Oasis of the Seas Man Overboard Accident Brings Reality of Overboard Passengers to Light

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

How accident misrepresentation and underreporting boils down to the three “R”s

Maritime Lawyers
Photo courtesy of Baldwin040, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The investigation into the Oasis of the Seas man overboard accident that claimed the life of Bernardo Elbaz, a 31-year-old passenger who died after falling from his balcony stateroom on November 6, 2015, is still underway. Both Royal Caribbean and the Broward County Sherriff’s Department continue to allege that Bernardo purposefully jumped from his balcony in an attempt to commit suicide, despite the video footage taken by fellow passengers clearly showing that Bernardo was holding onto a lifeboat as best he could in order to avoid falling into the waters below. This is certainly not the act of someone trying to kill himself.

Unfortunately, the information that has been released by the media, along with Royal Caribbean and police testimonies, has misrepresented the situation at hand and has offered an incomplete portrayal of the events that actually transpired on the night of Bernardo’s tragic death. Recently, however, our cruise ship accident attorneys obtained exclusive in-cabin video footage, provided by our client, Bernardo’s husband Erik, that reveals much more insight into the nature of the overboard accident than has thus far been represented by media outlets. The video shows a security guard rushing out to the balcony. Afterwards the same security guard states that Bernardo fell overboard. The husband then says that he didn’t fall, he was pushed.

Sadly, Bernardo’s is one of many overboard accidents and cruise passenger disappearances that have transpired throughout the years (267 to be precise) – and one of many that have been misrepresented. Just as tragically, there have been numerous man overboard incidents that the public never even learns about. The cruise industry as a whole has kept details on several accidents very low key and have gone through great lengths to keep serious incidents out of the media spotlight.

So why exactly do cruise lines underreport accidents? Why isn’t the public privy to all cruise passenger and crew disappearances? After all, it’s the public’s right to know what is going on aboard a ship in order to make an accurate assessment as to whether or not they would like to sail aboard a particular vessel. The answer? The three “Rs”: reputation, revenue, and responsibility.

First, if the public learns the real frequency with which serious cruise ship accidents like man overboard occur, they are much less likely to book a sailing. This means less money for cruise lines. Furthermore, a high accident rate can tarnish a cruise line’s reputation, also affecting booking rates and, again, revenue.

Another factor that influences a cruise line’s decision to underreport or misrepresent an accident is the fact that the cruise line may actually be held responsible for the matter. Cruise lines already have a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe shipboard environment for everyone on board to the best of their ability. When an accident transpires, more likely than not it is directly related to a lack of safety on the ship. Whether it’s because the cruise line failed to provide adequate security, hired a crew member that had a criminal past, or over served alcohol, or any other act of negligence, history has proven that the vast majority of cruise ship accidents – especially overboard accidents – could have been prevented had the cruise line enforced tighter security and safety measures.

Since Bernardo’s tragic death, three other cruise passengers have gone overboard, according to data on cruisejunkie.com. On November 8, a 43-year-old American woman fell from the Windstar Sea Breeze while the ship was sailing in Italy. Miraculously, she was rescued after just one hour in the water. The next day, a 75-year-old woman allegedly vanished from the MSC Opera, also while the ship was sailing in Italian waters. The woman was last seen at dinner the previous night but was not on board when the vessel docked in Genoa. Is this just a mysterious cruise passenger disappearance or is there more to the case?

Bottom line, cruise ships are well-equipped with hundreds of cameras that can capture incidents, such as a passenger falling overboard. Many times, cruise lines come forward to explain what the cameras have captured. Other times, the answer is usually “no comment”. If we are to be honest, the only enigma surrounding cruise ship overboard accidents – as far as our cruise ship accident lawyers can see – is why cruise lines refuse to actually admit the real evidence that is captured in a vessel’s surveillance footage. Like a broken record, the answer most likely boils down to the three “Rs”.