Instrumental in this deplorable state of affairs for our part, in U.S. law, is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. §§ 30301–30308. On its face the act simply invites maritime wrongful death actions into U.S. courts. However, the act's "shortcomings" have been documented in legal scholarship for a long time; the devil is in the details, specifically, damages, which are limited by § 30303 to "fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained." Note, "pecuniary," not the familial wrongful death intangibles recoverable in domestic tort law, and maybe zero for, say, an elderly retired person. Minhaj reports that attempts to amend the law have been torpedoed in Congress.
But DOHSA is just one piece of the big, messy picture of maritime liability, or non-liability, for cruise lines. Most civil wrongs involving passengers are sexual assaults, which can come under the lax, overwhelmed, or de facto non-existent jurisdiction of the vessel's flag home. Same for the abusive conditions to which cruise ship workers are subject, from working hours that would never be tolerated on land, on through to the minuscule compensations available for debilitating injury, such as loss of limb. And all that's to say nothing of the devastating environmental impact of cruise ship polluting and dumping that occurs beyond the reach of regulators.
Minhaj aptly paints the ugly picture of what happens when an industry escapes the norm-setting and deterrence mechanisms of domestic tort law. As he suggests, the relatively affordable cost of a cruise as a vacation option—and I confess, I've gone, I've loved it, and I'd like to go again—is born disproportionately by an oppressed workforce, injured passengers, and the voiceless marine environment.