Coast Guard Suspends Search for Overboard Crew Member of Cruise Ship

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Last Friday, on August 3 at roughly 3:00PM AKST, Coast Guard authorities in Juneau suspended the search and rescue mission for a 35-year old male crew member who is currently believed to have gone overboard a Holland America Line (HAL) cruise ship, Amsterdam, a medium-sized, luxury vessel capable of carrying up to 1,380 passengers in total.  This is the second man-overboard incident aboard the Amsterdam in the last three weeks.

Amsterdam was traveling through Sitko Sound at the time of the overboard accident.  According to media reports, the crew member in question was last seen at 6PM on Thursday, August 2, but it was not until 7:45PM — at which point the crew member had failed to show for his scheduled work shift — that the captain was notified as to the fact that the crew member was missing.

Cruise ship Amsterdam immediately changed its course and began to search for the missing crew member, to no avail.  Coast Guard watchstanders in Juneau were alerted at 9:00PM on the same evening as his disappearance, but it was not until 1AM that search and rescue helicopters began their mission.  Though helicopter crews searched a wide area (estimated at 163 square miles), their efforts were impeded by challenging weather, however.  Reports indicate that there was limited visibility due to night conditions, heavy fog, 43 mile per hour winds, and high waves.

The status of the missing crew member is currently unknown.  Given the conditions, and the length of time that has passed since the crew member is believed to have gone overboard, it is highly likely that he has not survived.

Though we are always encouraged by extensive search and rescue efforts — particularly during severe weather conditions — there are aspects of the present case that give us pause.  There are significant gaps in the timeline that point to potential negligence.   There was almost a two hour delay before the Coast Guard was first notified resulting in 7 hours to elapse before emergency response began in earnest in the area where the crew member is believed to have gone overboard.

It is possible that if crew aboard Amsterdam had the necessary equipment to have been immediately alerted to the man-overboard situation and then promptly notified Coast Guard watchstanders sooner (3 hours had passed before Coast Guard authorities were alerted as to the missing crew member), then the search and rescue mission might have been launched at an earlier time.  Under such circumstances, an hour or two can spell the difference between life-and-death.  Surviving family members may have an actionable claim against the cruise line.

Dangers of Overboard Accidents Can Be Minimized With Adequate Safety Measures

HAL cruise ships — and many other vessels in the industry, despite being billed as “high-end luxury” experiences, with modern amenities and equipment — frequently lack modern safety systems that are capable of preventing serious overboard incidents.

Man Overboard Detection Systems have been around for years, yet cruise lines have been resisting the installation of this technology claiming it was not feasible or practical.   Man Overboard Detection Systems will alert the cruise lines when a man overboard situation first occurs rather than wait until it is discovered and a man over board alert is called.  These safety systems also take photos that give crew the tools necessary to track the location of the overboard person and either use the information to make a rescue themselves, or give the information to official rescue authorities.

In the present case, Amsterdam did not a Man Overboard system.   In addition, all evidence indicates that the vessel did not have the requisite CCTV coverage to catch the crew member falling overboard.  Had such equipment been installed on Amsterdam, the crew (and rescue authorities) could have immediately responded and likely saved the overboard crew member from otherwise certain death.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has sustained injuries (serious or fatal) in an overboard accident aboard a cruise ship or ferry, then you may have a right of action against the vessel operator to recover damages as compensation for those losses.  Crew members and their families are also entitled to damages, though claims brought against their employer are governed by the federal Jones Act, and involve a complex set of rights, limitations, and procedures.  As such, it’s important that you consult with an experienced maritime lawyer who is capable of effectively navigating the challenges typical of such litigation.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our team of attorneys bring over a century of experience to bear on behalf of injured passengers and crew members.  We have a long and consistent track record of success in bringing claims against cruise lines, and secure maximum compensation for our clients.  Unlike many other firms working in this area, we primarily focus on maritime and admiralty law disputes.  We are therefore uniquely well-positioned to litigate claims against “giants” of the industry, such as HAL.

Though our offices are located in Florida, we are fully equipped to litigate claims throughout the United States and abroad.

If you’d like to learn more about how to proceed with your claims, we encourage you to contact an experienced maritime lawyer here at Lipcon.  We will evaluate your claims and work with you to develop a strategic plan moving forward.