Cruise Ship Legal Issues – The Law That Actually Governs the Cruise Ships

Cruise ship safety is an international issue. Cruise ships might belong to a company registered and operating in one country but they travel across seas and oceans and accidents might happen when they are on the territory of a completely different country.

Even if maritime and shipping laws are being brought to an international standard to make decision taking easier, there are many unclear issues on who and what actually governs the cruise ship.

There are quite a few issues that need to be addressed in the cruise ship industry:

–         pollution and regulations about it when they differ from country to country

–         disappearance of crew and passengers – whose responsibility is it?

–         crimes on board – how are they to be handled and which legal system governs the ship?

–         misconduct – when ship crews breaks the law in one country because they were adhering to the law in another

A cruise ship is strictly regulated by several bodies including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the flag state (origin state) and the visiting states.

Even though the IMO is the main governing body for cruise ship regulations, the sending state has the main responsibility to make sure that the cruise ship adheres to all regulations. However, visiting states have the full authority to audit and take measures on the cruise ships as well.

Usually, the cruise ship company is allowed to choose which governing body it will follow. A cruise ship might choose to be registered in a state different from the departing state for legal reasons. This information is usually printed on the back of each ticket and approved by the court system of that particular state. Both cruise ships crew and passengers need to inform themselves on the law they will need to adhere to on the cruise ship (depending on where it is registered).

That’s why here we have included just the basics:

Cruise Ship Legal Obligations – for consideration by passengers and cruise ship companies alike.

  1. Purchasing a cruise ticket means that the two sides (cruise ship company and passenger) enter into contractual agreement. The terms of this contract are usually included with documentation on purchasing a ticket. If they are not, each passenger can request to see the ticket contract.
  2. The responsibility of a cruise ship extends as long as the ticket contract does. Meaning that a cruise ship might or might not take responsibility for lost items, for example. It is the task of the passenger to make sure they have read the contract before making any claims or even buying the ticket.

Issues like cruise cancellation, change of ports, compliance with law (which law?) and reimbursement of fees are all covered in this contract (or should be). The ticket contract is enforceable in court and should serve as a guideline for legal obligations of cruise ship and passengers.

Cruise ship accidents are another issue that is growing in the international maritime community. The safety of passengers and crew is the legal responsibility of the cruise ship company. Misconduct by crewmembers, for example, is enough of a reason for a lawsuit against the employee and the company alike.

The legal issues behind cruise ships are complicated. Depending on where a ship is registered the regulating law can vary greatly. This is the most confusing issue, raising concern among cruise ship professionals and passengers. In addition to that, cruise ships can choose to adhere to the visiting state’s law if that is more convenient. However, one thing is for sure – the contract that commences as soon as a passenger buys a ticket is the main governing document for the ship. It should clearly state where the ship is registered and what responsibilities the cruise ship company takes for its passengers’ safety.

This is the strongest protective, most valuable document regarding cruise ship law on any particular ship and it should be paid great attention to, from crew, owners and passengers.