This past Saturday, during the morning hours, the luxury cruise ship Preziosa — belonging to the fleet operated by MSC Cruises, and with a carrying capacity exceeding 5000 passengers and crew in total — arrived in the port of Fort-de-France and discovered that one of its passengers (a 69-year-old Dutch man) had fallen overboard.
It is not clear when crew members or passengers made this discovery, though early media reports indicate that it may have been during the disembarkation process. The unnamed passenger was last seen with his wife on their cabin balcony the night before Preziosa arrived in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Speculation as to the cause of the accident abounds, as there does not appear to have been any CCTV video footage of the passenger falling, or any other relevant data.
This lack of information significantly affected rescue operations. French military forces assisted — specifically, a helicopter and jet retraced the Preziosa voyage and searched for the missing passenger. Nearby ships, traveling along parts of the same route likewise received notification of the incident. Sadly, as there is no certainty with regard to “when” the passenger went overboard, search-and-rescue personnel were unable to narrow down their operations. The search was called off Sunday it being likely that by then the overboard passenger had perished.
Given the circumstances, the wife of the passenger who fell overboard likely has an actionable wrongful death claim against MSC Cruises.
Vessel Operators Can Minimize Overboard Risks in a Number of Different Ways
Cruise lines must protect their passengers from an unreasonable risk of harm, which varies depending on the situation. In the context of overboard accidents, cruise lines must design, construct, and maintain their ships to ensure that their passengers are not vulnerable to falling overboard, and — if they do fall — that they can be rescued in a timely manner.
Given the relative lack of information at present, it is not clear whether the cabin balcony on the Preziosa was uniquely dangerous. There are a number of ways that cruise lines can reduce the likelihood of a passenger overboard accident. These include but are not limited to: by raising the height of the railings, by setting up signage to warn passengers of the danger, by showing passengers a brief video on the risk when they board, by timely cleaning up of spills, by having appropriate decking surfaces with sufficiently high friction coefficients to prevent slipping and other falling hazards.
What is clear, is that the overboard “response” systems were insufficient. Had MSC Cruises equipped Preziosa with even basic CCTV coverage of the portion of the ship where the passenger’s cabin balcony was located, then the later search-and-rescue operation might have been more effective. Alternatively, MSC Cruises could have installed an automated overboard sensor system, which is becoming increasingly popular as the technology’s accuracy improves. These automated systems sense falling movement and set off an alarm that notifies crew members so that rescue operations can begin immediately.
We Can Help
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys have over a century of combined experience representing cruise ship passengers (and their family members) in a wide range of disputes against cruise lines, including those that center around an overboard accident.
We focus on the provision of industry-leading maritime and admiralty law advocacy, and over the years, we have built a reputation as relentless, highly informed litigators. Since our founding, we have obtained over $200 million in compensation for our clients.
In the present case, the incident took place in the Caribbean, near the island of Martinique (a French overseas region). Though we are located in Florida, our attorneys have had substantial success litigating claims in courtrooms throughout the United States and abroad and the location of the incident often is not a bar to making a recovery in U.S. Courts.
Contact our firm today to speak to one of our experienced maritime lawyers about your claims.