Beginning with the adoption of the first version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in response to the Titanic disaster, there have been numerous safety standards for the construction, equipment and operation of most ships on the seas. While 1974 amendments to SOLAS made great strides in cruise ship safety, recent disasters at sea and port thrust the issue of cruise safety back into the spotlight. From ships running aground and sinking to major fires, cruise ship calamities have become a mainstay of most major news coverage, giving many potential passengers reasons to carefully consider their next vacation.
Among SOLAS’ provisions, the agreement contains regulations related to watertight standards, fire safety, lifesaving appliances and radio communications such as the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). Any passenger ships or cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage or more on international voyages must carry equipment that improves the chances of rescue following an accident. This includes satellite emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and search and rescue transponders (SARTs), which are capable of locating the ship or survival craft after an emergency.
Despite SOLAS’ stringent requirements, cruise ship companies regularly flunk safety inspections or experience serious accidents. For example, during a recent U.S. Coast Guard assessment, the fire safety and emergency equipment of a new ship failed inspection, delaying the ship’s launch. In another case, five crewmembers died during an emergency drill related to lifeboat safety test.
Cruise lines cleaning up their act?
Several recent cases highlight the prevalence of cruise ships’ failure to meet the sanitation standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recently introduced the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) to prevent and control the transmission and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruises. Under the authority of the Public Health Service Act, VSP is now part of the National Center for Environmental Health’s Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services.
Cruise lines still, however, run afoul of the CDC’s standards. In one recent case, the Carnival Fascination failed one of the CDC’s twice-a-year surprise check-ups due to issues related to insects and water quality in on-board swimming pools. While passengers often suffer only mild discomfort from such conditions, in certain instances individuals have become extremely ill.
Victims injured by unsafe cruise ship conditions should seek legal advice from trained professionals with experience in the cruise industry.