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May 28th, 2013
05:19 PM ET

Fires, engine problems plague cruise industry

Power outages, overflowing toilets, and fires on decks are just some of the troubles that have plagued the cruise industry of late.

What happened to the good old days when a bad cruise meant spending five days clinging to a bottle of Dramamine?

The latest saga at sea involves a Royal Caribbean ship that had to be redirected and evacuated after a fire broke out in the mooring area. The ship never lost power, but all 2,200 guests on board spent an uneasy few hours on deck in life jackets, some wondering if the ship was going down.

All the passengers are safe and have been flown back to Baltimore, where the ship originally departed.

It is a little-known secret of the cruise industry that while passengers board a cruise ship from a U.S. port and set sail in U.S. waters, the United States government has no way to ensure their safety while aboard that ship.

"This industry is not regulated, it is not controlled, and it is not responding to the insurance industry," said maritime lawyer John Arthur Eaves.

Eaves has represented passengers from both the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that rammed into a bed of rocks and turned on its side off an Italian island, killing 32 crew members and passengers on board last year, and the Carnival Triumph, which drifted without working toilets or electricity for five days after the ship caught fire off the coast of Mexico in February.

"It's a race to the bottom. They just take these vessels, they take them into port, they unload passengers, they re-fuel, and re-stock the pantry, but then they turn right around before giving them the service to the engines that they need," said Eaves.

Cruise ships and airlines both travel internationally, but the cruise industry is not regulated nearly as much as airlines.

"It's governed by international treaty," said Eaves, who said, for example, that the Royal Caribbean ship that caught fire was a Bahamas vessel, with a Bahamas flag.

Eaves said he hopes U.S. Congress will introduce and pass legislation that would require cruise ships to be U.S. flag vessels, which would allow more government oversight.

Eaves' first trial for the Costa Concordia crash is July 23rd. The maritime lawyer argues that filing lawsuits with high claims will raise the standards of cruise safety.

"Once we see those values come in, then you'll see the insurance industry respond, and require this industry to enact, invest in safer regulations," said Eaves.

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