TOURIST LIABILITY Explore at your own risk: Travel company won't pay
Tourists who venture off the itinerary are on their own.
MIAMI (AP) -- Cruise ship tourists often can't wait to get down the gangplank to see the stark mountain cliffs and white sandy beaches touted in vacation brochures. But experts warned recently that passengers who take onshore excursions like the one that killed 12 people in Chile need to think about protecting themselves.
That's because the cruise ship company may not be liable for injuries suffered on non-affiliated tours -- and those tours do not undergo the same vetting process faced by tour groups associated with the cruise ships.
Passengers need to be particularly careful when they choose tours that aren't affiliated with the cruise line, said Paul Ruden, senior vice president for the American Society of Travel Agents. That appears to be the case in Chile, according to the cruise line.
Ruden acknowledged some people choose local operators that don't coordinate with cruise lines because they may offer cheaper tours.
"If you're comfortable being out on your own, that's fine, but you're taking the same risk of being out on your own that you would anywhere," he said.
Four others were injured in last week's crash in northern Chile. Local authorities said the group was returning to a Celebrity Cruises ship when the bus swerved to avoid a truck and plummeted 300 feet.
Celebrity Cruises President Dan Hanrahan said the cruise line, owned by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., did not work with the tour company.
Last week proved to be a tough one for the cruise industry. On Thursday, a fire broke out aboard a Princess Cruises ship in the Caribbean in which one person died and 11 were injured.
Michael Crye, head of the industry group International Council of Cruise Lines, said Princess Cruises could be liable in the fire, but those injured in the independent onshore excursion face a different situation.
"Before every port visit, there is a briefing provided by the cruise line about the experience and about the things you should avoid and the things you should look forward to," he said. "It is a matter of balance, how far you can go and be responsible."
What more could they do?
Miami-based maritime attorney Brett Rivkind, who frequently represents passengers with claims against cruise lines, believes the companies could go further.
"The passengers rarely have visited these ports. The cruise lines frequently visit these areas, and they have agents who know the different operators," he said.
While some risks may be inevitable, travel insurance can minimize many of them, said Jonathan Ansell, president of U.S. Travel Insurance Association.
Ansell said about 35 percent of all U.S. cruise passengers buy insurance, up from 12 percent before 9/11. He pegged the cost of insurance from 5 percent to 8 percent of a trip for a comprehensive package that covers risks including trip cancellation, supplemental health insurance and personal property loss. Travel insurance can pay to fly a person to the nearest hospital or fly doctors into a remote area.
While insurance can't prevent death, it can help families retrieve the bodies of their loved ones from far flung destinations.
"It's not a pleasant thing to think about, but the issue of organizing that and getting through customs is a major issue," Ansell said.
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