Cruise Ship Disappearances: Cover-up, Crime Or Coincidence?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

What really happens when a passenger or crewmember goes missing from a cruise ship and one family’s unrest after a year of unanswered questions

There has been a lot of talk recently over the safety of cruise ships, especially after the Carnival Triumph experienced an engine room fire that knocked out power and left over 4,000 passengers and crewmembers drifting the in Gulf of Mexico amidst unsanitary conditions.

But as cruise ships continue to become bigger and “better,” sporting all kinds of new innovations and activities for those onboard to enjoy, it seems companies are neglecting the most critical aspect of all – safety.

There are many different types of accidents that can happen onboard a cruise ship, but perhaps one of the most tragic and unsettling involves the disappearance of a passenger or crewmember from their vessel.

According to the U.S.-based International Cruise Victims Association, 165 people have gone missing from cruise ships since 1995. Unfortunately, there is no completely accurate count of how many people have disappeared from cruise ships because companies do not always reveal this information on time – or ever.

One reason for this delay or complete lack of reporting cruise ship disappearances is because several countries can be involved in the investigation. The leading investigative authority is usually the country where the ship is registered. And since many of these countries either lack the substantial resources that a disappearance investigation requires or merely decide not to disclose information on the case, it can be next to impossible to obtain any information from foreign governments.

However, the cruise line itself is required to perform certain procedures upon first receiving the news that someone on the vessel has disappeared.

What Happens When Someone Goes Missing From A Cruise Ship?

There are specific protocols in place that cruise operators must follow when someone is reported missing from a ship. Because a cruise ship disappearance isn’t always reported the moment it happens, every minute counts when conducting an investigation. Just five minutes can mean the difference between life and death for the victim.

The first thing that cruise lines must do is perform a “reasonable search and rescue.” What this means is that the ship’s crew must search the vessel thoroughly for the missing passenger or crewmember. If the person is not located, then the vessel must return to the location where the victim was last seen.

If the victim was last seen while the vessel was sailing, then the ship must return to that exact location. Likewise, if the missing person was last seen while the ship was docked at a port, then the cruise operators must return to that location.

At this point, the Coast Guard must also be notified, along with the FBI and other local investigative agencies.

There are times in which a missing person has been rescued, even after several hours. But it is imperative that every reasonable effort is carried out to find the victim. The failure to perform a reasonable search and rescue mission can render the cruise company liable for the disappearance of the person.

We have seen instances where cruise ships have significantly delayed the “reasonable search and rescue.” For example, in one case, where a passenger was reportedly witnessed falling from the ship’s balcony into the water below and that was reported to the ship’s captain, the captain insisted on conducting a search of the ship for that passenger – while still sailing ahead – before he would be willing to turn the ship around and conduct a search of the water. Clearly, such a course of conduct is unreasonable and the resulting delay and complication from continuing forward after a report of a passenger overboard is likely to cause significant additional injury or death to the victim.

What Causes Passengers And Crew To Disappear From A Cruise Ship?

Passengers and crewmembers can go missing for several different reasons. Sometimes a victim has an accident and falls overboard, while other times they are left behind in port. There are also instances in which the disappearance follows criminal activity, such as an altercation between passengers or crewmembers, leading the victim to be thrown overboard, murder, assailants trying to cover up a rape, etc. At port, a person can also go missing because of a crime that took place in the country the vessel was visiting.

There are so many explanations as to why someone can go missing from a cruise ship but each incident that does manage to get reported has somehow been linked to a lack of safety onboard.

Whether the rails on the decks and balconies were not high enough, whether the victim was over-served alcohol, whether the missing person slipped and fell overboard, the causes are endless. Unfortunately, in a time when cruise ship accidents seem to be happening on a daily basis, it appears as though cruise companies are more concerned with making a profit than tarnishing their reputation with reports of missing passengers and crew.

From our standpoint, sacrificing improved safety procedures and improving the design of vessels to better protect those onboard in order to save money or use resources to build ships that are absurdly huge without sufficient safety features is not the most ideal of tradeoffs.

Fariba Amani Cruise Ship Disappearance And Her Family’s Struggling One Year Later

While there are times in which a missing cruise passenger or crewmember is found, other victims are not as lucky. One year after Fariba Amani left for a Caribbean cruise vacation, her family still struggles for answers.

Amani, 47 at the time she vanished, texted her sister Saloumeh on the day her cruise aboard MS Bahamas Celebration was setting sail, telling her she loved her and would see her soon. But Amani never came home.

Now, nearly a year after her mysterious disappearance, her family is nowhere close to finding answers.

“It’s been really hard,” said Saloumeh, 28. “It was a shock, and there is still no conclusion. There’s no closure, only questions and mystery.”

Amani was reported missing Feb. 29 by her boyfriend Ramiz Golshani, 46, after the ship docked in Florida following a four-night stay in the Bahamas. Golshani told the FBI he last saw Amani near a gift store around 1 a.m. He then explained he went to the casino, then back to the cabin to go to sleep. When Amani was not in the cabin the next morning, Golshani notified the vessel’s crew and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters where she was last reported seen, but no trace of Amani was ever found.

Since then, the Amani family has been on an endless uphill battle, filing a missing persons report with local police, but little progress has been made with the case. The family suggested Golshani, whom Amani had been dating for eight months without introducing him to her loved ones, might know more than he was letting on, but Saloumeh stressed that no one was pointing fingers.

To this day, the family says Golshani has not reached out to them. Yet, the family does suspect foul play. Saloumeh explained her sister had two adult children and that she was not a big drinker, making the possibility of her accidentally falling overboard unlikely.

Whether the family will ever see Amani again has yet to be told, but sadly, this cruise ship passenger disappearance isn’t the first, nor likely the last, that will take place on the high seas. It is important not to lose faith because there are many times in which a missing person is found. Hopefully one day, cruise operators will improve security and safety onboard to prevent these tragic incidents from happening again.

For more information on cruise ship disappearances, visit our Cruise Ship Law Blog for the latest reports on accidents and crimes on the high seas.

Photo Credits:

Top Right: Allure of the Seas search and rescue –
Middle Left: Cruise Deck –
Bottom Right: Fariba Amani –