Cruise Line Passengers: Know Your Rights

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has strict regulations both national and internationally that protect passengers against crimes that take place aboard a cruise ship. Though these regulations are strict, it can be difficult navigating the legal system when you have to work with international governing bodies, the flag state’s governing authorities, and more. Many cruise ship crimes are non-violent, and usually indicate an issue within the cruise line’s customer service department – however, serious crimes involving the safety of the passengers aboard can occur no matter how many regulations are in place.

Who Makes the Laws? – The IMO and the CLIA

cruise passenger rightsThe International Maritime Organization is a facet of the United Nations that works to regulate the safety and security of trading and passenger ships and prevent the pollution of the world’s oceans by ship lines. For cruise line passengers, the IMO is responsible for the rules and regulations that are meant to protect all on-board from accidents, negligence, and tragedies. These rules are included in the international convention called Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) that was adopted in 1974.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the “world’s largest cruise industry association” and expands from North to South America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia. The CLIA – unlike the IMO – is not a governing body, but is dedicated to making cruise passengers feel safe and secure aboard any cruise ship. The CLIA has, for the past few years, has been working on passing a Passenger Bill of Rights through the IMO to make it a part of international maritime law. Currently, the 63 cruise lines associated with the CLIA have adopted the Passenger Bill of Rights – a tool the CLIA currently has submitted to the IMO to put it into international maritime law. The Bill of Rights includes provisions ranging from customer service issues to safety procedure regulations.


SOLAS, as mentioned before, is a convention enacted by the IMO that is meant to protect merchant ships. The main function of SOLAS is to set minimum requirements “for the construction, equipment, and operation of ships, compatible with their safety,” according to an article on the IMOs website. Flag States – the state that the ship is from – are responsible for ensuring that all of the SOLAS requirements are met. There are also requirements for fire safety, life-saving appliances, and life-saving arrangements.

How can SOLAS be applicable to cruise line passengers? In 2012, the Costa Concordia disaster cost 32 lives when the captain chose not to take the ship through the designated safe travel lanes and struck a reef off the island of Giglios, Italy. The captain of the Costa Concordia was, in February of this year, found guilty of the manslaughter of 32 passengers and sentenced to 16 years in prison. His sentence included time that he would serve for causing the wreck, abandoning passengers, and for reporting false information to maritime authorities.

Here, SOLAS – though unable to save the 32 passengers who lost their lives – was put to use in charging the captain after he knowingly deviated from the safe travel lanes, his crew failed to perform the necessary safety drill called the “muster drill” with passengers, and proper evacuation procedures were not followed.

The Passenger Bill of Rights

cruise line passenger rightsThe Passenger Bill of Rights is comprised of 10 provisions that are posted and followed by the 63 cruise lines that are affiliated with the CLIA. Recently, the bill was submitted to the IMO to pass it into law, but is currently not an international cruise line law. However, the bill does protect passengers – to a varying degree – against less serious crimes that can occur while aboard a cruise vessel.

For instance, in February 2013, the United States cruise ship the Carnival Triumph was dead at seas after a fire broke out and destroyed the ship’s power. The unsanitary conditions that resulted from the failure to provide a source of power left a huge mark on the Carnival cruise line’s reputation. Since the Carnival cruise line is a member of the CLIA, the Passenger Bill of Rights should have provided the passengers:

The right to an emergency power source in the case of a main generator failure.

Again, though the Passenger Bill or Rights is not part of international maritime law, the bill was able to protect passengers to a certain degree. Though the fire that caused the power outage should have been acknowledge before the ship left port – according to the regulations set by SOLAS – the Passenger Bill of Rights was able to ensure that the passengers were given a full refund on the trip. What the Passenger Bill of Rights provided during the emergency was the competency of the crew in assisting the passenger to the best of their ability, and the proper practice of emergency procedures before the ship left port.

I’m the Victim of a Cruise Ship Crime: What Should I Do?

In the event that you or a loved one believes that they are a victim of a crime aboard a cruise ship – whether against another passenger, crew member, or the cruise line as a whole – contact a professional maritime lawyer immediately. Maritime laws are difficult to navigate for those who do not specialize in maritime. Contact Moschetta Law Firm today for a free initial consultation.