Monday, September 28, 2009

The authority of Cruise ship captains

This post is about an issue whereby a cruise ship captain booted-off a passenger for allegedly being disruptive, while the passenger claims otherwise.

The central question is about the absolute authority of a sjips's captain, and whether or not a captain can kick somebody off of a cruise ship without any hearing.

Does a ship captain have absolute authority?

By design, trains, planes and ships have a clear commander who has the full power of law and must be obeyed.

A ship’s Captain, just like an Airline Captain, has supreme authority and broad powers to do whatever is in the best interest of the safety of the ship and its passengers.

Captain Crunch at leisure

Under Maritime law, a ship’s Captain can do just about anything that they want, including marrying passengers, imprisoning passengers without a trial.

Up until the 20th century, a ship’s Captain had the legal right to flog unruly crewmembers!

Captain Obvious

As I understand basic Admiralty law, the legal status of the passenger has no bearing on the duties of the ship’s Captain.

After all, how could it be any other way?

Oh Captain, My Captain

A Ships Captain on a large ship may have full responsibility for the safety of over 8,000 passengers, and it’s neither reasonable nor workable to expect the Captain to enforce the rights of the citizens of sovereign countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

The problem is that many Americans still act like Americans while at sea, not realizing that they have left their American Civil Rights at the dock.

There is no right to free speech, no rights to stay onboard, no rights at all as American's know them.

The long arm of the DOJ

Cruisers expect that American cruises fall under American law, and I wonder if that’s a reasonable assumption. If a cruise ships primarily serve Americans (over 51% of paying passengers) and/or dock at American ports, then they should fall under US law.

Janet and I were invited to Washington to speak with the US Department of Justice last year, and I told them that I think that the DOJ needs to regulate cruise ships that serve Americans, just as the DOJ did when they ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) applies to cruise ships at sea.

Sadly, some American’s forget that they lose their First Amendment rights to free speech when they board a cruise ship, and that can get them into a heap of trouble, as New York teacher Mark Jacobs found out the hard way.

Jacobs is one of the hundreds of people who are concerned about possible impropriety by cruise ship auctions, especially the allegations that they take advantage of trusting old people by selling them crappy “investment art” at prices that are far above retail.

But is it true, or is it just a well orchestrated smear campaign?

After all, the cruise lines say that a full 25% of onboard ship revenue is from art auction sales. It’s also possible that any unregulated industry is likely to abuse their authority, just look at what happened with unregulated banks.

This summer, a Royal Caribbean passenger named Mark Jacobs (a teacher at the Longview School in Cortlandt Manor, New York) says that he became concerned about a cruise ship art auction. Evidently, Mr. Jacobs mistakenly thought that he had the right to warn his fellow passengers about several pending class-action lawsuits against the cruise ship art auctions.

Mark paid the price for being a whistleblower, being unceremoniously booted off of the ship by Captain Aladin Hafez:

“Jacobs says his only offense was downloading information about an art auction business run onboard the ship that has been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, and then passing around a one-page fact sheet about the company to fellow passengers . . .

the police come to take me off the ship," Jacobs said yesterday in his Cortlandt home. "And all I did was distribute information.”

Mark Jacobs faces Norwegian police for engaging in free speech

Hero or Zero?

This article confirms that the Royal Caribbean Staff Captain (Captain Aladin Hafez) exercised his absolute right to kick anyone off of the ships for any reason (or no reason) whatsoever.

It appears that Royal Caribbean is within their rights under Maritime law, but Mr. Jacobs disagrees:

“I'm in conversation with a number of lawyers, considering what sort of legal remedies I might have and seeing if I might become involved with one of his ongoing lawsuits or a different one.It certainly would be nice to recover the money that I lost.

But more to the point it would be nice for people to know that Royal Caribbean is supporting these very questionable claims and practices by Park West and that people who are going on these cruise ships thinking they’re spending a couple of thousand for the ship itself then may end up in something much more expensive, thinking that they're making investments and in the end losing a great deal of their money. “

Mark Jacobs gets the old heave ho

Leave your Civil Rights at the dock

It sounds like Mr. Jacobs forgot about Scandinavian communism, and that countries with socialist regimes have a very different opinion about personal rights. It’s also a safe bet that Captain Aladin Hafez is a foreigner who may be unfamiliar with freedom of speech and the rights to due process that Americans take for granted.

The other sides of the coin

There are two sides to every story, and in this case, we have three sides to this tale.

Royal Caribbean’s response suggests that Mr. Jacobs did far more than just hand out flyers, they say that he acted in a disruptive manner, and that he continued, even after being warned that the Captain of any ship has the absolute right to boot him any passenger, for any reason, or for no particular reason at all:

"Various guests reported to the ship's staff that Mark Jacobs was disrupting the onboard art auction by distributing a flyer to guests.

The ship's Hotel Director and Staff Captain met with Mr. Jacobs and explained that his behavior was inappropriate and in violation of the guest conduct policy.

In addition, they explained that failure to act in accordance with the policy could result in removal from the ship at the next port of call.

Mr. Jacobs continued to be uncooperative and difficult, which resulted in a decision to disembark him the following day in Oslo, Norway, the next port of call."

It’s interesting that the auction house has yet another version of the events, and they don’t claim that Jacobs was being disruptive! Rather, they claim that Mr. Jacobs’s father attempted an extortion scheme against them, alleging that the elder Mr. Jacobs was tried to rob them of $600:

"What Really Happened

Earlier during the cruise Mark Jacobs’ father had approached the onboard auctioneer and demanded $600 worth of free transfers to the airport for him and his family.

He told the auctioneer that if he did not receive the transfers he would tell auction attendees that Park West was selling fake artwork and doing fake bidding."

Mark Jacobs’ father (middle photo, left)
is accused of an extortion attempt against cruise ship art auction

So, who is telling the truth here?

When faced with conflicting accounts of an event, I always apply the "common sense" rule.

It’s like Judge Judy says “If a story does not make sense, then it’s usually not true.”

A lovely Judge Judy tattoo

If it doesn’t make sense, it’s usually not true

There are some aspects of these conflicting reports that don’t make sense to me:
  • It’s doesn’t make sense why the elder Jacobs was not forced to disembark the ship along with his son, something that you would expect from somebody caught in an attempted extortion demand.
  • It’s also doesn’t make sense why there are no reports of a multi-zillion dollar lawsuit against the art auctioneer for libel and defamation against the elder Mr. Jacobs.
  • It does not make sense that the art auction house is screaming that they are the victim of a cybersmear campaign. Lawyers don’t take-on expensive class action lawsuits for no reason.
  • It doesn’t make sense that Mark Jacobs did not know that he has no American Civil Rights while at sea. After all, the flyer that he printed was made specifically to warn auction bidders that US Law does not apply on the high seas.
  • It does not make sense that Jacobs’ lawyer would send a “cease and desist” letter to Royal Caribbean, saying that a ship’s Captain has no right to disembark him.

However, it does make sense to me that many things that are illegal in America are A-
OK on the high seas.

Where from here?

As of 9/11/09 there are six class-action lawsuits pending against cruise ship art auctions, alleging all sorts of unsavory things, and hopefully the judges will get to the bottom of these issues soon.

If these cases are settled out of court with no admission of wrongdoing, the public will know what’s up, but for now they are only allegations.

The auction houses, in turn, allege that all of the Plaintiffs are just meanies who are starting a cyber-smear campaign against them for no reason other than buyer’s remorse.

As to the lawsuits that prompted Mr. Jacobs’ actions, let’s hope that the courts tell us the truth about the veracity of these claims.