Going on a cruise is the dream of many people’s life. Traveling on a fun pleasure boat to an exotic location, eating fantastic food, and enjoying fascinating entertainment at sea – what could be more exciting? The cruise ship industry spends millions each year to ensure their passengers have a wonderful time on the water and at various ports of call.

Unfortunately, accidents occur, both on and off the ship. If you go on a cruise and are injured aboard the vessel, either because of an accident that happens to the ship or conditions within the ship itself, what should you do? Who is responsible for what goes on inside and outside the ship?

How Often Do Cruise Ship Accidents Occur?

It’s difficult to know how often accidents and injuries happen aboard cruise ships around the world. There is no international agency tasked with gathering and reporting cruise ship accidents statistics, and cruise lines themselves are reluctant to disclose negative information about their ships.

According to the Maritime Injury Guide, which collects information from the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 448 major cruise ship accidents between 2005 and 2023. Fifteen cruise vessels sank, and 16 people died in cruise ship accidents. 

However, the number of incidents aboard ship, including outbreaks of norovirus (a contagious intestinal disease), people falling overboard and being recovered, and assaults and thefts aboard ship is unknown. Cruise lines are understandably unwilling to reveal this information.

The 5 Leading Causes of Cruise Ship Accidents

The top five causes of cruise ship accidents and incidents are the ones that make the news. These are situations where ships run aground or vessels return to port because large numbers of passengers are ill and in need of medical care. These are situations where the cruise line company may be liable for cruise ship injury cases.

1. Operator Negligence

In 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy with 4200 passengers and crew aboard. The vessel began sinking almost immediately, but an order to abandon ship was not given for over an hour. It was determined by Italian authorities that the captain had been grandstanding for a friend on the bridge and brought the 115,000-ton vessel too close to shore.

Following an extensive investigation and trials of the ship’s officers, Costa Cruises was held civilly liable for damages for the captain’s actions that night. Captains are ultimately responsible for the actions of their crew, and the captain of the Costa Concordia was both civilly and criminally liable for the deaths of 33 people related to the incident.

2. Weather and Sea Conditions

The sea, as they say, is a harsh mistress. Thanks to modern weather forecasting models, cruise ships can usually be routed around bad weather and rough seas, but not always.

A phenomenon known as rogue waves – sudden, unpredictable waves reaching as high as 100 feet – has caused damage to ships around the world, and these waves are common in the warm waters off of the Florida coast. Thunderstorms and the fringes of hurricanes can appear from nowhere and cause brief but severe wave turbulence.

Although ship personnel cannot avoid all bad weather, they are responsible for ensuring that cruise ship passengers are prepared for its occurrence. Passengers should be directed to safe locations or instructed to shelter in place when rough seas make walking or standing unsafe.

3. Contaminated Food and Water

The occurrence of norovirus on cruise ships has become so common, it is now a staple of late-night comedians’ jokes. Norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal disease spread through contact with contaminated food and water. It is difficult to eradicate, and once it becomes established within closed water systems, such as a cruise ship, it lingers in hidden crevices, resisting efforts to clean it out.

Because the virus is also spread by contact, once an outbreak begins, the only way to avoid it is constant handwashing and surface sterilization. The cruise lines’ habit of keeping things quiet tends to aggravate the spread of a norovirus outbreak until it becomes serious.

4. Lack of Adequate Security

The average cruise ship is about 1000 feet long (roughly the length of three football fields) and has more than 2800 staterooms. Combined passengers and crew can total as many as 6000 people, or more if the cruise is fully booked.

With that many people in one place, security and safety are paramount. The number of security officers and safety personnel depends on the actual size of each vessel, but even if the ship is fully staffed, there are thousands of feet of corridors and levels to attend to. Most ships, like casinos on land, use security cameras to monitor these areas, but they are not always monitored. Negligent security may overlook people loitering in hallways or falling from balconies, some of the leading causes of security-related incidents.

Crime, accidents, and people falling overboard are all security-related issues on cruise ships. The number-one reported crime is sexual assault. Very few crimes are reported to the FBI, and fewer of these are resolved. Suspected criminal activity should be reported immediately to the crew, and passengers’ best safeguard is to take care of themselves.

5. Cruise Ship Fires

Thankfully, onboard ship fires affecting passengers are rare. Only 72 fires were reported on cruise ships between 1990-2011. That is hardly comforting to the passengers and crew involved in the fires. Fire is taken very seriously by ships’ crews and firefighting teams are always on standby. Cruise accidents with fires are seldom limited to just fires. Generally, fires happen in connection with other cruise ship incidents, such as collisions or groundings.

Get Help From the Experts in Cruise Ship Injury Claims

If you or a loved one have suffered an accident on a cruise ship and believe you have a personal injury claim against the cruise line or someone aboard the ship, you should contact the legal professionals at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt. We will review the facts in the case and explain your options and alternatives for getting the compensation and justice you deserve.

Taking on the cruise lines and their legal department requires a cruise ship accident lawyer. This isn’t something you can do alone. You need the legal knowledge and dedicated attorneys from Ratzan Weissman & Boldt. Contact us today for a consultation.