Bigger and bigger is not always better, especially when these floating cities visit smaller ports that are unable to accommodate the vessels or the sudden influx of people getting on or off the ships.
Cruise lines are in a heated race to build larger and more lavish cruise ships. Royal Caribbean’s
“Wonder of the Seas,” currently the world’s largest cruise ship, has a staggering 18 decks and a capacity of nearly 6,988 passengers plus 2,300 crew members. That’s roughly the equivalent of the population of Sedona, Arizona. These ships take years to build, and feature everything from zip lines to artificial surf machines, and actual neighborhoods full of restaurants, bars and stores to entertain passengers at sea. But bigger and bigger is not always better. especially when these floating cities visit smaller ports that are unable to accommodate the vessels or the sudden influx of people getting on or off the ships. For example, last week the ramp used by passengers to get on and off a cruise ship-known as a gangway-collapsed in Panama resulting in a number of serious injuries. The Norwegian .. Encore” was in Panama City during a 21-day Panama Canal cruise from Seattle to Miami when the gangway, located on deck six and connected to the concrete pier, failed with 11 people on it. Several of those passengers were taken to local hospitals for care. As a maritime accident lawyer who has investigated dozens of gangway-related incidents over the last 30 years, the most likely cause of this tragedy was due to improper installation and monitoring of the gangway. Usually, gangways are installed early in the morning when a ship first arrives in a port-during low tide. However, as the tide rises or falls during the day the angle of the gangway often can fluctuate, which can lead to an inevitable collapse. Cruise lines will typically blame the port for any kind of gangway failure; as few cruise ships sail with their own gangways. Instead, a ship will rely on the port to provide the gangway for their passengers and crew. Federal courts, however, have ruled that cruise lines have a legal duty that is “nondelegable” to provide reasonably safe means to get on and off the ship-which includes the gangway. In other words, the cruise line is legally responsible for their passengers to get on and off the ship, regardless of who installed the gangway. Many ports around the world have had to scramble to accommodate the increasing number of
large/mega cruise ships and do not have terminals that have permanent gangway structures that are attached to terminals. Rather, they use mobile gangways that can be quickly attached to the side of a ship. The Norwegian Encore is NCL’s largest ship and constant observation, and inspection must be made to make sure that gangways have not shifted into too steep of an angle with changes in tide. In addition to potentially collapsing, a gangway that is too steep is also a slipping hazard for most passengers who have to descend from a cruise ship to the port. Especially those who are elderly or disabled. Like most major cruise lines, NCL maintains their corporate office here in Miami and even though this incident occurred in Panama, and the Encore is registered in Nassau, Bahamas, any passenger who wishes to make a claim against the cruise line for negligence would have to file their case in federal court in Miami within one year of the date of the incident. While these requirements may be surprising, they are contained in the passenger ticket. Spencer Aronfeld, is a board-certified civil trial lawyer who has earned international recognition as being a “lawyer for the people.· Born in Chicago, Illinois. and raised in Wichita. Kansas. Aronfeld graduated cum /laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1991. Upon graduation. he founded Aronfeld Trial Lawyers. based in Coral Gables, Florida.
Published in Daily Business Review’s Board of Contributors