By Michael E. Miller
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By Jake Rossen
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"Princess is so twisted it thinks that mass distribution of unauthorized, forged copies of artists' works on their ships helps artists," says Mitchell's lawyer, Robert Lauson.
Meanwhile, in October, a judge revoked Eubanks' probation on the credit card fraud conviction, and she is back in prison. Lauson says he expects a federal grand jury to issue a new indictment leveling charges against Eubanks for the prints she sold Princess.
There is a company that treats artists better, Mitchell says. It's the Michigan-based Park West Gallery, which claims to have the largest collection of art in the world.
Its Park West at Sea division manages the arts programs on the other major cruise lines. Princess is the only one with an in-house art sales program.
Mitchell says Park West meets with artists or their estates before selling their work, at least in part to verify the goods.
But Park West is fighting its own legal battle with former Carnival Cruise Line passengers.
In 2001, a group of passengers filed a class action lawsuit against Park West and Carnival Cruise Lines alleging, among other wrongdoings, driving up prices by using phantom bidders.
The case is still pending, but a judge dismissed Carnival from the litigation a few years ago. Park West at Sea, however, continues to manage Carnival's fine arts program.
Kifer and Sexton say they were told that the Princess art program is the company's top moneymaker.
According to an economic impact study done by the International Council of Cruise Lines, onboard revenues of the cruise industry are higher than the money made on ticket sales. Money made from art, alcohol, and other onboard retail sales have boosted the industry's gross revenues at the same time that fares have been declining. (Ticket prices have steadily declined for the past ten years, in part because of an economy of scale as the boats have grown larger.)
No wonder, then, that cruise lines strictly prohibit passengers from bringing anything in the way of alcohol, soda, or bottled water onboard with them.
Florida, meanwhile, is the epicenter of the cruise industry more than half of the people who take cruises departing from the United States leave from Port Everglades, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, or Jacksonville. And the lion's share of the civil litigation occurs in Florida, particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where 4.8 million of the 8.6 million passengers boarding cruise ships in the United States departed from last year.
Generally, a U.S. citizen is protected by American laws while in international waters. But that simple idea is not so easily executed.
At a March congressional subcommittee hearing on cruise safety, Kifer and Sexton's attorney, Brett Rivkind, told congressmen what law enforcement, judges, and lawyers have known for years.
"An American citizen cannot feel comfortable on a foreign cruise ship that is sailing to ports outside of the United States... and cannot be assured that the FBI will have jurisdiction or in fact exercise jurisdiction," he said.
"Cruising can be a great vacation if you like it," says Rivkind, who has 23 years' experience with maritime law four of those spent defending the cruise lines. "We just tell people to be aware of potential problems, not to let their guard down simply because they're on a cruise ship, that things happen on ships."
Hundreds of passengers and employees sue the cruise lines every week for a variety of reasons, ranging from poor medical care to failing to adequately deal with sexual assaults. Not surprisingly, the companies vigorously defend themselves, usually by arguing a lack of jurisdiction first.
On July 18, more than 200 people sustained injuries when Princess' 3,100-passenger Crown Princess listed about 15 degrees just off the Port Canaveral Coast in, by all accounts, calm seas. The captain righted the ship in less than a minute but not in time to stop people from falling or from being hit by things flying through the air. Nearly 100 passengers were taken to the hospital. In February, another cruise liner in Princess' 15-ship fleet had a similar accident after leaving Galveston, Texas. That time, 30 passengers were injured. A Princess spokeswoman said both incidents were caused by human error.
Still, the industry is making more money in part because of how much dough passengers spend after boarding. Terry Dale, president of the Cruise Lines International Association, reports that global cruise line revenues jumped 13.8 percent in 2005, to $19.2 billion. The rate per passenger went up 7.3 percent, while the returns from daily passenger spending increased 4.7 percent. And fine art programs continue to drain bottles of champagne. Princess cruises goes right on promoting their own sales, excitedly promising four auctions a day while at sea.
Rivkind, meanwhile, says Kifer and Sexton have now agreed to put their lawsuit on hold until after a meeting Princess has requested them to attend.
"We hope the meeting will be fruitful," Rivkind says.