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Americans Traveling on Foreign Cruises Reap Benefit from Athens Convention Overhaul

Athens Convention Damages.jpgMost American are unaware that international law caps damages for passengers who are hurt or die on cruises that leave from, call on and return to foreign ports. Adopted in 1974, the Athens Convention was intended to consolidate two earlier conventions addressing passenger injuries and luggage losses. Nearly every American cruise line adopts the Athens Convention for their wholly foreign cruises. For example, the below language is found in Royal Caribbean’s ticket contract:

ON CRUISES WHICH NEITHER EMBARK, DISEMBARK NOR CALL AT ANY PORT IN THE UNITED STATES, CARRIER SHALL BE ENTITLED TO ANY AND ALL LIABILITY LIMITATIONS, IMMUNITIES AND RIGHTS APPLICABLE TO IT UNDER THE “ATHENS CONVENTION…

Carnival, Princess, NCL and Holland America have similar ticket provisions.

The Athens convention historically set a damages cap for injuries and wrongful death at 46,666 Special Drawing Rights which is approximately $70,000USD depending on the strength of the dollar. Though such a sum in 1974 may have been substantial, given inflation, this amount is now woefully inadequate to compensate many personal injuries sustained by cruise line negligence. The inadequacy of the 1974 law was recognized by the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization who stated “[f]or some time now it has been recognized that the limits of liability in the 1974 Convention are no longer adequate to meet the needs of the international community.”

To address this issue, the International Maritime Organization issued what has become known as the 2002 Protocol. In 2006, the organization adopted the text of the new limitation provision wherein the cruise line would be strictly liable for a passenger’s injury or death up to the amount of 250,000 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $355,000USD) unless it can prove that the incident resulted from an act of war, insurrection, hostilities, civil war, a natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable and irresistible character or was wholly caused by an act or omission of a third party done with intent to cause the incident (terrorism). The language of the new law also provides that in the event the damages exceed 250,000 Special Drawing Rights, the injured passenger or survivors of a passenger who died can recover up to 400,000 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $570,000USD) unless the cruise line proves that the incident which caused the loss occurred without its fault or negligence. The 2002 Protocol also includes an opt-out provision wherein member countries could declare a higher damages cap.

The only problem with the law change is that it would only become enforceable 12 months after 10 member countries ratified the protocol. It took over a decade for the requisite amount of member countries to ratify the protocol and the 2002 Protocol became effective on April 23, 2014. Today, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Demark, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom ratified the 2002 Protocol.

This overhaul of the 1974 Athens Convention has afforded a long overdue protection to passengers. Now, for the most part, passengers can be appropriately compensated for injuries sustained while cruising. If you were injured or a loved one died on a foreign cruise and you would like to know more about your rights, contact our Board Contact Maritime lawyers at (800) 499-0551.