Young Cruiser Goes Overboard, But No Attempt at Search and Rescue is Made

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

At around 2AM on Monday morning, January 21, a 22-year-old cruise ship passenger traveling aboard the Golden Princess — a large passenger vessel with a carrying capacity of 3,700, owned and operated by Princess Cruises — disappeared after going overboard in route to Melbourne from New Zealand.

According to media reports, crew members did not notify Australian coast guard authorities until 9PM that evening.  An official representative for Princess Cruises noted that crew scoured the Golden Princess looking for the missing passenger, and after reviewing the ship’s CCTV footage, discovered that the passenger had intentionally gone overboard.

After providing Australian coast guard authorities the relevant information, it was determined that a search and rescue operation would be fruitless.  Australian coast guard authorities consulted with a medical expert and evaluated the length of time since the passenger went overboard, among other factors, and determined that there was “no likelihood of survival.”  The Golden Princess thereafter continued its journey to Melbourne.

While this case may seem complex and challenging to litigate, there could be an actionable wrongful death lawsuit depending on what revelations further investigation of this incident establish.

Cruise Lines Can Be Held Liable for Over-serving Alcohol

Princess Cruises is attempting to shield itself from liability by painting the passenger going overboard as  “intentional”.  In truth, however, passengers under the influence of alcohol often engage in reckless and unsafe behavior that is not in keeping with their normal personality.  Cruise lines are not absolute guarantors of safety, but if Princess Cruises over-served alcohol to this passenger, then they could potentially be held liable for the loss of life resulting from their excessive service.

Crew Response Must Be Swift

There are several aspects of this case that lead us to question whether Princess Cruises acted negligently in responding to this overboard incident.  One need only look at the timeline to see where Princess Cruises potentially failed.

The passenger went missing at 2AM on Monday morning, but it was not until seventeen hours after going overboard — 9PM on Monday evening — that any notification of this was made to the Australian coast.  Although one can reasonably surmise that the passenger’s disappearance might not have been discovered for several hours after the incident, there is still an enormous and unaccounted for gap of time between 2 AM on Monday and 9 pm on Monday when they contacted the Coast Guard for the first time.

Initial reports lack detail as to when the disappearance was actually discovered by crew members aboard Golden Princess, and certainly this plays to the advantage of Princess Cruises.  Even if we assume that, the passenger’s disappearance report came in late afternoon at, say, 3PM, that leaves a 6-hour gap.  If the CCTV footage reviewed was immediately and simultaneous with the manual search of the ship, it is hard to believe it would have taken 6 hours to find the footage determining the passenger went overboard. Would an earlier notification to the Coast Guard change their decision on whether to undertake it and if so would it have been successful, we may never know. However, the real question is “Did Princess Cruises act reasonably under the circumstances it was faced with? “  If it is determined, they did not then they have potential exposure to monetary damages.

Risks Can Be Minimized Through the Implementation of Automated Man Overboard Systems

It is easy to see how an automated man overboard (MOB) system could have prevented the outcome reached in this case. Automated MOBs have sensors that detect when someone is falling overboard.  Upon detection, an alarm notification registers in the ship’s control center, enabling an immediate rescue effort commencement.  Without an automated MOB system, overboard passengers like the one in this case can either be detected too late to even make an attempt at a rescue or if the vessel makes it to a Port before the detection is made, how they disappeared may remain a mystery forever as has happened before.

We Can Help

If your loved one went missing on a cruise ship, due to an overboard accident resulting in their death, or for unknown reasons, you may have a right of action against the cruise line for wrongful death damages.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys have over a century of combined experience representing cruise ship passengers and their families in a wide range of disputes, including those centering on incidents in which cruise ship passengers fall overboard or board but are never recorded as having debarked at a subsequent Port.

Our commitment to comprehensive, client-focused advocacy has earned us substantial recognition over the years.  In addition to our long track record of success in litigation (verdicts and settlements), we have been awarded numerous honors and been variously recognized by national and regional publications for our industry-leading maritime law representation.

Contact Lipcon today to speak to one of our skilled maritime lawyers about your claims.