Miami-Based Royal Caribbean to Add Lifeguards on Cruises

After a series of high-profile drownings aboard its cruise ships, Royal Caribbean has begun quietly advertising positions for lifeguards.

The cruise line — which is headquartered in Miami, and the county's eighth-largest private employer — posted the job description on an onboard TV channel Wednesday. The posting was sent to Miami maritime attorney Jim Walker by an anonymous crew member who snapped a photo of his screen:

Although multiple children drown or nearly drown in cruise ship pools each year, Disney has been the only major cruise line to staff lifeguards on its ships. New Times published an in-depth story on that issue in September, outlining how an outdated law protects the industry from liability in deaths at sea. Big Cruise has spent millions of dollars lobbying against attempts to change the law, even fighting a bill that would have helped surviving family members of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 because it could interfere with cruise law.

The decision to hire lifeguards is a stark departure from Royal's corporate stance on poolside safety just a few months ago. In September, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez told New Times the onus was on parents and caregivers to watch over young swimmers.

"Signs are always posted that warn passengers to swim at their own risk, similar to what is found at many hotels," Martinez said in a statement at the time. "We have provided our fleet with children's lifejackets available at the pool area as an added safety precaution. We still strongly recommend that children not be in the pool area unsupervised."

Without lifeguards watching over the pool, at least four children and one elderly woman have drowned or nearly drowned on Royal Caribbean's ships since 2014.

A 6-year-old British boy was hospitalized in serious condition following a near-drowning on the Independence of the Seas in May 2014. In January 2015, 4-year-old Ascanio Azzia nearly drowned on the Oasis of the Seas, and in December of that year, 8-year-old Ricky Nguyen lost his life after drowning on the Liberty of the Seas.

Just this past July, 8-year-old Prince Adepoju died after hospitalization from a near-drowning on the Anthem of the Seas, and in August, a 72-year-old woman nearly drowned in the pool on the same ship.

Multiple lawsuits against cruise lines have been filed by families whose children have drowned onboard, including two against Royal by the Azzias and the Nguyens.

Michael Winkleman, a Miami maritime attorney who represents both families, says hiring lifeguards is a worthwhile expense that will save lives.

“I am overjoyed that Royal Caribbean has finally taken such a positive step in the right direction, but it is so sad that children had to die in order to achieve this," he tells New Times.

Royal Caribbean did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.