By:   Michael A. Winkleman

Our maritime lawyers represent the victims of cruise ship overboard accidents, as well as those who have fallen from cargo vessels and private passenger boats.

Cruise vacations are intended to be fun, relaxing, and worry-free. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Many passengers and crew members experience tragic accidents, one of the most disturbing – and undocumented – being man overboard accidents.

Though cruise lines are required by law to report serious accidents to the FBI, Coast Guard, and other applicable maritime authorities, they seldom do so. The reason being that acknowledging man overboards can lead to both a decrease in revenue (prospective passengers will be less inclined to book travel with a cruise line that has a high rate of cruise passenger overboards) as well as a potential for the cruise line to be held (at least partially) accountable for the incident. Luckily, survivors of cruise ship overboard accidents and loved ones of those who have perished at sea have a right to consult with a maritime lawyer and take legal action.

The Reality of Man Overboard Tragedies

Throughout the years, cruise lines have notoriously underreported and/or misrepresented overboard tragedies. While several man overboards are captured by the media, there are several accidents that the public never becomes aware of. Some cases either go completely unreported or crucial details are “conveniently” left out by the cruise lines.

But why?

In general, the cruise industry as a whole tends to keep a low profile when it comes to overboard accidents because of the potential repercussions they can face. Not only can a cruise line’s reputation be tarnished if it has a significantly high record of overboard accidents, but the cruise line can also be subject to liability for the accident, given that the majority of overboard tragedies are the result of poor shipboard safety, and therefore, preventable.

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to provide a reasonably safe shipboard environment for everyone aboard to the best of their ability – this includes providing safety for both passengers and crew. Yet, despite the recent increase in the frequency of passengers and crew falling from ships, along with recent advances in technology that can allow for better man overboard detection, not much has been done by the cruise industry to both prevent and better respond to overboard accidents. Even when an individual is seen falling from a vessel by other passengers or crew members, cruise lines don’t always immediately stop the ship or contact maritime authorities to initiate a swift search and rescue mission. Unfortunately, the longer an overboard victim is left in the water, the lower their chances of survival.

Below are some common factors that contribute to cruise ship overboard accidents:

  • Inadequate security personnel and surveillance on cruise ships
  • Failure to properly monitor onboard security camera footage
  • Over-serving alcohol to cruise passengers
  • Criminal activity, including homicide and violent assault

An Example of a Mysterious Cruise Ship Overboard Accident

One recent overboard accident caught our attention. An 88-year-old woman allegedly went overboard from the Holland America cruise ship Veendam while the vessel was sailing off the coast of Mexico on Jan. 3.

Passengers on the same itinerary took to social media to voice their concerns, saying that the incident was shrouded in mystery. Some say the woman committed suicide, but no one was sharing information. Others say the crew announced a “man overboard” emergency and ordered travelers to remain in their cabins.

So what exactly happened?

According to news reports, the incident was ruled as non-suspicious. This leaves us with intentional or accidental death. This is the piece of the puzzle we have yet to uncover.  Amazingly, in essentially all of these “man overboard” cases, the cruise lines – which are in control of the information – report that the “man overboard” intentionally went overboard.

The other bit of information we have comes from witnesses, who claim they saw the elderly woman standing outside her balcony stateroom, leaning over the balcony with her arms extended outward. Perhaps she slipped while standing on the rail and trying to reposition herself, and then fell into the ocean?

Though crew members allegedly stopped the ship and turned it around right away, it was too late. Lifeboats were sent to look for the victim but by the time her body was recovered, she could not be revived.

We find it a bit odd that an 88-year-old woman would be horsing around on her balcony. There must be more to this story than meets the eye, but when it comes to the cruise industry, secrecy is always well kept.

Man Overboard Statistics

Since 1995, several individuals have fallen overboard from cruise ships and ferry liners – both passengers and crew members. As per data provided by Sociology Professor and cruise expert, Ross Klein, which can be found on his website, the passenger and crew overboard accident and disappearance rate for cruise ships and ferry liners is as follows:

  • Total number of overboard accidents to date: 268
  • Average number of man overboard accidents and cruise ship disappearances per year: 12.8
  • Number of individuals that have gone overboard in 2015 alone: 26 – the highest recorded number of victims in history
  • Only 16 of 74 people who have been documented falling overboard from cruise ships from February 2000 and May 2013 survived.
  • Cruise lines with the highest rate of overboard accidents since 1995:
    1. Carnival Cruise Line – 55 recorded overboard accidents
    2. Royal Caribbean – 39 recorded overboard accidents
    3. Norwegian Cruise Line – 20 recorded overboard accidents

Learn more about our recent man overboard case, involving Royal Caribbean passenger Bernardo Elbaz.

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Seeking Legal Counsel with a Maritime Lawyer

When a passenger or crew member is alleged to have gone overboard from a cruise ship, the cruise line has a duty to conduct a reasonable search as soon as they become aware of the matter. If the individual is not found aboard the vessel, then the cruise line must report the matter to the Coast Guard and FBI, and turn the vessel around to the last known location of the victim. Failure to perform these duties in a reasonable amount of time can not only hinder the victim’s chances of being rescued, but can also render the cruise line accountable for the overboard accident victim’s resulting injuries or death. Because many overboard accidents are directly related to a cruise line’s negligence in providing adequate onboard safety, victims and their loved ones have a right to seek legal counsel.

Our maritime lawyers have over 165 years of combined experience representing overboard accident victims and their loved ones and are committed to protecting victims’ rights. Contact our maritime law firm at 877-233-1238 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation so we can evaluate your case and work diligently to help you and your loved ones obtain justice.