I was sadden to start my day off with a phone call advising me that a 6 year old boy died when he drowned in the pool onboard the Carnival Victory.
Drowning has been reported as a leading cause of death for infants and young children. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths with children aged 1 – 14 years old.
It was also reported that an estimated 5,000 children ages 14 and under are hospitalized due to unintentional drowning-related incidents each year. Fifteen percent die in the hospital and as many as 20% suffer severe, permanent neurological disability. See the National Safety Council and Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention.
Surprisingly, it is also been reported that of all preschoolers who drown, 70% are in the care of one or more parents at the time of the drowning and 75% are missing from the sight of someone supervising them for 5 minutes or less.
A report also indicates that a majority of the children who survive (92%) are discovered within 2 minutes following submersion.
In the past, there has been discussion whether there should be permanent lifeguards assigned to swimming pools aboard cruise ships. In the 30 years I have been handling cruise ship accident cases, the cruise ship companies have decided not to have a lifeguard present at the swimming pools. The cruise ship industry relies on warning signs. However, the question becomes whether a sign can really prevent kids from drowning on a cruise ship?
This issue came to head when a 4 year-old boy nearly drown on a Disney Fantasy cruise ship, leaving the parents to question Disney’s policy of not having permanent lifeguards at their pools.
In response to the tragedy on the Disney cruise, David Peikin, Director of Public Affairs for Cruise Lines International Association, was quoted as stating the following: “Much like many hotels and resorts with swimming pools, cruise ships utilize conspicuous signage to make individuals aware that a full-time lifeguard is not on duty.”
This begs the question whether signs are effective in reminding distracted parents, or others supervising young children, regarding a potential drowning incident.
Some cruise ships safety experts would say that a warning sign is not enough. Cruise ships are designed in a manner that passengers are distracted and continuously entertained. This is part of the cruise ship experience. Parents are encouraged to bring their children onboard a cruise ship. Although a parent obviously must keep a close eye on their children, the pool area on a cruise ship is very busy and crowded. There are many employees walking back and forth, including many trying to push alcohol on the passengers for the profit of the cruise ship company. It is simply a highly distracting environment.
To make things worse, and more dangerous, a drowning does not always look like a drowning. A former U.S. Coastguard Rescue swimmer was interviewed and stated how easy it can be for even the most attentive parent to miss the signs of drowning. This expert reported that of approximately 750 children who statistically drown in a year, about 375 do so within 25 yards from a parent or other adult. In 10% of those drowning’s, an adult can actually watch them do it and have no idea that it is happening.
It is obvious that training of professional cruise ship medical teams is critical to save lives, and to timely respond to a drowning situation. But is the medical staff enough? It takes time to alert the medical staff for them to respond to an emergency.
I would submit cruise ships should hire professional lifeguards to monitor the pools on cruise ships, who are experts on recognizing the signs of a child drowning and in a better position to prevent a tragedy such as this. The lifeguard would have a more accurate vantage point to watch the pool, which is mostly crowded with passengers and crew, and there is a lot going on at the pool decks to block the vision of someone keeping an eye on the pool.
The Carnival Victory had just docked at the Port of Miami and police were responding at the port. An investigation will start right away, and as details are provided, I will report further on this incident. I have already been contacted regarding this tragedy. It made me very sad of course. Not the type of news anyone wants to hear. What was intended to be a fun filled cruise aboard the Fun Ship, turned out for this family to be a tragedy that one cannot even measure the devastating effects the family will suffer.
Our firm continues to act as safety advocates, pushing for legislation and better safety rules and policies aboard cruise ships to prevent serious accidents and deaths. We believe the cruise industry needs to be more regulated, and that stricter laws should be in place for cruise ship companies who carry millions of passengers each year, including young children and infants.