Cruise Ships

The cruise industry is growing rapidly, with 6 million cruise passengers worldwide in 1998, a 7.8 percent increase from the year before. Passengers can tour while indulging in parasailing, shopping, snorkeling and scuba diving. Ships are now being built to accommodate more than 3,000 passengers.

What can I expect regarding cruise ship security?

Remember that embarkation and debarkation may take longer to accommodate additional security procedures, so make sure to plan accordingly. Cruise ships may also alter itineraries to accommodate safety regulations. There is strict enforcement of required identification and nationality/travel papers. Boarding can be denied for failing to present proper documents. Be sure to check with your travel agent or the cruise line regarding the documentation you require. You may want to consider purchasing trip/vacation cancellation and interruption insurance from your travel agent or cruise line.

Review your cruise documents in advance for important information, guidelines and tips. Also, make sure that your baggage is clearly tagged with your name and contact information and that you have completed and attached the cruise tags provided with your cruise documentation so that your baggage can be routed to the proper cruise ship.

When on a cruise ship, whose laws are applicable?

Admiralty or maritime law governs navigation and shipping-and it is administered under federal law. These maritime laws govern not only in U.S. coastal waters, but any waters within the United States used for navigation. States have no jurisdiction to legislate or govern maritime matters.

Under Maritime law, a ship's flag determines what country has jurisdiction. Therefore, an American ship flying an American flag off the coast of Africa is still governed by American maritime law; similarly, Italian law would govern an Italian ship on the coast of California. This is important to keep in mind because the laws Americans are accustomed to might not be in force on a cruise ship. Many cruise lines have chosen to incorporate their base in countries where the laws are less strict than in the United States in order to facilitate their operations.

In other words, a cruise passenger's rights are, to a large extent, defined by the terms and conditions set forth in the passenger ticket. The passenger's ticket may contain a "forum selection clause," which requires that all passenger lawsuits be brought to the local court where the cruise line is headquartered.

Is smoking permitted on cruise ships?

While the areas where smoking is permitted are disappearing, many cruise ships still allow smoking. Just as on land, the dining rooms, lounges, and showrooms are divided into smoking and nonsmoking areas.

There are more smokers outside the United States and many countries do not yet have anti-smoking policies. Therefore, you can expect more smokers and fewer rules on ships that depart or tour from non-U.S. ports.

Must a cruise line provide emergency medical care on board its ships?

Guidelines vary slightly depending on the ship and cruise line. However, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the International Council of Cruise Lines cooperate to deliver care to all cruise ship passengers. Major cruise ships' hospitals are compliant with ACEP's guidelines for evaluating passengers and providing reasonable emergency medical care. The medical staff should be on duty 24 hours a day.

Guidelines require that physicians:

  • speak English;
  • have a current medical license;
  • have 3 years of post-medical school practice;
  • are board certified in emergency medicine, family practice, internal medicine or general practice; and
  • have emergency experience.

However, there are no internationally enforced standards for medical care professionals or their medical equipment. In addition, cruise lines are not typically liable for any medical malpractice committed by their on-board doctors and nurses, although there have been exceptions. Make sure to discuss any medical needs with your travel agent or the cruise line representative before booking your cruise.

Can I sue a cruise line for an illness I contracted while on board a ship?

Read your ticket carefully. Even though cruise lines may distribute brochures in your area and take orders from retail travel agents, if you become sick or injured due to the fault of the cruise line, a lawsuit must be filed within 1 year. There are a few exceptions, which only apply in rare instances.

The cruise line ticket may specify where to file a suit. If you file your suit in the wrong location and 1 year has gone by, your case could be thrown out of court.

TIP: The same crimes that occur on land occur on ships. For your safety:

  • make sure your children are never alone or unsupervised;
  • do not open your cabin door to strangers; and
  • do not leave your cabin door unlocked.

If a crime occurs, get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses. If necessary, immediately call an experienced maritime attorney.

Must cruise ships comply with the American with Disabilities Act?

Many cruise ships in use today were not designed for passengers with disabilities-especially if they were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. In fact, a passenger with a disability should carefully investigate any ship that's more than 8 years old. Many of the cruise lines with older ships are now making an effort to upgrade cabins to accommodate disabled passengers.

Newer ships must comply with the American with Disabilities Act and offer cabins designed specifically for disabled passengers. Be sure that it is wheelchair accessible, that bathrooms have no barriers, that there are elevators and that there is room for your wheelchair in the cabin. There are not many of these cabins per ship, so book early.

As of 2004, foreign cruise lines sailing in U.S. waters must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires access to passengers in wheelchairs. Disabled individuals who board cruise ships while docked in U.S. waters need to be given access to ship pools, restaurants and emergency equipment.

If I participate in an offshore activity such as scuba diving or parasailing, is the cruise line liable if there is an accident?

Independent contractors who are not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts typically conduct activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, visiting archaeological sites and riding on catamarans or helicopters. They are often uninsured and unlicensed, so you have little recourse if something goes wrong.

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