1985 MOVE Bombing Survivor Drowns in Carnival Cruise Hot Tub

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

hot tubMichael Ward, known to many as Birdie Africa, was one of only two survivors of the 1985 MOVE bombing that killed 11 people. Only 13 at the time, Ward and an adult woman nicknamed Ramona Africa were the sole survivors of the tragic attack on the radical liberation group by police. He has been regarded as a hero for most of his life, but sadly, at 41 years of age, Ward’s life has now come to an end.

Ward was able to survive a bombing, but he wasn’t able to survive a cruise vacation. He was found died last Friday after reportedly drowning in a hot tub onboard the Carnival Dream while on a family vacation.

Not much has been said regarding the circumstances surrounding the cruise ship drowning and toxicology results are pending, but according to Ramona Africa, a MOVE member, Ward’s death was indirectly the fault of his father, Andino Ward.

Founded in 1972 in Philadelphia, MOVE was considered a radical group and by many, hypocritical. Advocating a “back to nature” attitude, MOVE shunned many modern and conventional traditions, including toilets and refrigerators, yet had no qualms about owning guns and driving cars. Everyone in the group took on the surname “Africa,” including the small Ward, whose mother joined the movement and perished in the bombing.

The police attack came on May 13, 1985, after the group broadcasted anti-government ranks and staged a protest when police officers attempted to arrest members. After refusing to cooperate, police dropped several C4 explosives from a helicopter into a fortified bunker on the roof of the group’s home on Osage Avenue, igniting a fire that spread across 61 adjacent homes and killing 11 people, including 5 children, MOVE leader John Africa and Ward’s mother, who Ward claims tried to escape the group but was threatened.

After escaping the attack with severe burns, Ward was taken in by his father and changed his name. Under his father’s guidance, Ward was able to graduate from high school and served in the U.S. Army. He later married and had two children.

In an interview with The Inquirer in 1995, Ward opened up about his life with MOVE and how he was forced to live in dire conditions. He admitted he was afraid of the group and planned several escapes, but was too young to follow through.

Though many have regarded Ward’s introduction into society as miraculous and positive, not everyone was supportive of his accomplishments.

Ward’s fellow bombing survivor, Ramona Africa, spoke with reporters and blamed his untimely death not on the cruise line, but on Ward’s father.

Ramona Africa claims the cruise ship accident was the direct fault of introducing Ward into society, and especially allowing him to embark on a sea-based vacation.

“One thing’s for sure, if he was still in MOVE, if he had not been snatched away from MOVE by his father, he would not have died like that,” said Africa in an interview with NBC10. “John Africa told us years ago about how dangerous it is to be about in those waters like that. MOVE people don’t take cruises because that’s not our belief.”

Though extreme in her beliefs, Africa does have a point about one thing, the open waters are dangerous.

The cruise ship lawyers at our firm have seen far too many people become injured or die in accidents on the high seas, but it wasn’t because the sea itself is dangerous, it’s because the cruise ships victims travel on are not entirely safe.

Not much has been said about Ward’s drowning or whether there were any crew members near the hot tub when the accident occurred, but from our knowledge of other similar cruise ship drownings, the vast majority are the result of a lack of surveillance on the cruise line’s part.

A few months ago, our cruise lawyers reported on the tragic near-drowning of a 4-year-old boy onboard the Disney Dream ship. The young victim was discovered unresponsive in the ship’s pool on March 30 while the vessel was docked at Port Canaveral in Central Florida. The boy and his family had just boarded the ship on a 7-day Caribbean itinerary when the accident occurred at around 3:30 p.m.

The boy was transported to Cape Canaveral Hospital and then airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for further treatment. The latest update on his condition revealed the boy was responsive but still has a long way to go before he fully recovers.

Our cruise ship accident attorneys have asked ourselves time and time again how these horrific incidents can continue to occur, especially after a new bill called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 was recently launched. At this point we have to wonder if cruise ship safety is just a ruse or if company officials really do care about the well-being of their passengers.

Carnival has yet to comment on Ward’s recent drowning, but in light of several accidents that have befallen the once “Fun Ship,” this latest tragedy is the last thing Carnival needed right now.

As the world’s largest cruise company, it’s only natural that Carnival would have the highest rate of accidents on the high seas and in port. Beginning with the Costa Concordia capsizing in 2012 and continuing with the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire last February, Carnival hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite as of late.

Yet, the company has assured its guests that it is working on improving safety options and even made headlines after distributing warning letters to passengers on itineraries that call on the Bahamas in light of the recent spike in Bahamian crime rates.

Is Carnival to blame for Ward’s drowning? Hard to say at this point since we don’t have the full scope of the details, but the reported circumstances beg the question whether negligence on the cruise line’s part may have been a factor?

After all, how could a grown man drown in a hot tub on the busy Carnival Dream without anyone noticing? Were there no crew members on site? Were there no cameras monitoring the area? Furthermore, why, to this day, do cruise lines refuse to have trained lifeguards on board their vessels?

Easy, the answer is MONEY.

Crew members cost lines money, and so do their cabins. Having lifeguards onboard will also cause cruise lines money, which we all know they are not usually willing to spend.

For most cruise ships, when a pool or hot tub is closed, a net is pulled over it so passengers know not to use it. If a pool or hot tub does not have a net over it, that means anyone can enjoy it and that also means crew members should be standing watch to make sure an accident doesn’t occur. It takes more than a few seconds for a victim to drown in a hot tub or pool, and if crew members were physically present and monitoring the area, most victims would be pulled out at the first sign of trouble and would likely survive.

Though having crew members monitoring areas onboard a vessel sounds like pure common sense, alas, many times, crew members are nowhere to be found. But there really is no excuse for cruise companies not to employ lifeguards and even less of an excuse for them not to have crew members on deck monitoring pools and hot tubs at all times.

As we have seen, cruise ship accidents can and do happen. Some are coincidental, but sadly, many are the result of the cruise company’s own negligence in providing a safe onboard environment. What more has to happen before cruise lines take a serious approach to maritime safety? How many more people have to get hurt?

Cruise lines like to say that they do their best to prevent drowning accidents by placing signs near the pool and hot tub areas informing passengers that there are no lifeguards on duty and to enter at their own risk. Yet, these so called “warning signs” are hardly visible and even the most skilled of swimmers can suffer an accident.

We can only hope that the cruise industry will learn from its mistakes and the many tragedies on the high seas and make a candid effort in improving passenger safety and even crew member safety for that matter. But given the nature of the industry, we shouldn’t hold our breath.