Sequestered on a Cruise Ship: What Are Your Rights?

Posted Feb 14th 2011 11:15 AMUpdated Feb 15th 2011 03:54 PM

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Sequestered on a Cruise Ship

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Imagine this scenario: You book a two week cruise to the Caribbean or Alaska, get sick and end up sequestered to your cabin for the entire trip. While your fellow passengers are busy soaking up the sun or exploring glaciers, you're spending the day trying to find a channel that comes in on the staticy television set and reading (and re-reading) the ship's daily newsletter. You can't even go down to the movie theater to watch "The Bourne Identity" and for you, the midnight buffet will consist of room service sandwiches and luke warm tea. Let's face it: your dream vacation is ruined.

But what are your rights – if any – when you're sequestered at sea? We spoke to Alexander Anolik, a travel attorney based in Tiburon, CA who has represented both passengers and cruise lines, about the rules and regulations that prevail when a fun ship turns into a sick bay.

The Captain's Word Is King
"Until Congress gives passengers a bill of rights, you basically don't have rights."
The first thing cruise ship travelers need to understand is that the laws of their home state don't necessarily apply. "Until Congress gives passengers a bill of rights, you basically don't have rights," Anolik told AOL Travel. "Once you board the ship you are under the captain's command." This means that if you get sick with any infectious disease (for example, norovirus, a group of viruses that effect the stomach and intestines are associated with cruise ships due in part to the close living quarters) the captain can sequester you in protection of the other passengers.

A Visit to Ship's Doctor Can Have Consequences
If you're feeling ill, your first thought might be to go get checked out by the ship's doctor, but Anolik says there are several things you need to keep in mind. "Ship doctors are independent and not employees of the ship. In many cases, they have a lesser degree of training than what you might be used to." So it is possible that a ship doctor can make a misdiagnoses and keep you in your cabin for what turns out to be nothing more than a cold. Still, Anolik doesn't advise avoiding medical care if you're truly under the weather. "Your health is more important than your enjoyment," he points out.

They Can Stop You from Embarking
Most passengers are aware of the possibility of being confined to their cabin while on a cruise but did you know that you can actually be refused embarkation if you show evidence of an infectious disease? "If you think you're coming down with something, see your hometown doctor and get a note," advises Anolik. "Even if you just have allergies and you're sneezing a lot, they can stop you from getting on board."

Stewards Are Watching You
If you have the flu, you may be required to walk around with a bottle of sanitizer and don a mask to prevent the spread of your germs to other passengers – an off-putting image, but still better than being sequestered. But if you are confined to your cabin, it's totally at the captain's discretion and that means no sneaking out of your room to the spa or the blackjack tables. "If you try, you will be offloaded at the next port," warns Anolik.

Consider Jumping Ship
For those passengers who simply can't fathom staring at the same four walls for over a week (especially if all you have is a porthole) one option is to get off at the next port and either spend your vacation there or fly home. The only problem is, you will most likely do this at your own expense. "Keep in mind that your travel insurance may not cover this," says Anolik.

Compensation is Tricky
After your ordeal, the insult to injury will likely be that you'll have a hard time getting any money back. "If the ship doctor made a misdiagnosis, it's not strict liability," says Anolik. "An agent or tour operator must give you a proper tour, but you have to show negligence and that's difficult to do, even if you say it was false imprisonment." Anolik says that in most cases, the ship will not provide you with any type of compensation and that you will be charged for the doctor's visit. He recommends taking your case to small claims court once you get back on dry land.

Filed Under: Tips & Tricks, Cruise