carnival Triumph, the consequences are dire.”
The maritime firm’s letter to Rockefeller, also copied to New York Senator Charles Shumer, concludes that, “This recent marked deterioration in crew conditions as a result of the cruise lines no longer threatened with having to directly answer for their actions in U.S. courts, we believe, directly coincides with an increase in incidents which have risked the safety of the U.S. cruising consumer.”