The 2014 cruise season is well underway, but that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing for the cruise industry thus far– no pun intended. In the first half of the year, we’ve already seen a host of accidents and crimes, many of which have resulted in fatalities. The cruise lines’ image have again been tarnished with news of violent sexual assaults, and both passengers and crew members have faced peril while exploring foreign ports due to high crime rates, including gun-point robberies. Each maritime and offshore injury lawyer at our firm knows all too well that accidents do happen, but from our perspective it just seems as though the cruise industry as a whole far too frequently fails to maintain a safe shipboard environment. There can only be one result of this type of conduct: crime, injury, and death on the high seas.
Recently, it has come to our attention that negligence in maintaining a safe shipboard environment likely contributed to a new accident involving a passenger aboard an MSC ship. According to the media station Univision, a passenger went overboard from the MSC Divina cruise ship this week. The news report, originally written in Spanish, explains the passenger, who was on deck 15, fell roughly 164 feet into the water – an extremely dangerous, if not deadly, fall. The vessel had been on a special sailing around Brazil in honor of the World Cup. The ship was transporting around 3,500 passengers, all of whom were from Mexico, and was traveling between the three cities where Mexico’s soccer team was scheduled to play during phase one of the World Cup games.
Allegedly, the victim had been watching the Mexico vs Brazil game in Fortaleza with fellow passengers just before the accident. A witness claims the victim was intoxicated and saw him go overboard from deck 15 as the ship was sailing toward its next port of call, Recife. We don’t yet know whether the witness was the one who reported the accident or another passenger, but from what we’ve heard from news sources, the vessel (as it is required by law) made a full stop to search for the missing passenger upon receiving word of the accident and notified the Brazilian Navy.
The Divina’s crew allegedly immediately began searching the water for the missing passenger aboard lifeboats and then the Brazilian Navy took over the investigation, instructing the Divina ship to continue its voyage to Racife, where Mexico is scheduled to play Croatia on June 23rd.
Unfortunately, according to reports, the Navy was unsuccessful in finding the victim. We have yet to learn of the victim’s identity and whether he had been traveling alone or with loved ones. One thing we do know for sure is that authorities confirmed the victim was intoxicated.
This sad accident is just one of too many overboard accidents that have befouled the cruise industry since the first cruise ship set sail over a century ago. According to statistics by cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein, found on his site, cruisejunkie.com, 232 people have gone overboard from cruise ships and ferries since 2000 alone. Not too long ago, one of our own clients also went overboard from a Carnival ship she, her fiancé and friend were traveling on.
Our client, Sarah Kirby, was also extremely intoxicated when she fell from her stateroom balcony after Carnival bartenders kept pushing for her to drink an astounding number of Long Island Iced Teas. It is a miracle she lived to tell the tale, because it was over two hours before she was finally located and rescued from the pitch black waters of the Caribbean where she had fallen overboard.
Sarah’s story shares eerie similarities to this latest overboard accident. Both victims were extremely intoxicated and there’s a very real likelihood that the MSC Divina crew was pushing alcohol on the latest victim as well.
Cruise ships make a huge amount of their profits onboard from alcohol sales, and typically, the bartenders on the ships earn more money by selling more drinks. Thus, the crew will make everyeffort to sell as much alcohol as possible to passengers. Notably, unlike many land based bars, the cruise ships are responsible for the overservice of alcohol.
This is likely because, at least in part, it is much easier for someone to become extremely intoxicated on a cruise ship vacation, where they don’t have to drive anywhere. And yet the risks are that much greater because If someone on dry land were to have one too many drinks and stumble and fall, they might get bruised up, but when someone stumbles and falls on a cruise ship due to extreme intoxication, they might stumble and fall into the ocean and may never be rescued.
The epidemic of overservice of alcohol onboard cruise ships is a unique issue. Many people think that the issue of consumption of alcohol is solely one of personal responsibility. But unfortunately, the general public doesn’t understand that there is an element of corporate responsibility as well; that is, once a person is clearly intoxicated, then the cruise line has a duty to stop serving that person alcohol.
Nonetheless, though the statistics are as plain as day, cruise ships continually fail to impose strict laws regarding both the sale and distribution of alcohol. Far too many accidents, including overboard accidents result from a ship crew’s negligence in realizing a passenger is drunk and cutting them off from further drinks.
Another contributing factor or problem to overboards in the lack of security personnel monitoring ships. Walk around a cruise ship deck after 10 pm and it will most likely be barren. Rarely will you see crew members on deck at night, and if you do, they are probably just cleaning or putting things away. Security, which typically equals a handful of people to monitor several thousand people, is in our view, ill-equipped to deal with what is really going on at sea.
What about all those security cameras? Well, those are only as good as the people watching them, and it appears that generally, no one is watching…
Fortunately, the U.S. congress recently passed laws requiring overboard sensors to be installed to the extent such technology exists (which it does, just google it). So in the near future this technology may be the key to helping those people who find themselves in the terrifying, and ever increasing, situation of falling overboard. .