Carnival claims your ticket doesn’t guarantee a safe, sanitary cruise?

by Ned Levi on December 23, 2013

Carnival Cruise Lines, photo courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Remember reading about the Carnival Cruise Lines “poop cruise,” as it was dubbed? That was the Carnival Triumph cruise last February, when an engine room fire disabled the ship’s propulsion system, most of its power systems and its sewage system, causing the ship’s toilets to overflow, spewing feces into cabins which floated into the hallways.

Since that ill-fated cruise, there have been law suits brought against Carnival seeking compensation for passengers.

Attorneys for the cruise line have stated, in their client’s defense, the contract which passengers agree to when they bought their tickets,

“…makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions.”

Whether or not that’s true, it certainly won’t sit well with travelers considering a Carnival cruise.

Let’s take a look at what happened during the Carnival Triumph’s early February cruise.

A fire broke out in the aft engine room of the ship. While the fire was quickly and automatically extinguished, it resulted in a general loss of ship’s power and propulsion. No one was injured and emergency generators continued to provide some limited power. But, the ship was left adrift about 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico.

Passengers on the ship described squalid conditions soon after the fire. The loss of power on the Triumph resulted in no air conditioning, no elevators and, worse, overflowing toilets in passenger areas. The kitchen had little power and couldn’t prepare hot meals. Some passengers reported that for a while, Triumph’s potable water system was inoperative.

Triumph cruiser, Bettina Rodriguez, said of her experience on the “poop cruise,”

“Just on our deck alone, there were the biohazard bags lined up across the floor. We’re talking about raw sewage at just the end of our deck alone. It was repulsive.”

Gary Keyes of Baton Rouge told a reporter,

“My wife (is) on this cruise and has said the conditions were horrible. No power, no water, having to use the bathroom in bags.”

Some passengers slept on the ship’s open decks rather than stay in their rooms because of the lack of air conditioning and unsanitary conditions on the decks where their cabins were located.

Today’s modern cruise ships utilize highly complex systems for propulsion, safety, food preparation and service, potable water, sewage service and safety, etc. These ships are, in essence, floating villages and, in some cases, floating cities — a few with a population approaching 8,000, counting passengers and crew.

I think we need to ask, can Carnival or any cruise line actually guarantee a safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food and sanitary and safe living conditions? Guarantee is an awfully absolute word, so I’d say, “Generally no.” But, as Carnival stated to the court, Carnival “merely has to exercise a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances.” I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but I think that’s essentially the realistic requirement they must fulfill.

The question then becomes, “What’s reasonable?”

Delving further into the Triumph “poop” cruise, we learn that,

1. Triumph set sail on the cruise with only four of six generators fully operational.

2. According to Staff Chief Engineer, Michele Bertella, in a report dated December, 2011, the Number 6 generator (the one which caught fire) was overdue for maintenance and not in compliance with SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) requirements. CNN has reported that Carnival maintenance documents, since then, indicate the maintenance on the generator was not completed as of the February sailing.

3. Carnival put out an advisory notice in February 2012, based on inspections of the Costa Allegra, which had a fire very similar to that on Triumph, stating that a number of specific upgrades to its flexible fuel lines were imperative.

4. Carnival’s maintenance reports indicate, despite nine incidents in just two years, resulting in fuel leaks associated with flexible fuel lines like those on Allegra and Triumph, that when Triumph sailed in February, not all work required by their advisory was completed. This indicates to me an institutional failing of Carnival, which should have ensured the work was completed long before this particular sailing.

5. Carnival insists the Triumph fire was an accident. Yet, Carnival has authorized $300 million for a fleet-wide safety upgrade, to prevent potential fire hazards in its engine rooms as occurred on Triumph.

The fire in Triumph made it impossible for the ship to sail under its own power, maintain the integrity of its potable water and sewage systems, and provide hot food to passengers and crew.

Based on the above information, did Carnival exercise their duty to provide reasonable care to ensure Triumph was a seaworthy vessel, provide adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe conditions for its passengers?

I would respond with a resounding, “No.”

I don’t believe anyone could conclude that Carnival provided reasonable care, to the best of any cruise line’s ability, to provide a seaworthy and safe Triumph for its February, 2013 sailing.

Considering the seriousness of the problems encountered by passengers during Triumph’s February cruise, it’s my opinion the cruise industry, and Carnival in particular, must make serious institutional changes, to ensure they provide their passengers seaworthy and safe cruise ships, with reasonable diligence.

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