Many of us have dreamed of a luxury cruise and visiting exotic destinations from the comfort of our berth. However, in addition to the ordinary risks of being at sea which is now largely mitigated by the substantial size of these ocean liners and the technology which they bear, there is also the risk of harm from fellow passengers and crew members.
Sexual assaults accounted for over 75 % of all reported crimes on cruise ships. Unsuspecting passengers are lulled into a false sense of security, viewing the cruise ship as a safe space. In addition, because most of the investigations are conducted internally by the operators and crew of the cruise ships, the investigations are either incomplete or designed to protect the reputation of the cruise line itself.
In order for a victim of the sexual assault or any harm which befalls a passenger on a cruise ship to be successful in a claim, not only should they take cognisance of the local law, such as our own 3 year prescription period in the case of an adult injured on sea. But, also whether there are any pre-conditions attached to the purchase of the ticket.
Some of the grounds of negligence which can be alleged against the cruise liner include common carrier strict liability or those which would be applicable to a hotelier. In addition, general breach of duty or care allegations which include inadequate security and a failure to warn can be relied on. In our jurisdiction, the claim for damages would be made up of special damages – including a claim for past and future medical and hospital expenses and depending on the severity of the injury, past and future loss of earning, and in addition general damages for pain and suffering and loss of amenities.
When investigating the claim, the cruise liner’s policies and procedures need to be considered together with the terms and conditions on the purchase of tickets. In addition, many cruise liners have surveillance videos and recordings, and these should be made available and requested as soon as reasonably possible. If there is a dispute as to who the perpetrator was, the passenger manifesto should be obtained.
In our own South African jurisdiction, an issue which may arise is whether the claim should be brought directly or out of the head office or principal place of business of the cruise liner. There are instances when a foreign jurisdiction may appear more attractive as the damages are greater, but courts generally do not approve of forum shopping.