Just yesterday, on Sunday, August 19, at roughly 9:45AM CEST, Croatian Coast Guard rescued a 46-year old British woman, Kay Longstaff, who fell overboard from Norwegian Star — a cruise ship operated by Norwegian Cruise Line — about 60 miles off the coast of Croatia while the vessel was making its return to the port of Venice. Ms. Longstaff was floating in the water for nearly 10 hours before she was rescued by a Coast Guard patrol boat. During her 10 hour ordeal, she developed hypothermia. She has since been transported to a hospital in the town of Pula, where her condition is stable.
According to reports, Ms. Longstaff is believed to have gone overboard near the stern of the cruise ship, and may have been intoxicated at the time. Crew members aboard Norwegian Star did not realize that a passenger had gone overboard until about 2:00AM, at which point the ship was turned around to engage in search and rescue operations. Croatian Coast Guard and naval authorities were alerted as to the overboard incident and the need for immediate assistance. Information on the timeline for the rescue is scarce, but it appears that Coast Guard authorities began searching the target area (off the coast of Croatia) alongside Norwegian Star at about 6:30AM.
Though we are pleased to hear that Ms. Longstaff was rescued and is currently in a safe and stable condition, we have many concerns about Norwegian Star and their response to the overboard incident. Of particular concern are two issues: 1) Norwegian Star suspended its search and rescue operations at 8AM, just a few short hours after it arrived at the target area and began to collaborate with Croatian Coast Guard authorities, and 2) there were no automatic safety systems aboard the vessel, which could have prevented the incident altogether.
Had Ms. Longstaff suffered serious injuries, or had she gone missing entirely, then she and her loved ones might have an actionable claim for damages against Norwegian Cruise Line.
Cruise Lines Must Effectively Coordinate and Commit to a Rescue Operation
Cruise lines can implement a number of safety measures and procedures to minimize the risk of an overboard accident (and to quicken the response time necessary to coordinate an effective search and rescue operation). In the present case, there was an hours-long gap between the actual overboard incident and the moment that crew aboard Norwegian Star discovered that Ms. Longstaff was missing — this gap could have been eliminated had the cruise line installed an automated alarm system with motion sensing technology. Automated alarm systems on cruise ships can detect when a passenger falls overboard, and immediately notifies crew members as to the incident (and its location).
It is not clear whether crew aboard Norwegian Star contacted Croatian Coast Guard authorities immediately after discovering that Ms. Longstaff had gone overboard, or whether there was a delay — in the present case, media reports indicate that Coast Guard did not arrive at the target search area until 6:30AM, roughly 4.5 hours after crew members discovered that the passenger had gone overboard. Assuming this timeline is accurate, the delay seems unjustified by the circumstances.
Perhaps most egregiously, the captain of Norwegian Star chose to suspend search and rescue operations at 8AM, a few hours before Coast Guard authorities found Ms. Longstaff. It appears that the captain suspended the search in an attempt to mitigate further delays on their scheduled return to Venice. Though — ultimately — the passenger was found and rescued, it is not particularly difficult to conceive of a situation in which the decision to suspend the search could have been the difference maker between life and death.
If a cruise ship abandons their search for a passenger prematurely, and that choice results in injury or death to the overboard passenger, then there may be a claim for damages against the cruise line.
We Can Help
If you or a loved one has been injured, has gone missing, or has died due to a cruise ship overboard accident, then you may have a right of action against the cruise line for damages as compensation for your losses. Successfully obtaining damages in a lawsuit against the cruise line can be quite a challenge, however — we therefore encourage you to contact a qualified attorney for further guidance on how to proceed.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience litigating cruise ship accident claims (and other maritime and admiralty claims relating to cruise ship negligence), including those that involve overboard passengers who go missing for a significant period of time. Our extensive history representing injured passengers has helped us to develop the specialized experience necessary to succeed in such litigation.
Regardless of where an overboard incident occurs, the injured passenger (and their families) may have an actionable claim. In the present case, the rescued British passenger went overboard in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia — depending on how the facts of the case develop, she may have an actionable claim against the cruise line. Here at Lipcon, though our offices are in Florida, we have successfully represented passengers in similar overboard litigation abroad.
If you’d like to learn more, contact an experienced maritime lawyer at Lipcon for a thorough assessment of your claims. We look forward to assisting you.