As a lawyer who sues cruises lines–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, MSC, Disney, and others–I am frequently asked who regulates cruise ships, as well as where and how are these rules enforced. In this multi-part post, we will examine a number of organizations around the world that are responsible for improving the safety and security of cruise ships, as well as assessing the limitations of each organization.  

The International Maritime Organization: Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans”

It seems to me that most cruise lines are operating without governmental oversight, or else with very little. The work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) work is important because it creates a universal standard in the international maritime industry.(( The IMO was formerly known as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) until 1982. ))  Since cruise ships are often registered in one country, say the Bahamas, but port in countries all over the world, there should be a universal safety standard that applies to all ships for certain things such as the ratio of passenger capacity to lifeboats, sanitation, and fire protection. Otherwise, cruise lines could simply choose to follow the rules of countries with less stringent safety requirements, or none at all.  

The IMO is an agency of the United Nations and is responsible for “measures” designed to improve the safety and security of cruise ships, as well as other vessels involved in international shipping, along with legal matters, including shipping accidents and claims. It was created in Geneva in 1948 and met for the first time in 1959. The IMO currently has 172 Member States and meets once every two years. Its main technical work is carried out by the Maritime Safety, Marine Environment Protection, Legal, Technical Cooperation and Facilitation Committees and a number of sub-committees, all overseen by its current Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, from the Republic of Korea.

A number of IMO sub-committees oversee various aspects of international shipping, ranging from safety, to pollution, ports, and legal issues. Perhaps one of the most important features of the IMO is the way it identifies all cruise ships. Each cruise ship is issued an IMO number for the life of the vessel, regardless of any changes in ownership, flag, or name.  

Safety of Life at Sea Convention, aka SOLAS

As a result of the tragedy of the Titanic, the Safety of Life at Sea Convention was passed to ensure uniform safety requirements for merchant ships, including minimum standards for their construction and safety procedures, such as radio communications, life boats, and navigation.  

There have been multiple versions of the act since it was first adopted in 1914. Each cruise ship sails under the flag of a certain country, called a Flag State, and those countries are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with SOLAS’s requirements. They do this by issuing a certificate of compliance. In addition, Contracting Governments must inspect these ships, a procedure known as port State control.  The United States has been a member since 1968.

The Athens Convention

One of the key conventions that deals with cruise ship passenger injury cases against cruise lines is the Athens Convention, first adopted in 1974. The Athens Convention establishes a policy for limiting liability for damage suffered by passengers on cruise ships when the damage is caused by the fault or neglect of the cruise lines. The Convention allows cruise lines to limit their liability except in cases where the cruise line acted with intent or recklessly knew that an injury would probably result.  

The Convention also mandates that cruise lines maintain compulsory insurance to cover passengers’ accidents on ships, and it introduced mechanisms to assist passengers in obtaining compensation.

The Protocol also includes an “opt-out” clause, enabling State Parties to retain or introduce higher limits of liability (including unlimited liability) in the case of carriers who are subject to the jurisdiction of their courts.

Speak with an Experienced Cruise Ship Accident Lawyer Today: 1-866-597-4529

Representing people who are involved in accidents on cruise ships requires an in-depth understanding of not only the regulations of the IMO and SOLAS, but also the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence as well as personal injury law and medicine.  Our personal injury law firm in Miami has been successfully handling claims against the cruise lines since 1991 on behalf of injured people from around the world.

If you have been injured while on a cruise, on a gangway, tender, in port, on an excursion, contact our cruise ship accident lawyers today for a free initial consultation.  Our offices are available to assist you by telephone, at 305-441-0440, or toll free at 1-866-597-4529, email at, SKYPE, or FACETIME. We have found the sooner we are contacted and retained and can initiate our investigation, the more likely we will be able to obtain money in compensation for our clients’ medical expenses, lost wages, travel expenses, loss of cruise and pain and suffering.

Call us today–we are ready to help.  

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