Cruise Ship Accidents

The ocean cruise line industry continues to grow exponentially every year. With newer, larger vessels and more local port options, the number of cruise ship passengers is on the rise. Cruise ship companies spend tens of millions each year on flashy ads to entice people to invest in the cruise experience of their dreams. In North Carolina, the ports of call are as close as Norfolk, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland, with numerous ports in Florida.

Closest Ports of Call to North Carolina Map

What some don’t realize is how many dream cruises have quickly turned into nightmares.

Some of these nightmares could include:

  • Sinking
  • Running aground
  • Capsizing
  • Collisions with land, rocks, docks, bridges, icebergs, etc.
  • Terrorist and pirate attacks
  • Virus outbreaks such as legionnaire’s disease and norovirus
  • Unexplained deaths and drownings on land tours/shore excursions
  • Sexual assaults of minors by Disney cruise ship crew members

While these situations are relatively rare, equipment malfunctions do occur frequently, such as the 2013 generator fire aboard the Carnival ship Triumph. Dubbed the “poop cruise” by the media, the fire caused electrical and plumbing systems to shut down. More than 4,000 on board were stranded at sea for four days before the ship could be towed to shore. North Carolina Public Radio reported one woman’s horrifying experience:

“… some passengers panicked. People were hoarding food — boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands,” she said. “Toilets stopped working and the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew had to urinate in sinks and eventually red plastic bags.” She saw sewage dripping down walls. “Sometimes people slipped on it,” she said. Soon, the ship began to smell. “It was like a hot port-o-potty.” And when the ship tilted, “it would spill.”

Shockingly, the Triumph crew knew of the potential fire hazard but set sail regardless, according to CNN.

These things happen more often than you might like to think. But you typically won’t hear or read about them. One of the reasons is that 90% of all commercial vessels calling on U.S. ports are foreign-flagged, so the U.S has no jurisdiction over how those ships report incidences. Another is that these mega cruise companies do a very good job of keeping many of these types of things quiet. One Disney ship’s security officer quit after she investigated a sexual assault of a minor and was told not to report the incident to U.S. authorities.

Types of Cruise Ship Mishaps

According to CruiseMinus, an organization that categorizes and chronicles cruise ship accidents, cruise ship accidents and incidents can be classified as:

  • Disasters. Sinking, grounding, capsizing, collision, allision (when the ship strikes a fixed object), terrorist and pirate attacks, pollution, crashes, and deaths on land tours/shore excursions
  • Mechanical. Fire, propulsion issues, power loss – often result in cruise cancellations
  • Sickness/illness outbreaks. Norovirus/gastrointestinal, influenza, Legionnaire’s disease – often (but not always) result in delayed embarkation or itinerary changes
  • Deaths. Overboard jumps/missing passengers and crew members, drownings in ship pools, critical traumas, murder, suicide, heart attacks
  • Injuries. Rape, assault, battery, fractures by accidental falling/slipping
  • Crimes. Bomb threats, robbery, drug smuggling/possession, arrests for past fugitive warrants, theft, belligerent behavior and indecent exposure
  • Weather. Heavy fog, squalls, storms, hurricanes – usually result in itinerary changes and ports of call delays

Common Cruise Ship Accidents

While cruise ships always face the risk of mechanical failures and acts of God, such as rogue waves and severe storms, accidents and injuries can be preventable with the right preparation. Sometimes, these accidents are the result of the negligence of ship’s crew. The most common accidents on cruise ships are caused by:

  • Rogue waves – waves that can reach height of up to 100 ft.
  • Hurricanes and squalls/heavy storms at sea – 10 such events per season on average
  • Ship fires – 72 onboard fires occurred between 1990–2011
  • Collisions – 6 cruise vessels sunk hitting the sea bottom/rocks and reefs or icebergs between 1990–2012, the most notorious of which was the Costa ship Concordia, which left 33 dead
  • Allisions – when the vessel strikes a fixed object (such as pier, rocks, buoy, etc.), usually happens during docking/undocking maneuvers
  • Norovirus – an average of 15 virus outbreaks on cruise ships happen every year

Common Cruise Ship Accidents by the Numbers Inforgraphic

However, despite the variety of mishaps that could happen on cruise ships, one of the most common injuries on cruise ships are still casual injuries, like slip and fall accidents – whether that’s because of rough tides or something as small as slipping in the shower and injuring yourself.

Health & Safety Negligence

More cruise ships failed health and safety inspections in 2017 than in any year in the past decade, a MarketWatch analysis of reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. This news comes as the cruising and tourism industries are on an uptick. In fact, the industry experienced a 7% increase in bookings from 2017 to 2018, totaling 28.5 million more passengers than average, and the Cruise Line Industry Association projected 30 million passengers would book cruises in 2019.

Violations run the gamut, from improperly stored items to crew members working despite having symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness. In 2017, there were 14 instances in which a cruise ship failed a health inspection, and only half the ships were re-inspected in a timely manner, says the CDC.

The CDC reported 11 outbreaks of gastroenteritis aboard a cruise ship in 2018 and thus far in 2019, 9 outbreaks have been reported. While most cruise ships go through immense lengths to minimize the spread of disease through intensive cleaning and quarantine processes, not all of them manage to be as thorough as they’d like to be. Passengers affected by illness can still seek compensation from the cruise ship company, such as a refund on their trip as well as compensation for the care and treatment they had to receive because of their illness. They may even file for lost wages if effects from their illness continues beyond their trip.

Sexual Assault

While cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean have reputations for running background checks to refuse registered sex offenders from boarding their ships, most sexual offenses on a cruise ship are not committed by known sexual predators. Some are attributed to other passengers or crew members with no history of sexual abuse. In 2018 and 2019, according to the US Department of Transportation cruise ship incident report, 77% of criminal acts occurring on cruise ships were from assault, the majority of them sexual assault.

Cruise Disasters

Cruises are generally safe, but when disaster befalls a ship in open seas, the consequences can be drastic. System failures can leave thousands of passengers stranded for days without adequate food or sanitary systems. Navigational errors, such as failing to avoid areas frequented by pirates, or running aground may potentially be clear cases for negligence. The high-profile 2012 crashing of the Costa Concordia into a reef off the coast of Tuscany resulted in 33 deaths and 64 injuries, according to the Associated Press.

Passenger Mistakes

When a passenger is injured aboard a cruise or a cruise excursion, sometimes the cruise company may try to minimize the injury by pointing the finger at the passenger. When this happens, you may need sound legal advice. Cruise passengers injured, assaulted, or violated during their cruise often make one of four big mistakes:

  1. Failing to read and understand the terms and conditions of the cruise ticket contract. Given to all passengers before they embark on a cruise, the cruise ticket contract contains all the limitations against the cruise ship line/company and the specific terms for filing an injury claim.
  2. Failing to report the cruise accident/injury immediately after it occurred. In order to try to receive compensation, a person on board the cruise ship should act immediately to report the incident/injury, collect witnesses’ testimonies, and document the claim to cruise ship authorities. In many cases, you may only have up to one year to make a claim.
  3. Settling for less. After being injured, a cruise passenger is likely to be shortchanged by the cruise line/company, who may want to settle the claim by offering worthless gifts like vouchers, for example.
  4. Not seeking proper medical care. Most passengers will visit the ship’s medical center after being injured, but will fail to follow up with their doctors once they are off the ship and return home. For a positive outcome regarding the claim, it is important to document the injury.

Get a FREE Case Evaluation from NC Personal Injury Lawyers

The cruise industry often embellishes the cruise experience to make passengers seem safer than they may be. Often many cruise accidents are the result of crew or cruise line negligence. If you or a loved one has been injured on a cruise ship or one of their excursions, contact us immediately or call 1-866-900-7078. You may only have one year to make a claim.

Our experienced attorneys stand ready to fight any cruise line including Carnival, Disney Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean (RCCL), Princess Cruises, Holland America, Celebrity, Costa, Regent, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCCL), Seabourn, Crystal, and many others.

The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin consults with a national network of attorneys on product liability, defective drugs, defective products, and cruise ship accident cases in an attempt to provide the best representation we can for our clients. Depending on the details of your case, our firm will likely refer your matter to another law firm with which we associate. We will only do this if we believe it is in your best interests and if you agree.