In the almost thirty years I have been handling Maritime cases here in Miami, Florida, I remain shocked when I hear of a story involving a passenger that is reported as “missing” during a cruise aboard one of the popular cruise ships. Most people are shocked when they hear that a missing person during a cruise is not an isolated event that may have happened only a couple of times in the past. They are shocked when they are provided with statistics, such as those contained on a website maintained by Professor Ross Klein at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, who reports on his website that there have been over a hundred and fifty incidents of passengers or crewmembers going overboard during a cruise in the past decade alone.
Most people heard about the George Smith case, where George Smith went missing during a honeymoon cruise he was on with his new wife. His body was never recovered. There were allegations of foul play resulting in his disappearance. An active investigation did not solve the possible crime. There still remains unanswered questions as to what happened to George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. His disappearance raised issues about the cruise lines response to the incident, how the cruise line handled the investigation, and the complex jurisdictional issues involved regarding who would be in charge of the investigation. The public exposure regarding the George Smith led to Congressional Hearings and investigation into the cruise line’s practices regarding situations where a passenger or crewmember goes overboard during a cruise. There were many questions raised regarding the appropriate response time to such an incident, and how to handle such an incident once it occurs.
The issue arises regarding the sufficiency of surveillance cameras, and whether they are appropriately monitored aboard cruise ships. There are also suggestions made that there should be some type of alarm system that could be triggered if a person goes overboard so that a prompt rescue effort could be made.
In the recent disappearance of a passenger, the ship that was involved was the Celebrity’s Millennium cruise ship. Celebrity operates out of Miami, and is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
The Celebrity’s Millennium departed on a fifteen (15) day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and was heading to Vancouver, British Columbia. The reports so far indicate that the passenger was not reported as missing until she did not appear during a custom’s check when the ship docked in San Diego. The ship had left Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. San Diego was the first United States port the ship stopped in after Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was reported that she was seen after the ship had left Cabo San Lucas and then reported as missing when the ship arrived in San Diego.
A Coast Guard Petty Officer named Henry Gunphry was quoted as saying that it was possible the passenger went overboard. An FBI spokesman reported that the FBI were investigating the incident.
It was also reported that the Coast Guard began search efforts sometime around 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, leaving from San Diego.
Based on past experience, it is extremely doubtful that the search will result in any successful recovery of the passenger. While there have been reported instances where a passenger has gone overboard during a cruise and has been rescued, those situations are very rare.
Our firm has handled several cases where a passenger has gone overboard, including the case involving the disappearance of George Smith. In each of these cases, issues have arisen regarding the appropriate use of surveillance videos, and appropriate rescue efforts, as well as the appropriateness of the cruise ship investigations following the disappearance. In another well publicized case involving the daughter of Kendall Carver, who is the President and CEO of International Cruise Victims Association, Mr. Carver’s daughter was on a pleasure cruise and disappeared during the cruise. The cruise line never reported that she was missing. Her belongings were collected after the cruise from her cabin and sent to storage. It was only after Mr. Carver hired a private investigator to search for his daughter that he learned she had been onboard a cruise ship, and that the cruise line had sent her belongings to storage and never reported that she was missing.
The danger of falling overboard on a cruise ship, either due to foul play or due to an accident, remains a real danger that does need to be warned about and guarded against. It is not a “freak event” that should be ignored.
In fact, there have been recommendations made for increased safety precautions, such as higher railings, and even discussions about safety nets and alarm systems that would be utilized if a person did in fact fall overboard during a cruise.
Our firm continues to represent passengers, as well as crewmembers, that have suffered injuries or gone overboard aboard a cruise ship.