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Cruise Industry

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Baker Donelson's cross-practice team draws on experience in key areas of law affecting the cruise industry.

Practice Overview


The cruise industry continues to grow at rapid rates as a result of the new build programs of the largest cruise lines and tremendous growth in sectors such as expedition cruising and river cruising by existing cruise lines and startups. The industry growth also stimulates the growth of affiliated industries including shipyards, marine equipment and machinery manufacturers, tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, fuel suppliers, engineering firms, ship management companies, ports, food and beverage distributors and many more too numerous to mention.

Our Firm, with its national reach, has a dedicated cross-disciplinary Cruise Industry Group. The complexity of an industry that comprises the operation of one of the most sophisticated maritime operations in the world, the management of a world class resort and the incumbent consumer marketing, technology and logistics requires a broad range of legal experts. Our Cruise Industry Team is led by former general counsel with more than a decade of experience in-house for one of the world's largest cruise lines and they also managed the U.S. flag division of the company for another four years. Our experienced team draws on experience in key areas of law affecting the cruise industry, including maritime law, maritime labor issues, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, technology, compliance and regulatory matters including environmental and safety.

We counsel all types of businesses in this sector including existing cruise operators, startups, ship management companies, maritime lenders, tour operators, travel agencies and consolidators. Our team advises on a full range of legal and business issues affecting the cruise industry and industry clients, including:

Purchases, sales and leases. We advise on the purchase, sale and leasing of ships and the unique types of financing necessary to effect these transactions. We address pre-purchase considerations, purchase agreements, concessionaire agreements, charter agreements and management services agreements. We provide counsel regarding structuring the transaction and tax considerations, due diligence, sale document negotiation and drafting, regulatory compliance and closing.

Operations and regulatory compliance. We counsel clients regarding the legal and regulatory obligations they have in owning and operating their ships. We help clients establish compliance programs (including SMS certification) for safety and environmental compliance as well as Maritime Labour Convention compliance and the interaction between the shore-based operations and the ships. We also handle Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, disputes and government enforcement actions. Our attorneys are experienced in handling ADA matters throughout the hospitality industry including website compliance as well as public accommodations/facilities issues. Our regulatory compliance includes import/export control and CFIUS compliance, and our attorneys have close working relationships with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control. We represent clients in their dealings with the U.S. Coast Guard, E.P.A., the Maritime Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Maritime Commission and other regulatory authorities including government investigations.

Environmental protection. Our attorneys have experience in the MARPOL Convention, the U.S. Clean Water Act, the U.S. Act to Prevent Pollutions from Ships and compliance programs under the ISM Code. We advise clients on the management of all types of ship waste streams, including solid waste, hazardous waste, bilge water, ballast water, sewage, gray water and air pollutants. We handle and defend government investigations and/or prosecutions for cruise line clients and other shipping clients. Our attorneys advise clients on developing robust Safety and Environmental Management Systems in compliance with the ISM Code both proactively and as part of government investigations.

Dispute resolution, litigation, government investigations and class actions. Our admiralty and maritime attorneys advise on arbitration, litigation and mediation of contract and other commercial disputes, including claims arising from vessel arrests, attachments and foreclosures, collisions, salvage, towage, wreck removal, environmental and pollution matters, marine insurance and reinsurance disputes, personal injury and death claims, ship finance, vessel construction and repairs, and stevedore and terminal operations. One of our attorneys is currently serving as President of Comité Maritime International.

Port development. We assist clients in various aspects of port development including project financing, real estate purchases and ground leases, coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers and local government negotiations.

Government investigations. Our Government Enforcement and Investigations Group consists of more than 30 lawyers including numerous former U.S. attorneys and the first general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security. We have experience handling environmental and casualty investigations involving the cruise industry and broad experience in various types of investigations involving large, sophisticated, consumer facing businesses such as cruise lines. Our experience includes negotiated resolutions, trial practice (both civil and criminal), internal investigations, special master oversight and compliance programs.

Mergers and acquisitions. We counsel companies seeking to acquire or sell cruise lines of all sizes and structures. We also have considerable experience managing cross-border transactions that involve both cultural distinctions and conflicts of law issues.

Financing. Baker Donelson represents borrowers and major national banks, leasing companies and other lenders to the ship finance market. Our experience covers all aspects of ship financing, including finance leases of all kinds, syndications, portfolio acquisitions, mezzanine loans and bond offerings. We regularly advise our clients with respect to foreign-registered and operated ships, complex cross-border transactions and the legal and business issues that arise.

Data protection, privacy and cybersecurity. Our attorneys provide clients with advice on all facets of information management including data incident and breach response; Information Privacy and Security Compliance Plans; Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans; and Data Governance/Compliance Plans. When incidents arise, our credentialed Data Incident Response Team provides real-time legal and technical response advice 24/7/365.

U.S. citizenship requirements. When non-U.S. citizen cruise operators or interests desire to operate in the U.S. coastwise market, our attorneys have organized the ownership composition or structured transactions to allow the ships to obtain U.S. registration with a coastwise endorsement in compliance with the Passenger Vessel Services Act/Jones Act. These deal structures include lease financing arrangements and time charter/ship management arrangements that allow non-U.S. cruise lines to market and sell cruises on vessels in the coastwise trade.

Consumer Trade Practice. The practices and policies of consumer-facing companies, from unsolicited marketing to the protection of customer information, are under constant scrutiny, as are issues relating to deceptive or unfair advertising. The FTC is the governmental agency at the forefront of regulating marketing practices and investigating allegations of unfair or deceptive advertising. Regulations and investigations involving consumer protection do not stop at the federal level. Each state, through its Attorney General or Department of Consumer Affairs, enforces unfair trade practice laws through so-called "Little FTC Acts." Such law enforcement actions can take place in concert with the FTC or other federal agencies. Our team is experienced in both compliance programs, defending enforcement actions and litigating private suits including class actions. We have handled FTC Act disputes, Telephone Consumer Protection Act disputes and Data Protection Act matters.

Corporate representation. Our attorneys represent companies in the maritime and cruise industries regarding general corporate counseling, contract drafting and negotiations, corporate governance, corporate finance and securities matters.

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