Cruising for a Bruising? Offloading Cruise Passengers
After a five month bout with Covid-19, the world’s major cruise liners are battered, bruised, and desperately searching for a reprieve. But this month the industry at last reported some advancement, with the first major cruise liner setting sail in the Mediterranean since February.
As the baby steps towards a resumption of normality continue, the cruise industry is seeking to manage Covid-related risk by imposing strict health and safety protocols purposed to ensure a Covid-free “bubble” on board its ships. These measures include (but are not limited to) operating at 70% capacity, mandatory pre-departure testing, and the imposition of strict rules and regulations on off-board excursions.
When it comes to enforcing these protocols, it is clear that cruise liners are taking no prisoners. Last week, for example, a family found their cruise cut short after they broke the rules of an excursion in Naples. After learning of the breach, the cruise liner’s management refused to let the family re-embark on the basis that they would threaten the carefully curated safety bubble on board the ship. The family were thus forced to find their own way home, presumably having to pay out of pocket for alternative accommodation and transport. One can be sure that the family were not best pleased, but what if anything can they or passengers in a similar situation hope to obtain by way of compensation?
In any case, the necessary starting point of the legal analysis is the terms and conditions of the cruise. It will be important to establish, for example, the precise parameters of the rules governing excursions and the extent (if any) to which the passenger acted outside them. As ever, there is likely to be scope for argument on the interpretation of those rules and their application to the misdemeanour in question. An improper application of those rules and a wrongful early termination by the cruise liner would almost certainly entitle the family to compensation.
And what about the terms implied by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018? Without more, early termination of the holiday contract will amount to non-conformity with the original contract, thus engaging the provisions contained in Regulation 15. However, the family’s accompanying right to compensation under Regulation 16(3) can be disapplied where, for example, the lack of conformity is attribute to the traveller: Regulation 16(4)(a). It seems likely the cruise line would pitch its defence on that basis, that is, that the non-conformity (i.e., the early termination of the contract) was attributable to the family and their failure to adhere to the cruise liner’s health and safety protocol. Accordingly, absent any alternative route to compensation under the terms and conditions, the family in Naples (or passengers in a similar situation) may well find themselves without recourse to compensation for the costs of alternative accommodation and transport.
What to make of all of this? Well, the cruise industry has apparently identified strict health and safety protocols as its key lifeline during the era of Covid-19. The case of the family in Naples should serve as a warning shot to cruise line passengers with an adventurous streak. Woe betide the passenger that makes light of the on-board health and safety protocols.
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