In two recent cases, the Rostock District Court decided that cruise ship passengers are not entitled to claims for repayment or damages due to unpleasant noises or vibrations which are attributable to the normal course of operation of a cruise ship. This is because a ship, in contrast to a hotel, is a means of transportation which cannot be operated without any noticeable vibrations or noise-producing units.

Facts

In both cases, passengers claimed repayment of the cruise fare and further damages due to unpleasant impairment of their cruise holidays.

In the first case, the plaintiffs alleged that they were affected by heavy vibrations noticeable inside their cabin, which had been transmitted from the ground of the cabin to the interior and to all persons present in the cabin. They also alleged that severe noise caused by the air conditioning and other technical units had been noticeable in the cabin.

In the second case, the plaintiff complained about noise in the morning and evening hours caused by exterior cleaning operations, as well as by use of anchor winches and bow thrusters.

In both cases, the plaintiffs received small refunds of between 5% and 10% of the cruise fare and sued the cruise line for full refunds and further damages. In both cases, the defendant cruise lines argued that the impairments described by the plaintiffs are unavoidable during the normal operation of a cruise ship and therefore do not constitute any travel shortcomings.

Decision

The court agreed with the defendant's arguments and dismissed the claims on the basis that the impairments described by the plaintiffs are part of the normal operation of a cruise ship and thus do not constitute any travel shortcomings which would entitle the plaintiffs to claims for repayment of the full cruise fare or further damages. However, the court stressed that this applies only if the noise and vibrations do not exceed the level which can usually be expected.

The court argued that a cruise ship is a floating object equipped with moving parts that cause vibrations. According to the court, it is normal that these vibrations are transmitted to the hull of the cruise ship. The court argued that despite such vibrations, a cruise ship could be a "comfortable home" as announced by the defendant.

The court stressed that a cruise ship, in contrast to a hotel, is a means of transportation and noises and vibrations are typical attributes of its operation. The plaintiffs failed to prove that the vibrations exceeded the usual acceptable level.

In the second case, the court decided that noise caused by exterior cleaning operations, anchor winches and bow thrusters are typical cruise ship noises that must be accepted by passengers. In the court's view, it is evident that technical facilities which cause noise might impair the subjective wellbeing of a person. The court held that these impairments do not constitute any travel shortcomings, as long as they do not exceed the usual level which can be reasonably expected during regular operation. The court pointed out that the cruise line even advised in its catalogue that certain noises were likely to occur on the ship. The court stressed that there was no evidence that the noises exceeded the usual level in this case and therefore considered the claims for refund of the total cruise fare and further damages to be unfounded.

Comment

Both decisions strengthen the rights of cruise lines when confronted with passenger claims in connection with assumed impairments by noise or vibrations which cannot be avoided in the operation of a cruise ship. However, the court did not clarify what the usual level of these impairments is and when and under what circumstances that limit is exceeded. The 'usual level' of noise and vibrations must therefore be considered in each individual case.

For further information on this topic please contact Martin Kube or Olaf Hartenstein at Dabelstein & Passehl by telephone (+49 40 31 77 970) or email (m.kube@da-pa.com or o.hartenstein@da-pa.com). The Dabelstein & Passehl website can be accessed at www.da-pa.com.

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