This weekend, on Saturday, June 30 at about 3:20PM EST, a crew member of the Norwegian Cruise Line ship — Getaway — fell overboard. A long, grueling, and highly coordinated US Coast Guard search failed to locate the crewmember who was subsequently rescued by a passing Carnival Cruise Line ship — Glory. The rescue took place on Sunday, July 1 at about 1:00PM EST.
According to reports, the crew member (33-year-old Francisco Santiago, a Filipino national) fell overboard about 28 miles northwest of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Within ten minutes, US Coast Guard watchstanders had been notified of the disappearance, and sent out an Ocean Sentry airplane to conduct a search. The Coast Guard plane was unable to located Francisco, and in fact, official rescue authorities did not secure his person. It was a crew member aboard the Carnival Glory that spotted Francisco floating in the water nearly a full day after the overboard incident, leading to the rescue.
Video footage has since been released that indicates the crew member may have jumped overboard on his own volition, perhaps in an attempt to commit suicide. In fact, the footage in question shows Francisco shouting at other passengers to stop holding him. Once he was able to break free of other passengers, he dropped from a ledge close to one of the lifeboats.
We are pleased to hear that Francisco is safe, though there are many issues in the present case that give us pause. The normal processes for search-and-rescue seem to have been ineffective, as the Coast Guard Ocean Sentry plane could not find Francisco despite covering a 1,600 mile area, and despite having been alerted to the overboard incident within just a few minutes of its occurrence. Further, it does not appear as though the ship had systems in place for adequately responding to the overboard incident.
Had Francisco never been rescued, then his surviving family members might have a legitimate claim against the cruise line for wrongful death, though it may have been undermined by his choice to jump overboard. On the other hand, if he simply fell overboard, then the claim may be actionable.
Overboard Safety Systems and Response Procedures Must Be Properly Implemented
In this instance, the vessel was immediately aware of the crewmember going overboard because it was witnessed. This however is usually not the case and many hours can go by before the vessel learns a person went overboard. 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, it’s worth noting that the Norwegian Getaway does not seem to have been equipped with a “man overboard” safety system. If it was not for the witnesses, we have no way of knowing how long it would have taken for the vessel to discovery Francisco had gone overboard.
Cruise lines must adapt to the times and implement safety systems and procedures that prevent situations like this: where a person falls overboard and is not capable of being discovered within a reasonable timeframe. Reports indicate that Francisco floated nearly seven miles and 22 hours before having been found and rescued. Had adequate systems and procedures been in place, it’s arguable that the rescue would not have taken so long. Excessive delay in a search-and-rescue operation can spell the difference between life-and-death as in most cases where the body is never found and the person is presumed dead.
We Can Help
If you or a loved one have sustained injuries (catastrophic or otherwise) in a cruise ship overboard accident, then there may be a significant and actionable claim against the cruise line for damages. Litigating an injury claim against a cruise line is not as simple as it may initially appear, however. The fine print in your cruise ticket contract contains many provisions designed to favor the cruise line and create traps for the unwary or inexperienced. In many cases, the cruise lines intend to discourage litigation by adopting an aggressive stance towards claims — even in instances where there is no doubt of the cruise line’s negligence.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., we understand the unique contours of the cruise industry and how to effectively navigate the legal landscape to secure maximum compensation on behalf of our clients. Though we represent injured plaintiffs in a range of practice areas, we primarily focus on maritime and admiralty claims, particularly those involving cruise ship and ferry operators. Our maritime lawyers have successfully advocated on behalf of our clients no matter where in the world the maritime incident has occurred.
Interested in learning more? Contact our team of experienced maritime lawyers for an assessment of your various claims and to better understand the steps necessary to ensure a full and adequate recovery.