By:   Charles R. Lipcon

Our Cruise Ship Lawyers Hold the Industry Accountable

The disappearance of passengers and crew members from vessels on the high seas is a regular occurrence. The cruise industry generally does not maintain statistics of disappearances, or if they do, these statistics are not disclosed to the public. There is no incentive for a cruise ship company to report a person as “missing, presumed dead” when they can easily assert that the passenger or crew member left on his or her own accord at one of their stopover ports. Many companies do not keep records of such disappearances since employees and disgruntled patrons sometimes do depart the cruise vessel at port and find their own way home. When a person is known to have gone overboard the cruise lines immediately think suicide. They do not think that some crime was committed or that the person was served too much alcohol. The bias is towards blaming the victim for what occurred.

Obtaining information from government sources when a loved one is missing is challenging. Many countries can be involved in a missing persons investigation, requiring authorities to navigate many levels of red tape and bureaucracy. Further, many vessels are flagged in countries that are less regulated than the United States. These are called “flag of convenience countries.” They do not do a good job of oversight of the vessels that fly their flags. Our cruise ship lawyers understand the complex processes involved in obtaining disappearances information, and we are prepared to deal with challenging issues and foreign bureaucracies to conduct a thorough investigation and establish the facts of the case.

Registering the Reality

In a January, 2013 study, U.S.A. Today reported that only one major cruise ship – Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America – is a vessel registered in the United States. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, 90 percent of all commercial vessels (which include cargo and other commercial activities) calling on U.S. port fly foreign flags. Common registries include the Bahamas, Malta, Italy, the Netherlands, Bermuda and Panama.

When an individual on a ship’s manifest disappears, a report must be sent to the vessel’s flag country. Obtaining information from foreign countries can be difficult, if not impossible. It is often easier and ultimately less expensive to consult an experienced cruise ship lawyer for assistance.

Man Overboard Statistics

Although falling from a cruise ship into the water is a somewhat rare occurrence, a documented handful of passengers and crew fall overboard each year. Below are a few statistics about overboard falls:

  • The average age of a person who falls overboard is 41 years old.
  • Males are more likely to fall overboard than females.
  • Falling overboard is statistically most common on the last night of a cruise.
  • California and Florida are the two most frequent states of residency of people who fall overboard.
  • Most people who fall overboard are either drunk or engaged in tomfoolery (climbing between cabins or playing on railings).
  • Only 16 of 74 people who have been documented falling off cruise ships between February 2000 and May 2013 survived: barely 22 percent or about one in five.
  • The longest time a survivor was found alive in the water was after 18 hours, in 2003.

Missing Persons At Sea Require a Search and Rescue

When a person on a ship’s manifest disappears while the vessel is at sea, the shipping company has a duty to conduct a reasonable search immediately upon learning of the disappearance. If the person is not quickly found aboard the vessel, then a search and rescue is undertaken. The vessel should return to the last location at sea when the person was seen subject to adjusting for the weather and sea conditions.

For example, if a passenger was last seen at 8:00 p.m., then the ship must return to the location of the vessel at 8:00 p.m. to begin a search and rescue operation. Many times people who have fallen overboard are rescued after many hours in the water. The failure to perform a reasonable search and rescue can render the shipping company liable for the missing person’s disappearance.

If you or a loved one was injured or disappeared while on a cruise, call the cruise ship lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., today at 1-877-233-1238 for a free no-obligation evaluation of your case.

Read about the disappearance of Annette Mizener