The International Cruise Victims Association (ICV), a network of families and survivors, is all too familiar with the consequences when boat operators are not held accountable for safety.
The fatal fire on the Conception dive boat was devastating. With 34 lives lost, this was the worst maritime disaster in California in modern day times.
The quick legal maneuvers taken by the boat representatives to deflect responsibility are deplorable. However, most Americans are unaware that these tragic deaths fit a heartbreaking pattern in which maritime laws protect maritime operators at the expense of passenger and crew safety.
Two legal ploys are often used to dodge responsibility for safety:
- Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 protects boat operators by limiting their liability to the residual value of the boat after the incident;
- Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 protects boat operators by limiting their liability to nominal funeral expenses for many passengers.
The cruise industry spends millions of dollars lobbying Congress to defend these outdated laws despite the mounting loss of life. More Americans have been killed on cruise ships in the last ten years than have died in commercial airplane crashes, even though airlines carried thirty times as many passengers.
Reform legislation has already been introduced to the Senate Commerce Committee (S.1062) that will make significant progress toward safeguarding lives at sea. It is long overdue for Congress to enact laws to protect maritime travelers. Members of Congress who fail to pass reforms now will be complicit in future maritime tragedies.