Two Cruise Ship Passengers Recently Reported Missing; Is a Lack of Onboard Overboard Detection Systems to Blame?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise deckCruise ship safety is a hot topic of debate recently, especially following an increase in the number of accidents both at sea and in port this year. Beginning with the Carnival Triumph fire in February, 2013 has been a year of mechanical mishaps, injuries, sicknesses, crimes, and overboard accidents. But while the cruise accident lawyers at our firm thought things were finally starting to improve within the industry, not one, but TWO cruise passengers have gone missing just a few days apart from each other.

Two weeks ago, an elderly South Korean cruise ship passenger went missing after falling off a vessel. The victim, a 75-year-old man, fell from a Risabu Cruise ship that was sailing northwest of Jumunjin, a port in the country’s east coast, just before 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31.

According to Coast Guard officials, a rescue team was sent out to find the missing cruise passenger but the search was suspended once it became dark and difficult to sea in the waters. Authorities still don’t know what caused the man to fall over the 753-ton ship. Some speculate he jumped over on purpose, but officials have yet to confirm this theory.

A Risabu Cruise representative told investigators that some crew members had  seen the victim near the ship’s rails and told him to stay away for his own safety, but once crew members left the area, the passenger disappeared.

Company officials said they were going to check surveillance footage to determine what happened to the missing passenger, but no further details have been provided by the cruise line.

Our cruise ship accident lawyers have no idea what happened with the search for the missing man and whether he was rescued or not. When an accident of this magnitude occurs onboard a cruise line, investigations continue until either the victim is rescued, a body is recovered or the search is called off.  Neither Risabu Cruise officials nor the Coast Guard has commented on the overboard accident since August, leading us to wonder if there isn’t something that the cruise line is hiding.

Last May, our firm reported on another missing cruise passenger accident involving an Australian couple who fell from the Carnival Spirit and were never recovered. Though the vessel has over 600 surveillance cameras in operation, no one seemed to have noticed what exactly happened when the couple went overboard. According to investigators and  minimal footage from the accident scene, Kristen Schroder, 27, climbed over the railing of her cabin’s balcony and then fell overboard. Shortly after, her boyfriend, 30-year-old Paul Rossington, also went overboard in what appeared to be an attempt to rescue his girlfriend.

But why did Schroder go over the rail? Moreover, how could none of the ship’s crew members have been monitoring the footage to notice the couple going overboard immediately? Had someone been watching surveillance tapes, the ship could have been stopped and an investigation could have commenced right then and there. It wasn’t until the following day that the couple was discovered missing.

The vessel wasn’t equipped with any infrared detection system either, which could have located the missing couple in the water with ease. So many things went wrong with this accident and we can’t help but wonder how the largest cruise company in the world could have neglected to a) have better safety technology onboard and b) have a sufficient number of crew members monitoring cameras.

As we know from our experience in the field of maritime law, cruise lines tend to hide information regarding serious accidents, especially overboard accidents, which may come back to haunt the cruise line. Most of these accidents tend to be attributed to the negligence of the cruise line itself in having balconies of adequate height, sufficient staff members, up-to-date safety equipment, and the list goes on. If the line is found to be at least in some part responsible for the incident, they may be held liable for damages, and no cruise line wants to cough up the millions of dollars they could potentially be sued for. Naturally, they do what they must to avoid these penalties and conceal information from the public.

Now that the new Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 has been launched, our cruise ship lawyers are hoping that this all-too-common practice of concealing information on accidents and crimes finally comes to an end and that cruise lines will invest in better safety protocols.

Unfortunately, it seems as though safety is not a top priority on the minds of cruise line operators.

On Monday, another passenger went missing, this time from a North Sea ferry ship. According to reports, the victim, a 22-year-old male passenger, disappeared while sailing onboard the MV Hjaltland ferry vessel that was on an overnight itinerary from Shetland to Aberdeen, Scotland. The young man was last seen around 4 a.m. on Monday morning while the vessel was off the north-east coast of Scotland.

An air and sea search was initiated by the Aberdeen Coastguard, but was later called off that day. The Hjaltland  also turned around and attempted to follow the same route back up the coast, but the passenger could not be found.

Like the Carnival Spirit, the Hjaltland did not have any overboard passenger detection system in place. For that matter, neither did the Risabu cruise ship.

So with all of these overboard accident reports, isn’t it high time ALL cruise and ferry ships incorporated some kind of overboard passenger detection system?

Since the year 2000, over 200 people have gone missing from cruise ships and ferries, But it wasn’t until 2010 that Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act to address this issue.

In an effort to protect the safety of cruise passengers, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act required that vessels “integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard,” yet, three years later, few vessels have adhered to the regulation.

These days, larger than life cruise ships are being built that can hold over 4,000 passengers. They feature all kinds of innovations for entertainment, yet barely any of them feature infrared detection or any other kind of overboard passenger detection system.

Ten passengers have been reported missing this year alone – that we know of – and though there is more than enough adequate technology available to detect missing persons who go overboard, cruise lines and ferry boats STILL refuse to incorporate these systems into their ships.

What is the cruise industry waiting for? The 300 missing passenger mark?

Every second an overboard victim goes without help is another second their life is endangered. Even the most physically fit passengers, like the Australian passenger Rossington, who was a paramedic and in excellent shape, still wasn’t recovered after extensive search. The open waters are ruthless, even when weather conditions are fair. There are sharks in the water and other dangers that can cause an overboard victim to lose their life, yet the cruise industry has done little or nothing to reduce these terrible accidents or improve the chances of recovering passengers.

If the issue is over expenses, installing overboard passenger detection systems couldn’t possibly cost more than the $1,000,000-average it costs the Coast Guard to conduct a search and rescue effort.

Something must be done to improve safety onboard cruise lines, but if the 200+ missing passenger reports aren’t enough to do the trick, we don’t know what will.