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Five Times Cruise Lines Put Profits Ahead of Passengers

New Times this past week described a decades-long pattern of cruise lines either covering up or incompetently dealing with sexual assaults aboard ships. In one case, an employee who had been fired by Carnival after such an allegation quickly found work on another ship. And a crew member who had molested a child admitted his crime and was quickly sent back to India, his home country, on the company's dime, thus avoiding prosecution. Cruise lines and politicians have resisted efforts to have independent law officers on ships to ensure passengers' safety and bust miscreants.

Here are five other times cruise companies have allegedly protected their bottom lines instead of their fare-paying passengers:

1. For years, cruise companies failed to provide lifeguards, making it easy for children such as 6-year-old Qwentyn Hunter to drown:

Thanks to an obscure, nearly 100-year-old law, cruise lines aren't liable for the big-money lawsuits that can be filed against land-bound resorts and hotels when a child drowns. If a passenger dies at sea, the cruise line is typically on the hook only for actual expenses, like the cost of a funeral. For a child like Qwentyn Hunter, that might total only $10,000.

So rather than pay for lifeguards to watch out for swimmers, the cruise lines simply chalk up lawsuits from occasional drownings as a lesser cost of doing business, says Jim Walker, a South Miami maritime lawyer who writes a popular cruise blog. "My view of course is that cruise lines don't hire lifeguards because it doesn't fit their business model," he says. "That's a place they can squeeze and make additional profits in a very competitive industry."

That obscure law is so important to the cruise industry's bottom line that the companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against any efforts to make shipowners pay families for their pain and suffering, or even for the cruise lines' own negligence.

2. Cruise ships staffed by ill-equipped medical providers have led to multiple passenger deaths, including that of Sunrise woman Cynthia Braaf:

Although Cynthia could have been airlifted off the ship once Royal Caribbean doctors realized she was in critical condition, she wasn't promptly evacuated, and her condition worsened overnight with limited medical assistance, the lawsuit states. ...

It is not uncommon for passengers who fall ill aboard cruise ships to die after failing to receive adequate medical care onboard.

Just months before Cynthia died at the age of 54, Amy Tong began suffering complications from lupus while aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise in Naples June 30, 2017. Though her husband immediately sought medical help, he was initially told the only medical facility for the nearly 5,000 people aboard the Freedom of the Seas was closed. More than 20 minutes later, he was able to get assistance for his wife, but ship doctors did not administer proper treatment, a lawsuit filed against Royal Caribbean this past August alleges. Within hours, she was dead.

3. In 2017, the Norwegian Breakaway knowingly sailed into a "bomb cyclone," terrifying passengers, according to a lawsuit:

Attorney Michael Winkleman of the Miami firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, points out this isn't the first time a cruise line put passengers in the path of a major winter storm. In February 2016, Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas was damaged and its passengers badly shaken after a day of hurricane-strength winds and waves on a voyage from New Jersey to Florida.

"This isn't a one-off," says Winkleman, whose office also represented passengers on that ship. "And you really have to see it from [the cruise line's] perspective, which is if they don't stay on itinerary, they don't make money. So for them to deviate from their course means a tremendous loss of revenue to them in a number of different ways, and in my opinion, that's a big driving factor as to why they're willing to put passengers' lives at risk. It's the almighty dollar, which is really tragic."

NCL, which passengers said did not offer refunds after the harrowing experience, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The company previously blamed the tumultuous journey on "stronger than forecasted weather conditions."

4. Royal Caribbean continued to promote a ziplining excursion in Honduras after at least ten people complained the company operated in a dangerous manner:

Alyda Chimene was one of at least ten passengers who complained to Royal Caribbean about their Roatan ziplining trips before this past July 5, when 24-year-old Igal Tyszman was killed on that same excursion. Tyszman crashed into his new wife, 27-year-old Shir Frenkel, during their honeymoon, according to a lawsuit Frenkel filed this past November in a case that has garnered international attention...

Though ziplining is generally safe and thousands of guests have enjoyed it around the world, significant problems have cropped up in Royal Caribbean's excursion in Roatan. To chronicle these issues, New Times reviewed emails to and from tour operators and the cruise line's legal department, guest injury statements, depositions from passengers, and statements submitted through a customer feedback portal. The problems echo those that allegedly led to Tyszman's death and Chimene's injuries: little or no communication between the starting and ending platforms, a lack of visibility, and a brake system that did not always work properly.

5. Cruise lines have resisted installing man-overboard detection systems despite repeated calls by crew members and Congress. According to Rosie Spinks, writing for the website Quartz this past December:

According to various manufacturers, the cost of such a system is between $300,000 and $500,000 per vessel — a significant expense, but less prohibitive when you consider that a 1,000-foot-plus mega-ship costs upwards of $1 billion to build. Installing a system fleet-wide would be an expense in the tens of millions for the large companies. But in the absence of enforced regulation, Klein says, “why spend money they don’t have to?”

Of course, automatic MOB technology could also trigger other costs for cruise companies. It’s easy to see how automated alarms — recording real MOBs and occasional false positives — could result in significant disruption to ship itineraries and tours, and routing and port delays, as well as missed flights and other inconveniences for passengers upon their return to land. (While cruise ships do sometimes participate in search and rescue missions, whether or not to so is often a calculation based on how far they’ve traveled since the incident, as well as guidance from authorities.) The financial consequences to cruise lines of this happening once or twice a month — and more, perhaps, with false positives — could certainly add up.

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