Today’s question raises issues of admiralty law rather than emergency law. My answer will therefore be incomplete and confirm my correspondent’s own conclusion ‘that these things are “complicated”’.  The answers below are much more ‘gut feeling’ than my usual answers and reflect more the sort of questions a lawyer would need to consider and research in detail if  a case arose – they are more ‘issue spotting’ rather than issue resolution.

My correspondent is:

… an Intensive Care Paramedic with NSWA, and recently I was on holidays on a cruise ship with my family. Shortly after leaving Sydney via the heads, we were walking through one of the restaurants when I came across a teenage female on her side, having a generalised convulsive (tonic-clonic) seizure…   After checking ABCs and taking a history, I had concluded that this was a seizure and that the patient had not had one before. I did some basic observations … The patient had a good radial pulse, and reasonable respiratory effort…

At this stage one of the cruise ship staff came over and wanted to start CPR. I told him it wasn’t necessary and to please get the ships doctor and medical team. I further identified who I was but my credentials were never checked, and interestingly I was never asked for my room number or any identification.

A short time later, another member of staff came along, who was obviously part of the medical team (nurse maybe?). I again identified who I was and asked if the nurse would like a handover. She said no and told me to remove myself from the area as my presence was not wanted or something to that effect…

For your information the, ship was …  registered in Malta. The incident occurred in Australian waters (within sight of land and just outside the heads)…

This case did raise some questions though;

  • Does the Civil Liabilities Act still apply on a cruise ship in Australian and NSW waters?
  • Common sense prevailed here, but what would have happened if the first staff member insisted on starting CPR? Would the provisions in the law to stop paramedics being obstructed in the course of their duty come into play here?
  • Does registration make a difference when it comes into force?

I have tried to get some answer via research, but most of the literature I have read, even around criminal matters seems to conclude that these things are “complicated” and that competing jurisdictions come into play.

At the time my thought was “Aussie paramedic, in Aussie waters, and an Aussie patient – no worries!” But thinking about it later it might be more complex than that.

This is an issue where the choice of laws (or ‘conflict of laws’) comes into play. The jurisdictions that could be relevant would be New South Wales (if the ship was still within 3 nautical miles of the shore, it’s in NSW waters, see Meaning of ‘marine’ and ‘land’ rescue in NSW (June 18, 2012)); the country in which the ship is registered (Malta), the country where the company that actually operates the cruise (which is probably different to the company that actually owns the boat) is based and then there would be any conditions set out on the ticket that may identify which law applies to the contract between passengers and the cruise company.

It can’t be that the relevant law is necessarily the law of the port of last departure. If that were the case the industrial standards on the ship would change with each port.   If someone died on the boat, the NSW Coroner would have jurisdiction as the death would be related to the state and whilst the boat is within state waters, the body is also within the coroner’s jurisdiction.  Equally criminal law would appear to be the state’s law whilst the ship is in port, it would be less clear once the ship has sailed and certainly once it’s sailed into international waters.  In that case it might be the criminal law of the next port that the ship sails to that is relevant as it would be the police from that port that would have to come on board to investigate the matter.

What that means is that if someone wanted to sue, the relevant law may be who they want to sue. If the patient described in this story wanted to sue the cruise companies staff they would probably be bound by the terms of the ticket and sue in whatever country the ticket said governed the terms of the contract.  If they sued over the conduct of the ship’s company (who may be different to the cruise company staff) then the issue would be where are they employed. If the allegation was about the state of the ship itself, then the relevant jurisdiction may be the country of registration.  If they wanted to sue the paramedic, my correspondent, they could not doubt chose the jurisdiction that they thought would be most favourable.

The very poor answers to the questions asked are:

  • Does the Civil Liabilities Act still apply on a cruise ship in Australian and NSW waters?

It would if the potential plaintiff brought any legal action in a NSW court, but I’m not sure that is what they would have to do.

  • Common sense prevailed here, but what would have happened if the first staff member insisted on starting CPR? Would the provisions in the law to stop paramedics being obstructed in the course of their duty come into play here?

That begs the question of whether a paramedic on holiday provided that care is acting in the ‘course of their duties’.  That would be the case if the paramedic flew to the ship to take part in a medical evacuation of a patient because in that case they represent a NSW Agency performing its statutory role. In that case (and without being able to quote authority) I think it would be much more certain that if there was an allegation made about the paramedic the relevant law would be NSW law. The paramedic who is despatched to the ship is authorised and acting under NSW law.  The passenger on the boat, even if he or she is a paramedic, is not exercising any NSW authority at that time.

  • Does registration make a difference when it comes into force?

Not that I can see.