Heart attack-at-sea survivor sues cruise line

Published Dec 9, 2012


KwaZulu-Natal - A Ballito shore man, who suffered a heart attack at sea, is suing the cruiseliner’s owners for R5 million.

Hilton Curgenven is demanding compensation from cruise line giant Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Starlight Cruises for, amongst others, medical negligence.

He claims MSC denied him adequate treatment after he had suffered a heart attack while he was on board the MSC Sinfonia last year.

Curgenven further claims, in papers before the Durban High Court, that instead of being airlifted to a hospital, he was dumped on a stretcher on the wharf when the ship docked in Durban. Curgenven, who owned his own construction company at the time, would travel on cruise ships part-time as a volunteer shore man (ferrying passengers to shore and back), paying only R500 for the three-day cruise. He enjoyed the same amenities as other passengers.

Curgenven, who had volunteered as a shore man for five years, said this week his life had fallen apart since the incident. He had been in and out of hospital and now required bypass surgery. As he can no longer work, he has lost his business and has no support or medical aid.

He did not, at the time, take out his own insurance as he believed he was insured by the shipping company. “I was told we were charged $6 a day, of which $3 was for the cleaners and $3 for compulsory insurance.”

He said on April 10 last year he was on board the MSC Sinfonia headed to Portuguese Island. On arrival, he helped transport passengers to shore, where he had lunch with a friend.

“After lunch, I felt unwell and went to my cabin, as I thought I had food poisoning. I felt severe pain in my chest. I had a mild heart attack, but managed to open my door and collapsed in the passageway. Passengers alerted staff and I was taken to the sick bay.”

He said the doctor on duty gave him a Voltaren injection, which is the last thing he remembers. He woke up from a coma six weeks later at Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital.

He said friends told him how he had been treated. “They said I was taken out on a stretcher when we docked in Durban and dumped in a patch of oil on the wharf. Thankfully, someone who knew me called an ambulance and I was taken to Addington Hospital (later transferred to Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital). That is the only reason I am alive today.”

An MSC Sinfonia medical report attached to court papers and dated April 10, 2011, states the diagnosis as severe chest pain and “myocardial infarct with s-t elevation”, stating “he needed treatment in hospital in addition (to an) ECG”.

Max Rowley, MSC legal corporate manager, said as the matter was before court, the media was not the correct forum in which to respond.

In papers Curgenven states the defendants provided passage to him as a passenger and/or shore man on the cruise ship MSC Sinfonia from April 8 to 11, 2011, for which he would pay only R500.

While he acknowledged he was “obliged to hold mandatory insurance cover for the duration of the cruise”, MSC was also “obliged to ensure the plaintiff was insured”.

He stated he understood that he was not entitled to such a passage without the insurance, and should not have been allowed to board the ship unless such cover was in place.

His main claim is that the defendants failed to provide adequate medical treatment, an emergency evacuation to an intensive care facility, and to ensure he was insured.

They also failed to take him to an appropriate medical facility to receive medical care. Instead they abandoned him on the wharf. Curgenven attached a copy of the terms and conditions of MSC Starlight Cruises. It states that a passenger shall not be allowed to board a cruise unless they have the necessary insurance cover.

In MSC and Starlight Crui-ses’ responding papers, both deny liability, asking that the plaintiff’s claim be dismissed with costs. They deny responsibility for his insurance.

The two companies said that Curgenven had entered into a contract knowing the MSC Sinfonia was not equipped as a hospital and that medical personnel were not specialists.

Furthermore, they were not liable for any loss or damage as a result of him not being fit to travel on board.

They also state Curgenven was admitted on board as a volunteer shore man who was afforded the status of a fare- paying passenger, that he would act as a volunteer for one day and in return enjoyed a “free cruise on board the vessel for the rest of the days on the cruise and would be afforded all the privileges… of fare-paying passengers”.

Advocate Sean Edwards, acting for Curgenven, said he was waiting to take the matter to court.

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Sunday Tribune

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