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Friday, October 5, 2012

Saving human life at Sea - Did the Cruise Liner ignore that ?

Do you know of the convention or a treaty that was passed in 1914 in response to the sinking of the RMS Titanic ?  It prescribed numbers of lifeboats and other emergency equipment along with safety procedures, including continuous radio watches.  Newer versions were adopted in 1929, 1948, 1960, and 1974.

Those connected with Marine Cargo insurance even  in any limited way, would know of : Cargo ISM Endorsement (JC 98/019 dated 1 May 1998), applicable  to cargo on ships where there would be no coverage for loss, damage or expenses if the subject matter insured is carried by a vessel that is not ISM Code certified, or whose owners or operators do not hold an ISM Code Document of Compliance.

Of all international conventions dealing with maritime safety, the most important is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).   The  periodic amendments were needed to keep the convention up to date -  it was completely a new convention in some ways that was adopted in 1974 which included all the agreements and acceptant procedures.

There is another aspect of ‘deviation’ which finds clear mention in the Marine Insurance Act itself. Though there are no roads on sea, it is the duty of the ship when sailing from one port to another to take the usual route between those two ports.   The MI Act states that  ‘Where a ship, without lawful excuse, deviates from the voyage contemplated by the policy, the insurer is discharged from liability as from the time of deviation, and it is immaterial that the ship may have regained her route before any loss occurs.’ 

The Act further clarifies that there  is a deviation from the voyage contemplated by the policy—
a.       Where the course of the voyage is specifically designated by the policy, and that course is departed from; or
b.       Where the course of the voyage is not specifically designated by the policy, but the usual and customary course is departed from.
The intention to deviate is immaterial; there must be a deviation in fact to discharge the insurer from his liability under the contract.  What follows is ‘ EXCUSES FOR DEVIATION OR DELAY’  - of which one of the most important reasons is : “ For the purpose of saving human life, or aiding a ship in distress where human life may be in danger” 

A duty is cast on the Ship at sea to ensure safety of human life at sea.  Under Law  of Salvage, a salvor of endangered property on navigable waters obtains the right to monetary payment from the owner. The act of salvage creates a right to a reward, and a maritime lien attaches to the property that was salved.  But when it comes to human life, there is no salvage award for purely "life salvage" where there is no property at risk and the rescue is solely of human life.

There are reports that on March 10, 2012, Cruise ship STAR PRINCESS passed within range of three stranded Panamanian fishermen, one of whom was seen to be waving a red cloth up and down by passengers aboard  the Cruise.   Yet, there was no rescue that day, and over two weeks later, on March 24, only one of the three fishermen were found alive near the Galapagos Islands by another fishing vessel.  The three men had set out for a day of fishing on February 24, but went adrift when their engine stopped working. At the time they spotted the cruise ship, they had been adrift for over two weeks. Adrian Vasquez, 18, is the sole survivor. His friends, who did not survive, were Fernando Osario, 16, and Oropeces Betancourt, 24. Mr. Betancourt died the night  the Cruise vessel went pass.

Star Princess, is a part of Princess Cruises, which is owned by  Carnival Corporation;  associated with Costa Concordia which was in news after the accident near the coast of Italy in Jan 2012.  Though there are reports of denial quoting the Captain of the Cruise that they did not receive any word of anyone in distress, there are also reports that the Cruise did not stop in order to keep to a schedule or mistook the waving for thanking !  
Sadly, one of the 3 survived 28 days in open sea and another could have perhaps been saved if only the Cruise had rendered assistance.   Now there are reports that the Panamian who survived and who watched his two other friends die whilst adrift at sea is suing the Cruise company for not rendering assistance.   It reportedly, is a lawsuit alleging negligence by  Cruise Lines  filed in a Florida state court on behalf of the survivor Adrian Vazquez.  He claims that they made signals for help, but the vessel ignored them.  This man was saved on 22nd Mar 12 near Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, more than 600 miles from the place where they had started fishing.

There are some reports that there are testimonies of Cruise line passengers of having informed the Cruise staff about sighting of the boat; the two reportedly bird-watchers had spotted a  man making signals with hands.  Perhaps this case could throw light on the time-bound custom of putting human life above anything else and saving a life in distress as the top priority

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
May 16th, 2012.

1 comment:

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