The Athens Convention (full title: The Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea) is an agreement that was adopted in 1974 to establish the scope of liability for damages suffered by passengers of cruise ships and other seagoing vessels.
One major aspect of the convention covers liability in cases of personal injury or wrongful death. The damage has to occur during the course of carriage and must be due to the negligence of the carrier. Certain “shipping incidents” are presumed the fault of the carrier such as shipwreck, capsizing, collision, stranding or fire aboard the vessel.
However, there are liability limits, and recovery amounts are capped. The only exception is if it can be proven the carrier acted with an intent to cause the damage or with the knowledge that its action would result in some type of personal injury or wrongful death, the liability limit is lifted.
In cases of lost or damaged luggage, the carrier can also be held liable up to a certain amount. That liability also includes vehicles lost or damaged as a result of any type of shipping incident.
All claims must be filed within a two-year time period, usually measured from the time of disembarkation.
The convention is important for practitioners to understand because it may apply to 20 percent or more of U.S. cruise passengers who annually sail from and back to foreign ports, like a Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise.
The Athens Convention was succeeded by the 2002 Protocol, which was written to amend and expand on some of the original provisions.
One of the more significant changes included a substantial increase in the limit of liability in the event of personal injury and wrongful death. It added two exceptions to that liability, meaning a carrier may not be liable if the damage either 1) occurred from an act of war or an unforeseen natural phenomenon, or 2) was entirely due to the negligence, omission or intent of a third party.
The 2002 Protocol also made it mandatory for carriers to maintain adequate insurance to cover all potential liabilities to ensure passengers will receive the recovery entitled to them under the convention.
The United States is not a signatory to the Athens Convention, so it does not apply to cruises based in the U.S. However, it may still apply to perhaps 20 percent of U.S. cruise passengers who sail annually from and back to foreign ports in the Mediterranean or Caribbean Seas.
In 2006, Kreindler attorney Paul S. Edelman was appointed by the Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard to be an advisor on discussions to further revise the Athens Convention and represent U.S. victims’ maritime rights in the process. The result was the 2006 Reservation which addressed, amongst other issues, insurance coverage for terrorist attacks.