Maritime passenger rights in the European Union
Since December 2012 passengers travelling by sea or inland waterway within the European Union (EU) have rights similar to those available to airline and rail passengers if their service is cancelled or delayed. Also, passengers with disabilities cannot be discriminated against and should be provided with assistance. Regulation (EU) N0 1177/2012, which came into effect on 18 December 2012, is designed to protect passengers using waterborne transport by establishing certain rights and a guaranteed level of service.
COVID-19 (coronavirus) and travel rights
What services are covered?
The EU Regulation applies to passenger services on the sea or on inland waterways where:
- The port of embarkation is in an EU member state
- The port of embarkation is outside the EU and the port of disembarkation is in an EU member state, provided that the service is operated by an EU carrier
The Regulation also applies to cruises where the port of embarkation is situated in the territory of a member state. However, the measures in relation to re-routing, reimbursement and compensation for delay in arrival to not apply to cruise passengers.
The Regulation does not apply to passengers travelling on:
- Ships certified to carry up to 12 passengers
- Ships which have a crew of 3 or less for the operation of the ship
- Excursion and sightseeing tours other than cruises
- Ships not propelled by mechanical means and historical passenger ships certified to carry up to 36 passengers
The Regulation also does not apply where the distance of the overall passenger service is less than 500 metres, one way.
Delays and cancellations
If the departure of a passenger service or a cruise is delayed or cancelled, you must be informed by the carrier or by the terminal operator, where appropriate, of the situation as soon as possible and no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled time of departure. You must also be informed of the estimated departure time and estimated arrival time as soon as that information is available.
In the case of a passenger service, if you miss a connecting transport service due to a cancellation or delay, the carrier and the terminal operator, where appropriate, must make reasonable efforts to inform you of alternative connections.
Re-routing and reimbursement
If the departure of a passenger service is expected to be cancelled or delayed for more than 90 minutes, you should immediately be offered the choice between:
- Re-routing to your final destination, under comparable conditions, at the earliest opportunity and at no additional cost
- Reimbursement of the ticket price and, where relevant, a return service free of charge to your first point of departure at the earliest opportunity
The reimbursement of the ticket price must be made within 7 days. It must be for the full cost of the ticket for the part or parts of the journey not made, and for the part or parts already made if the journey is no longer serving any purpose. Where you agree, the reimbursement may be paid in the form of vouchers and/or other services.
Assistance while waiting
If the departure of a passenger service or a cruise is expected to be cancelled or delayed for more than 90 minutes, you should be offered snacks, meals or refreshments free of charge, in reasonable relation to the waiting time. In addition, where a stay of 1 or more nights or a stay additional to that intended by you becomes necessary due to the cancellation or delay, the carrier must provide you with adequate accommodation on board or ashore free of charge, if possible. Transport to and from the accommodation must also be provided where necessary.
The carrier may limit the total cost of accommodation ashore, not including the cost of transport, to €80 per night for a maximum of 3 nights.
You are not entitled to accommodation where the carrier proves that the cancellation or delay was caused by weather conditions endangering the safe operation of the ship.
Compensation in the event of delay
While still being entitled to travel, passengers on a passenger service may request compensation from the carrier if they are facing a delay in arrival at their final destination. The minimum level of compensation is 25% of the ticket price for a delay of at least:
- 1 hour in the case of a journey of 4 hours or less
- 2 hours in the case of a journey of between 4 and 8 hours
- 3 hours in the case of a journey of between 8 and 24 hours
- 6 hours in the case of a journey of more than 24 hours
If the delay exceeds double the time set out above, the compensation is 50% of the ticket price.
The compensation must be paid within 1 month of your request for compensation. It may be paid in vouchers and/or other services, provided that the conditions are flexible. It must be paid in money if you request it and it cannot be reduced by financial transaction costs.
Carriers may introduce a minimum threshold of no more than €6 under which payments for compensation will not be paid. You are not entitled to assistance or compensation if:
- You were informed of the cancellation or delay before you purchased the ticket
- You caused the cancellation or delay
You are not entitled to compensation where the carrier proves that the cancellation or delay is caused by:
- Weather conditions endangering the safe operation of the ship
- Extraordinary circumstances hindering the performance of the passenger service which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken
The Regulation does not prevent you seeking damages through the courts for losses incurred as the result of a cancellation or delay.
People with disabilities
People with disabilities and those with reduced mobility have the right to make a reservation and to obtain a ticket in the same way as other passengers and at no extra cost. Reservations and tickets may, however, be refused in order to meet safety requirements and where the design of the passenger ship or port infrastructure and equipment makes the safe embarkation, disembarkation or carriage of a person with a disability impossible. In the case of such a refusal, all reasonable efforts must be made to find an alternative means of transport for the person concerned.
If the carrier, travel agent or tour operator requires that you be accompanied by a person capable of providing assistance to you, the accompanying person must be carried free of charge.
Where you are being refused a reservation or a ticket, or you are required to bring an accompanying person, you should be immediately informed of the reasons why. On request, those reasons must be notified to you in writing, within 5 working days of your request.
Where you hold a reservation or a ticket and you have complied with the notification requirements about your specific needs, but you are nonetheless denied embarkation under the Regulation, you should be offered the choice between reimbursement and re-routing.
Accessibility and information
Carriers and port operators must provide passengers with information on their rights and the accessibility of their facilities. The information is to be available in accessible formats.
Right to assistance
Subject to the access conditions of their facilities, carriers and terminal operators must provide assistance free of charge to people with disabilities and people with reduced mobility in ports and on board ships, including embarkation and disembarkation.
You must have notified the carrier or terminal operator about your need for such assistance at least 48 hours before the assistance is needed, unless a shorter period has been agreed. Also, when making the reservation or advanced purchase of the ticket you must notify the carrier of your specific needs with regard to accommodation, seating or services required or your need to bring medical equipment. You can make this notification through the travel agent or tour operator from whom the ticket was purchased.
You must be at the port at the time stipulated in writing by the carrier, which cannot be more than 60 minutes before the published embarkation time. If no embarkation time is stipulated, you must be there at least 60 minutes before the published departure time, unless a shorter period has been agreed.
Where you failed to provide the required notification, carriers and terminal operators shall nonetheless make all reasonable efforts to ensure that assistance is provided in such a way that you are able to embark, disembark and travel on the ship.
Loss or damage to mobility equipment
The carrier or terminal operator is liable for the loss of or damage to mobility equipment, or other specific equipment used by you, where the loss is due to the fault or neglect of the carrier or terminal operator. The fault or neglect of the carrier is presumed in the case of a shipping incident. You are entitled to the replacement value of the equipment concerned or, where applicable, the cost of repair.
Complaints and enforcement
Carriers and terminal operators must ensure that information on the rights of passengers under this EU Regulation is publicly available on board ships and in port terminals. The information must be provided as far as possible in accessible formats.
Carriers and terminal operators are required to set up a complaints handling mechanism to help passengers who are trying to avail of their rights under this Regulation. You must submit your complaint within 2 months from the date on which the service was performed or when the service should have been performed. Within 1 month of receiving the complaint, the carrier or terminal operator must inform you that your complaint has been accepted, rejected or is still being considered. A final reply must be provided to you no later than 2 months after the receipt of your complaint.
Every member state must designate a body responsible for the enforcement of this Regulation with regards to passenger services and cruises from ports situated on its territory and passenger services from a third country to such ports. The National Transport Authority is the designated enforcement body in Ireland. If you are dissatisfied with the response to your complaint and your rights under the Regulation have been denied, or you did not receive a reply within 1 month of making the complaint, you can make a complaint to the National Transport Authority.
Further information on the Regulation is available in an information note for passengers (pdf) published by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.