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Travelers on their own in independent side trips

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MIAMI -- When cruise line passengers participate in onshore excursions like the one that killed 12 people in Chile, they need to take their own legal precautions and not rely on cruise ship company liability, experts said Thursday.

Passengers need to be particularly careful when they choose tours that aren't affiliated with the cruise line, said Paul Ruden, senior vice president for the American Society of Travel Agents. That appears to be the case in Chile, according to the cruise line.

Ruden acknowledged some people choose local operators that don't coordinate with cruise lines because they may offer cheaper tours.

''If you're comfortable being out on your own, that's fine, but you're taking the same risk of being out on your own that you would anywhere,'' he said.

This week has proved a tough one for the cruise industry. On Thursday, a fire broke out aboard a Princess Cruises ship in the Caribbean in which one person died, an American from Georgia, and 11 were injured.

Michael Crye, head of the industry group International Council of Cruise Lines, said Princess Cruises could be liable in the fire, but those injured in the independent onshore excursion face a different situation.

''Before every port visit, there is a briefing provided by the cruise line about the experience and about the things you should avoid and the things you should look forward to,'' he said. ''It is a matter of balance, how far you can go and be responsible.''

While some risks may be inevitable, travel insurance can minimize many of them, said Jonathan Ansell, president of U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

Ansell said about 35 percent of all U.S. cruise passengers buy insurance, up from 12 percent before 9/11.

Insurance can help families retrieve the bodies of their loved ones from far-flung destinations.

''It's not a pleasant thing to think about, but the issue of organizing that and getting through customs is a major issue,'' Ansell said.

Source: The Associated Press

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