Embarking on a cruise vacation is often a dream realized for many people. After all, with the beauty of the water and the excitement of the ports-of-call, there is so much to experience and enjoy. Cruises are a special kind of vacation that allow passengers to sit back, relax, and just take in everything around them, without ever having to worry about transportation snafus or other travel chaos.
So, it seems only natural that many people are shocked to discover that cruise vacations can sometimes take unexpected turns for the worst. Although most cruises depart and return without any trouble, as a maritime law firm, we can safely say that, unfortunately, not every cruise is smooth sailing. Accident and injury frewquently occur aboard cruise ships. One kind of accident that has been frequently reported as of late is when an individual goes overboard.
A recent story out of Texas reminds us that it’s not just passengers who are at risk of disappearing in this fashion.
On Monday, April 24th, a bartender aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas disappeared without a trace. He was last seen on the ship’s closed-circuit television system at 1:30 am. After conducting a thorough search of the ship, he was reported missing at 4:30am.
As is customary, the Coast Guard was called in to search the area 170 miles southeast of Galveston. The search covered 5,000 nautical square miles and included teams from Galveston and Corpus Christi,Texas, Mobile, Alabama, and Gulfport, Mississippi.
After finding no sign of the missing 39-year-old, crews called off the search. We send our deepest condolences to the family of the missing man, as they navigate this difficult time. And Royal Caribbean announced that their Care Team is “providing support” to the family, friends, and colleagues of the missing man.
Could This Tragedy Have Been Prevented?
In the wake of this accident, we cannot help but to wonder what could have occurred? We have heard many stories that lead to people overboard – overservice of alcohol, assaults, and suicide attempts are the most common. When there is a disappearance of crew, very often we hear stories about conflicts with other crewmembers or a tragic event at home preceding the disappearance.
“Whatever the reason someone goes overboard – the number one reason why it results in an unsuccessful rescue is the delay in conducting a search,” says Jason Margulies who has handled several overboard cases. “With the technology available to the cruise lines – who are now spending nearly a billion dollars to build a ship, it is inexcusable to not incorporate technology which can instantly alert the captain to a man overboard situation. All the experts agree – the speed in which a search begins is directly correlative to the success of a rescue.
Margulies adds that there may be nefarious reasons why the cruise lines don’t incorporate the latest man overboard technology aboard its ships. “Unfortunately, there are antiquated statutes – such as the Death on the High Seas Act – which significantly reduce the financial exposure to the cruise line if a person dies at sea instead of being significantly injured. If they die [on the high seas], the Death on the High Seas Act abolishes all of their non-economic damages, which is the bulk of the cruise lines financial exposure in a lawsuit. These laws are very inequitable and have already been repealed in the airline industry – but, for some reason, the legislature refuses to repeal it when it comes to the cruise industry.”
Here – we sincerely hope that the cruise line provides all the information it has to the deceased crewmember’s family as soon as possible. Having represented many families in overboard accidents, we understand how unsettling it can be to feel as though you must move forward with your life, without ever receiving the answers you deserve.
The disappearance of a family member or friend is devastating enough, without the added strain of never knowing if something could have been done to save them. Perhaps Royal Caribbean will take the initiative to evaluate the situation on board their ships for all, in an effort to prevent an incident like this from happening in the future.
That said, if you or someone you love has been injured aboard a cruise ship, you should know that you do not have to face your legal situation alone. A maritime attorney on our team would be more than glad to listen to your story and help you leave this tragedy in the past. So if you are ready to take the next step, do not hesitate to contact us.