CAVEAT EMPTOR(Buyer Beware) the Cruise Line Passenger Ticket
By Hermann Paul
While the subject matter has been written on before, possibly many have not been made aware of a current practice by some cruise lines. I have reference to inserting in the passenger ticket reference to the "Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and Their Luggage by Sea of 1976" also known as the "The Athens Convention. A "Convention: is the same as a treaty and the Athens Convention has never been ratified by the United States." Most of the European cruise lines, especially English and Greek have ratified this Convention.
In recent times a number of cruise lines, especially Princess Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Holland America have insert a provision in their passenger tickets that reads like the following:" On cruises which neither embark, disembark nor call on any U.S. port, the cruise line shall be entitled to any and all liability limitations, immunities and rights applicable to the "Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and Their Luggage by Sea of 1976," also referred to as the "Athens Convention." The "Athens Convention" limits to the carrier liability for death of or personal injury to no more than $46666 Special Drawing Rights,(SDR). This amount in U.S., dollars fluctuates. As of January 15, 2003 this would amount to $63,512. You could not file a civil suit in a Federal District court for this amount since the minimum has to be $75,000.
To comprehend why the "Athens Convention " can be onerous to a United States citizen, the following cruises may be helpful. The passenger book a cruise that starts in London, cruises the Baltic and returns to London or any other European port. The passenger books a cruise that starts on Aruba and ends in Acapulco. Should the passenger be injured, while suit may be filed in a designated the United States court, if the Forum Selection Clause requires this, the cruise line can petition the court to limit liability to 46666 SDR.
I have wondered what position the cruise lines, that insert this provision in their passenger ticket, might take when the passenger embarks and disembarks in Vancouver, British Columbia. Or-embarks and disembarks in Ensenda, Mexico on a Hawaiian cruise. It would seem that the cruise lines may not be able to plead the "Athens Convention" since the cruise stopped at U.S. ports.
Why have the cruise lines that refer to the Athens Convention in their the "Athens Convention" "a cruise that does not come up to agreed specification may give the passenger right to damages for lost holiday and all the mental stress, inconvenience, upset, disappointment , inferior stateroom and frustration. Try suing for these in a United States court. For many years. Except in the case of rape or sexual assault you cannot sue in a U.S. court for emotional or physiological distress. Great Britain has tried to get the limit of 46666 SDR increased but with no success. It seems the British courts have awarded higher amounts.
Unfortunately in the United States Maritime or Admiralty laws are designed to benefit the shipowners and operators, not the passengers. The lobbyists for the foreign flagged cruise lines have more power with Congress than the citizens of the United States.
The writer is not an attorney, not offering legal advice; for that you need an experienced attorney. The subject matter is non-profit educational information and for reader interest.
I'm not a lawyer, but the major cruise lines that have "nexus" (basically, an office) in the United States and who market their products here in the States probably cannot escape liability under applicable U. S. law directly.
That said, bear in mind that most cruise companies actually are tangled webs of corporate entities that have sufficient outside ownership to make them legally independent even though effectively controlled by a common parent through certain contractual relationships. By way of example, there's usually a separate subsidiary corporation for each ship, for which the company that you know as the cruise line legally acts only as an agent. As a result, your claim for an injury that occurs aboard ship would be against the corporation that owns the ship rather than against the agent company. Since the company that owns the ship probably does not have "nexus" (a physical presence) in the United States, the courts of the United States might not be able to exercise jurisdiction over such a claim.
I don't want to use a real cruise line and a real ship to illustrate this point, so let's say that you take a cruise aboard the SS Neversail of a cruise line named Crazy Idiot's Lines and you sustain an injury while aboard the ship. The real owner of the vessel is a Liberian corporation named SS Neversail Ltd. which is partly owned by Crazy Idiot's Lines, Inc., a U. S. cruise company that also acts as agent for the ship, and partly owned by a few wealthy investors. Sure enough, the vessel is of Liberian registry and her stern proudly displays her home port of Monrovia -- where she has never been -- below her name. If you are injured during the cruise, your claim is not against Crazy Idiot's Lines, Inc. Rather, your claim is against SS Neversail, Inc. -- the Liberian company, which does not have nexus anywhere in the United States. Unless the vessel actually comes to a U. S. port, where U. S. authorities can impound it, no U. S. court has any capacity whatsoever to enforce any judgement against either the vessel or her owner. You have no claim whatsoever against Crazy Idiot's Lines, Inc., as that company acted only as an agent, and the court cannot assess the liability against Crazy Idiot's Lines, Inc., because a corporation's liability does not pass to its shareholders.
Well, to be kind I think that Hanna's post is "befuddled". I'd strongly suggest a vacation choice other than cruising. Despite the fact that cruising consistently reflects the best value in the Travel Industry and the highest repeat and satisfaction rate in the Travel Industry, Hanna would immerse us in the murky bowels of archaic maritime law... for reasons that to me are as obscure as those laws and tradition are themselves.