CBS NEWSDecember 13, 2019, 7:50 AM
Some of the victims of Monday’s volcanic eruption in New Zealand were passengers from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. That’s now raising questions about the liability of cruise lines and the excursion companies they contract with.
Royal Caribbean told CBS News it is now “suspending tours of active volcanoes.” In an earlier statement, it said it was “devastated” by the tragedy.
Assigning blame and winning damages when injuries occur on excursions is complicated because not only is there usually more than one company involved, but more than one country as well, “CBS This Morning” consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner reports.
Forty-seven people, nine of them Americans, were near New Zealand’s White Island volcano when it erupted, most of them part of a day-trip excursion offered to cruise ship passengers.
“The people who bought these excursions bought them through the cruise company. Then the cruise company outsourced it to an outside vendor,” said CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg.
In the weeks leading up to the eruption, GeoNet, which tracks hazard information in New Zealand, warned new volcanic activity on White Island meant that an imminent eruption was possible, but said the week before the eruption the geological activity did not pose a direct hazard to visitors.
It’s likely everyone on the excursion signed a liability waiver, which is also true for the estimated 7,000 excursions offered annually by cruise lines. The short trips include everything from zip lines to scuba diving to bungee jumping.
“Signing a waiver doesn’t necessarily mean the vendor is protected,” Greenberg said. “You still may have rights.”
The eruption is far from the only deadly excursion from a cruise ship. Back in May, six Royal Princess cruise passengers were killed while on an aerial sightseeing excursion over Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument when the two planes they were in collided in mid-air. And in December of 2017, 12 people were killed and 18 injured in a bus crash during a land excursion from two Royal Caribbean cruises in Mexico.
Despite any potential dangers, for many passengers, shore excursions are an essential part of a cruise vacation. “Travelers today want a more immersive experience,” Greenberg said, adding that they’re willing to sign the waivers because the experiences are on their bucket lists.
As for the victims of the eruption on White Island who want to hold someone responsible, due to a 45-year-old law in New Zealand, the excursion company might be legally protected from being sued.
“It’s basically a no-fault insurance plan when nobody gets to sue and nobody gets blamed, they can just get a payout from the government or from an insurance fund. However the payout is limited. It’s about 200,000 New Zealand dollars at the top end,” Greenberg said. That’s just over $132,000 in U.S. dollars.
Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to inquiries about any litigation connected to their previous excursion accidents.© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.