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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2012

Lawyer: shipwreck survivors to push for tightening of cruise ship industry standards

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Italian firefighters work on the hull of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian firefighters work on the hull of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy.
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ROME — A U.S. lawyer for compensation-seeking survivors of the Costa Concordia capsizing said Wednesday he will push for changes in maritime laws and technology to make the cruise ship industry safer.

John Arthur Eaves Jr. said that in about two weeks he will file lawsuits against Miami-based Carnival Corp., the parent company of Costa Crociere, SpA., the Italian cruise line whose ship rammed a reef off a Tuscan island on Jan. 13 and capsized. At least 17 people were killed and 15 remain unaccounted for.

The lawyer said his 70 clients want to sue Carnival, including ones from the United States, Italy, Germany, Britain, Russia and Switzerland. He did not identify them by name.

Eaves, who lost an election for governor of Mississippi in 2007, was among the lawyers who obtained settlements of nearly $2 million apiece in 2000 for families of 20 people killed in Italy when a U.S. Marine jet clipped a ski gondola's cable two years earlier.

The Concordia's Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest in Italy.

Prosecutors are investigating Schettino for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the luxury liner while many of the 4,200 passengers and crew were still aboard the ship.

The Costa Concordia rapidly began taking on water and turned on its side after being gashed by the reef off Giglio island when the vessel dangerously sailed too close to rocky coast, apparently in a kind of "salute" to the islanders to impress those aboard.

Eaves said he thought too much attention is focusing on the role of the captain, who has denied abandoning the ship. The lawyer said some crew members apparently failed to promptly inform passengers of the serious nature of the accident, and another issue is why the Concordia was sailing too close to the island's rocky coast.

"The captain is not the only one responsible," Eaves said, but the "entire cruise industry." In other words, the lawyer said, "We know the captain messed up, but the question is, why did he mess up?"

Costa officials have denied that Concordia nearing Giglio was a publicity stunt for the cruise line.

Eaves said he will lobby Italian and European politicians, as well as international maritime authorities, to tighten regulations and laws to increase safety, to press for better training of crew members, and to develop and implement new safety-oriented technology.

The objective is to "change policies, change the way the cruise industry does business," Eaves said.

Specifically, he said he would work to strike down European regulations limiting cruise company liabilities, as well as lobby to promote technology similar to that used by air-trafffic-control towers when pilots stray off course to warn ship captains of danger.

"There is always a little change after a disaster," the lawyer said. "The aim here is to make it a large change so that it doesn't happen again."

Some relatives of victims have said they have been approached by Costa offering settlements of a few thousand euros (dollars). Eaves called such sums "ridiculous by American standards" and said he hopes that much bigger settlements, triggered by lawsuits, will prompt the cruise industry to "spend more money on the front end to prevent accidents (rather) than paying money on the back end."

He declined to say how much compensation his clients will seek, but said they range from among one survivor who lost $50,000 worth of designer gowns and dresses, to relatives of the dead or missing.



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