Blake Kepley, 20 years old, was a passenger on a Holland America cruise ship named the Oosterdam and was reported missing since this past Friday. Reports stated that this California man might have gone overboard during the cruise some time when the ship was between Sitka and Ketchikan. The United States Coast Guard began search and rescue efforts for the Fallbrook, California resident.
Reports state that a passenger disappeared into the water between 1:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. while the ship was on its way to Ketchikan. The United States Coast Guard Command Center in Juneau was notified by the cruise line at 4:00 p.m. on Friday of the missing passenger. As is standard procedure, the cruise ship conducted an initial search onboard and notified the Coast Guard after they were unable to locate the passenger.
The passenger was reported missing by family members when he could not be found when the family was exiting the ship in Ketchikan.
The United States Coast Guard suspended their search on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. The combined search effort included three Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew searches, and on the water searches by crews of the Coast Guard Cutter Naushon, as well as a Small Boat Station Ketchikan 47-foot Motor Life Boat. The searches covered more than 352 miles.
Of course, calling off a search and rescue effort is a difficult decision, as was acknowledged by the United States Coast Guard. Family members obviously want to keep up hope and do not want to see the search and rescue efforts suspended. However, the procedure is that after a certain amount of time the search and rescue efforts will be suspended.
The weather was reported as clear and winds of less than 10 miles an hour, with calm seas.
What happened to this young man obviously is a mystery, and will be difficult to solve. I have just recently blogged about disappearances on cruise ships and how they do happen at a greater frequency than one would ever expect. This is another example of a disappearance of a passenger onboard a cruise ship. There are several different theories of what happens when a passenger goes overboard. One potential theory is that a passenger commits suicide during a cruise. Another one is that the passenger simply falls overboard as a result of either foul play, or accidently falling overboard. It is not easy to fall overboard a cruise ship, but it does happen.
I have reported how difficult it is to solve a mystery of when a passenger goes missing onboard a cruise ship. Surveillance videos onboard the cruise ships sometimes provide valuable information as to what happeed. It is essential that these be obtained immediately from the cruise line. In addition, there are many potential witnesses onboard a cruise ship, including passengers and crewmembers that must be interviewed immediately. It is unlikely that a body is recovered after a passenger goes missing overboard, further making it more difficult to establish causes of death when a passenger is reported to have gone overboard.
I have testified at Congress as an invited maritime expert about disappearances and crimes on ships. Eventually, the congressional hearings let to a passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.
Our firm continues to be safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers who suffer harm at sea.