Valentina Azzia vividly remembers the moment her son nearly drowned in a pool while on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.
Now, as reported by Florida’s WPLG Local 10 News, she has filed a lawsuit demanding that cruise lines provide lifeguards at children’s pools.
“Really in a matter of seconds we realized that our son wasn’t there anymore and we started looking for him,” Azzia said. “He was at the bottom of the pool.”
In January 2015 Azzia’s family was traveling from Italy to Port Everglades on the cruise ship. Within the first hour of the trip, her 4 year-old son, Ascanio, nearly drowned after she lost sight of him in the toddler pool.
Ascanio had wandered to a nearby current pool where the water was deeper. He spent five minutes underwater and no longer had a pulse. Nearby passengers, not cruise staff, jumped in to perform CPR.
Ascanio spent a week in critical condition before waking up, and now suffers from vision problems and other possible long-term health issues.
To prevent a similar tragedy from happening to other families, Azzia filed suit against Royal Caribbean to require lifeguards at pools marketed as “kid friendly.”
“How many children have to die on their cruise ships before they decide to put a lifeguard on their ships?” maritime attorney Mike Winkleman asked.
Winkleman represents the Azzia family and others who have lost their children to cruise ship drownings.
“There is 100 percent an element of parental responsibility involved in this,” Winkleman said, adding there are several factors involved on board cruise ships. “But let me tell you, when you’re on a cruise ship, your guard is let down. You’re on vacation.”
Several cruise lines explained to Local 10 News that they have signs, just like many hotels, saying no lifeguard is present. Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean, explained in an email, “We do not have, nor plan to add, lifeguards on our ships.”
Only one company, Disney Cruise Lines, currently provides lifeguards at on-board pools and has been doing so since 2013, after a 4-year-old boy nearly drowned and suffered brain damage on one of their ships.
The Cruise Lines International Association which represents the cruise ship companies sent Local 10 News a statement:
Cruise lines manage pools with the safety of passengers and crewmembers in mind at all times. As with the vast majority of land-based hotels and resorts, many cruise lines provide clear and conspicuous signs that a lifeguard is not present.
With guidance from public health and safety authorities, CLIA’s member cruise lines continue to assess the need for further action beyond current practices, including evaluating the level of supervision of pools onboard.
“I think families should know they are taking this risk,” Azzia said.
In the last three years, at least five children have drowned and four have almost drowned in cruise ship pools. In December, an 8-year-old boy drowned on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. In May 2015, a 10-year-old girl drowned on the Norwegian Gem.
Numerous families have attempted legal action but made no headway because of a little-known law called the Death on the High Seas Act, which has been on the books since 1920. The law allows no compensation for pain or suffering, and only a reward for loss of income, like the death of a family provider. Unfortunately, there is no compensation for a lost child.