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Coronavirus (COVID-19) … What did the Cruise Lines Know?  When?  And, Can Cruise Lines Be Held Accountable?  A Maritime Lawyer’s Analysis. 

Of late, cruise ships have been referred to as “floating petri dishes” following numerous shipboard outbreaks of Coronavirus/ COVID-19.  This article will examine: to what extent the cruise industry contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, what the cruise industry knew and when, and if certain cruise lines can be held liable to cruise passengers and crewmembers for serious illness and in certain instances death from contracting COVID-19 while traveling on a cruise ship.

First Shocking Fact: During February–March 2020, COVID-19 outbreaks associated with three cruise ship voyages accounted for more than 800 laboratory-confirmed cases among passengers and crew according to the US Centers for disease Control and Prevention’s (“CDC’s”) March 23, 2020 article.  Transmission occurred across multiple voyages from ship to ship by crew members, both crew and cruise passengers were affected and at least 10 deaths resulted involving crew and passengers who contracted COVID-19 while sailing or working aboard these cruise ships.  A more recent article in Bloomberg News  provides that after the outbreak on the Diamond Princess, “[a]t least seven more of [Carnival’s cruise ships or brand name lines] at sea have become virus hot spots, resulting in more than 1,500 positive infections and at least 39 fatalities.”

Seabourn Cruise Passenger Drugged and Raped by Assistant Cruise Director Aboard the SOJOURN Per Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle Seabourn Sojourn Cruise Ship

On March 30, 2019, Brais Law Firm on behalf of its client, a cruise ship passenger, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, Washington, against Holland America Line, Inc. (HAL Inc.), Holland America Line N.V.(HAL NV), and Seabourn Cruise Line Limited dba Seabourn Cruise Line (Seabourn), alleging that he was drugged and raped by a Ship’s Officer, the Assistant Cruise Director aboard the Seabourn SOJOURN.  See, attached Amended Complaint.  Per the Amended Complaint (“Complaint”), the sexual assault occurred late in the evening on March 28, 2019 or in the early morning hours of the following day aboard the Seabourn SOJOURN, the Vessel having just departed Colombo, Sri Lanka and sailing towards Hambantota, Sir Lanka.  At the time of the subject incident the Vessel was either still in or just outside Sri Lankan territorial waters.

Unless otherwise indicated, the more salient allegations of the Complaint provide:

23WIFR is reporting a recent airboat ride in Florida ended in tragedy.  While details are scars the April 02, 2020, post by Courtney.Sisk@WIFR.com [815-987-5330] with WIRF.COM, provides the Sofola family, Keith (father), Karen (mother), Luke (son) and Lexi (daughter), while vacationing in Florida first enjoyed a morning swimming with manatees followed by an airboat ride and collision described by Keith as, “Immediately there was another boat right there.”

A head-on collision followed, tossing the Solofo family from the boat.  Fortunately, the two children, Luke and Lexi, suffered minor injuries.  However, Karen and Luke were not so fortunate.  After realizing what had occurred, Keith yelled to his son Luke, who responded, “Dad, mom’s hurt.”  Karen at the time was clinging to her son while still in the water.  Karen’s legs were broken, and her left foot was severed.

Keith suffered broken facial bones, a severe concussion and broken arm.  Despite his injuries, Keith hoisted his wife onto a boat, apparently belonging to a “good samaritan,” who say what happened and quickly came to the aid of the Sofola’s family.

Bahamas cruise On October 19, 2018, Christopher McGrory, a 29-year old man from Palm Beach County, fell on a cruise ship and landed on a lower deck, suffering fatal injuries. McGrory was traveling aboard Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Classica celebrating his bachelor party. The ship was cruising from the Port of Palm Beach to Freeport in the Bahamas.  McGrory was set to marry his partner, Jessica Arnett, on December 1st.

According to reports, other passengers on the cruise ship heard a “code blue” alert announced over the ship’s intercom.  “Code blue” signals a medical emergency.  Passengers then gathered around a stairway and reported seeing “pools and pools of blood.”

McGrory was rushed to St Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Riviera Beach Fire-Rescue, where he was pronounced dead. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line confirmed a passenger had been evacuated by authorities due to a medical emergency.

cruise ship medical monitorRecently, on August 29, 2018, Mr. Jerry Ho brought an action against Royal Caribbean Cruises in the Florida Southern District Court for their purported failure to provide lifesaving medical care (or in the alternative, to secure a timely medevac) to his wife.  According to the filed complaint, Ho alleges that the negligence of crew aboard the cruise line in responding to his wife’s need for immediate medical care led to her eventual death by congestive heart failure.

The facts alleged in the complaint certainly paint a concerning picture of crew member negligence and inadequate facilities.

In June 2017, Ho and his wife, Amy Tong, were traveling aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas, on a route taking them along the southern European coastline.  The ship was berthed in Naples, Italy when Tong told her husband that she was having difficulty breathing.  Tong suffered from lupus, though the condition had been managed appropriately for the lifetime of the disease.  Still, the risk of heart failure was sufficiently concerning to Ho and Tong that the couple made their way to the on-board medical facilities without delay.

boat motor and propeller On September 2, 2018, at approximately 12:30PM, a 15-year old boy fell off a 25-foot watercraft and was struck in the head by the boat propeller, thus sustaining fatal injuries. The incident occurred near Kemp Channel in the Florida Keys, close to Stock Island.

According to reports, the boy’s father was operating the boat, which was carrying eight passengers in total.  Reports indicate that the boat was adrift for some time when the father suddenly slipped and fell on the engine throttle, causing the vessel to unexpectedly accelerate. This led the boy to lose his balance and fall overboard, at which time he struck his head on the propeller.

The teen was immediately taken to Cudjoe Key where paramedics transported him to Lower Keys Medical Center and, unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries.

cruise ship bunk bedsOn January 25, 2018, while sailing aboard the Carnival Ecstasy with other family members, Eric Ewing decided to relax in his cabin and have a bite to eat.  Eric began to eat a slice of pizza while he sat comfortably on the edge of his bed. Per a Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dated April 25, 2018, suddenly and without warning, the upper bunk within his cabin came crashing down on Eric’s head. Per an announcement over the PA system, the Carnival Ecstasy had diverted off course to provide emergency medical care for a passenger having a medical emergency.  Eric noticed the vessel was no longer riding as smoothly after the change of course. Eric has now been diagnosed with a closed head traumatic brain injury, which now nine months later is causing him debilitating and life altering pain, and diminished cognitive abilities.

Eric is an honorably discharged U.S.M.C. veteran, father of two and was traveling aboard the Carnival Ecstasy with several direct and extended family members. Eric had sailed with Carnival on 27 occasions before the subject cruise and had earned the distinction of being a Platinum cruiser with Carnival.  Eric’s cabin, very similar to the above picture, had been configured by cruise staff to accommodate his wheelchair bound mother, who he and his family made it a point of traveling with as frequent as possible.  Unfortunately, and on the eve of the Cruise, Eric’s mother was unable to join her family on the cruise. Ordinarily, these cabins are configured with twin beds on each side and a nightstand between the beds.  An upper bunk is stowed above each lower bed and when not in use is folded up into the walls and out of the way.  If more than two passengers stay in a cabin, a Cabin Steward generally deploy or lowers any needed upper bunk while the room’s occupants are at dinner.  That way any needed upper bunk is ready and available for use after the cabin’s occupants return from dinner.  Conversely, the Cabin Steward folds up or raises any upper bunk the following morning while the cabin’s occupants are at breakfast.

Some things are very clear about this most unfortunate event, which has tragically robbed Eric of the life he once enjoyed.  Passengers don’t lower or raise upper bunks within their cabins aboard Carnival’s vessels.  In fact, passengers can’t.  The bunks have a locking mechanism that requires a special locking/unlocking tool or wrench.  Only Carnival personnel have the tool.  Without the tool, upper bunks cannot be unlocked and lowered at least when they are raised and locked in place when stowed.

cruise shipLast week, on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at roughly 6:15PM EST, a 74-year old woman who was a passenger traveling aboard Carnival Horizon — operated by the global cruise line giant, Carnival Cruises — was medevaced due to serious chest pains.  Personnel aboard Carnival Horizon were reportedly concerned that the chest pains indicated a possible heart issue, thus necessitating a medevac to a higher-level medical facility capable of treating the passenger.

According to reports, Carnival Horizon was just moving past Lower Manhattan when the passenger suffered the chest pains at-issue.  Crew notified Coast Guard watchstanders in the city at 5:45PM, and coordinated with relevant rescue authorities in the Coast Guard, Fire Department, and Police Department.

Though details are relatively sparse, it appears that rescue authorities were initially unsure about whether to conduct an airlift or to perform the medevac using a rescue boat.  Early reports indicate that the decision was made to send an NYPD Harbor Unit rescue boat after authorities determined that a helicopter could not be landed on the deck of the vessel.  This is not an uncommon problem aboard Cruise Ship’s.  In a recent case handled by Brais Law Firm a cruise vessel was not prepared to receive the helicopter and after running low on fuel the helicopter had to return to base, necessitating the USCG to send a second helicopter to evacuate a passenger in distress.

sexual assault On August 21, 2018, a cruise passenger — identified as Jane Doe — filed a lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises and Canyon Ranch Spa alleging she was sexual assaulted by a crew member while traveling aboard the Celebrity Summit cruise ship (between New Jersey and Bermuda) just a year ago.

As alleged in the complaint and reported by media, Doe was approached by a crew member who claimed to work for the Canyon Ranch spa and who was offering complimentary massages.  Doe says that she was subsequently led to a spa room where she was forcibly and inappropriately touched by the same crew member. More specifically, it is alleged that the crew member fondled her breasts and vaginal area.  Doe says that she was able to escape the room before the massage progressed further.

In the complaint, Doe alleges that the Defendants were negligent in failing to perform an adequate background check. Had they done so, the danger posed by the crew member could have been discovered and the crew member, in the first place, would not have been hired. This is a common problem with hiring crew from third world countries or countries with limited infrastructure and criminal reporting procedures.  Despite this risk cruise lines continue to hire from these countries because of the advantages of cheap labor. In the alternative, Doe alleges the crew member assailant should have been supervised more closely, and had that been done he would have been terminated, thus avoiding risk of harm to cruise passengers.

Zip Line The honeymoon of Israeli newlyweds, Egael Tishman, 24, and Shif Fanken, 27, came to a tragic end when the couple collided during a zip line excursion.  The couple was celebrating their honeymoon aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Allure of the Seas, which set sail from Fort Lauderdale on July 1st.  On Thursday, July 5th, while participating in a zip line excursion in Roatan, Honduras, the wife got stuck near the middle of the cable. Her husband came sliding down the zip line behind her, smashing into her.

The couple sustained severe injuries, including broken ribs.  They were taken to a local hospital, where the husband passed away. The wife was taken by air to a hospital in the United States Friday morning, where she underwent surgery and is reported to be in stable condition.

Honduran officials are investigating to determine the cause of the incident.  Zip line courses in the United States typically must comply with minimal safety standard.  Two well recognized standards include the Association for Challenge Course Technology (“ACCT”) and the American Society for Testing Materials International (“ASTM”).  Royal Caribbean utilizes a bid process by which they claim to vet shoreside excursion companies providing recreational activities advertised by the Cruise Line.  This bid process includes a trifecta of documents that reportedly must be completed every year.  These documents include: a Tour Operating & Basic Tour Information Profile, Universal Bid Template and Tour Operator Investment Profile.  These documents generally provide a description of the excursion and in the case of a zip line, sometimes the minimal safety standards to which the course was designed and built.

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