It’s been a rough start to the new year for the cruise industry, to say the least. Just two months into 2012, we’ve seen sunken cruise ships, infections disease, and the latest development - a cruise ship fire.
Costa Concordia Runs Aground
It all started on January 13. The Costa Concordia was cruising peacefully along the Italian coast when it struck a rocky reef as it sailed past the island of Giglio. The collision left a hole in the side of the ship and began to tilt as it started taking on water. 4,000 passengers were aboard the Costa Concordia. While some were able to get aboard a lifeboat before the ship capsized, others jumped ship with the hopes of reaching the near by shore. And others went down with the ship. The latest death toll from the tragedy stands at 25.
The story of the sunken Costa Concordia is one we haven’t heard of since the Titanic. The images of the capsized ship, and videos of the chaos captured by passengers have undoubtedly left a scar on the cruise industry. And it could have been much worse. After hitting the reef, the Costa Concordia lost power and slowly came to a stop in deep water far from shore. It was only the fortuity of a stiff breeze which blew the ship into shallow water before it sank that prevented “Titanic-like” loss of life.
For the passengers aboard the Costa Concordia who survived, and for the families of passengers who did not – the legal battle ahead will be as rocky as the cruise itself.
The rules for seeking redress are spelled out in complex, multi-page ticket contracts. The contract provides information about where a lawsuit can be filed and how long a victim has to file suit. In the case of the Costa Concordia wreck, the ticket contract stated that "all claims, controversies, disputes, suits and matters of any kind whatsoever ... shall be instituted only in the courts of Genoa, Italy."
Many survivors and their families are now discovering the challenges of the Italian court system. According to news reports, Italian lawyers rarely accept cases on a contingency basis, so clients may have to pay them up front to take a case. And, because the Costa Concordia's captain is under investigation for allegedly abandoning ship, the criminal investigation must be completed before evidence will be made available to plaintiff attorneys in civil cases.
Some U.S. plaintiff lawyers are attempting to test the Costa Concordia's contract terms by bringing action in Florida, home base of Carnival Corp.
Norovirus Outbreaks on Cruise Ships
Just as the daily news cycle surrounding the Costa Concordia was starting to come to a simmer, more bad news came from the high seas.
On February 4, two Princess cruise ships experienced outbreaks of Norovirus
, a gastro-intestinal disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Between the two ships affected, the Crown Princess and the Ruby Princess, nearly 500 cases were reported. The two ships were cleaned and sent back out to sea for their next voyage.
Less than a week later, the Crown Princess was forced to return to port due to a second outbreak, cutting its voyage short.
Princess Cruise Lines was not the only cruise line to experience Norovirus outbreaks this season. Other ships include: Voyager of the Sea (Royal Caribbean), Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Constellation (Celebrity Cruise Lines), and the Aurora (P&O Cruise Lines). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks all cases of Norovirus on cruise ships through its Vessel Sanitation Program
While Norovirus can certainly ruin an expensive and long planned for vacation, legal action can only be successful if the illness was a direct result of the cruise line’s negligence. Norovirus spreads easily and quickly in crowded and compact spaces, such as cruise ships. Cruise lines have standard procedures and cleaning protocols in place to prevent the spread of the disease, and other illnesses. However, if a cruise line failed to properly follow these protocols and you become ill due to the cruise line’s negligence, you may be able to make a claim for damages. Only an experienced cruise ship attorney will be able to evaluate your case.
Costa Allegra Cruise Ship Fire
On Monday, February 27, the Costa Allegra was disabled in the Indian Ocean off the Seychelles after a blaze broke out in an engine room. The Costa Allegra is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp. The engine fire was put out quickly, however the ship was left adrift without any power. The ship is carrying 636 passengers and 413 crew members, so far no injuries have been reported.
Tugboats, aircraft and other vessels were dispatched to the ship. The Associated Press reported that passengers were being held in communal rooms rather than cabins and were likely to sleep on outside decks; the fire cut power to engines as well as lights and air conditioning.
According to news reports, the ship is expected to dock in Mahe, the main Seychelles island, on Thursday.