Man overboard: Why did a Royal Caribbean passenger die?


NEW YORK — The spouse of a man who went overboard while on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is feuding with the company about how and why the man died.

Bernardo Elbaz, 31, went over a balcony on the Oasis of the Seas on Nov. 6 in ocean waters near the Turks and Caicos islands.

The lawyer for Elbaz’s husband, Erik, released two cell phone video clips on Tuesday and Wednesday that he says proves the man didn’t jump when he went overboard. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has ruled the death a suicide, citing a reported domestic disturbance on board.

Michael Winkleman, the attorney for Erik Elbaz, says after the couple argued in their cabin with Royal Caribbean security, Bernardo Elbaz threatened to jump and went to the balcony. As Erik ran after him, pursued by security, Winkleman says someone bumped into Bernardo Elbaz, sending him overboard.

Royal Caribbean Chief Communications Officer Rob Zieger refuted those accusations and others made by Elbaz and Winkleman in a phone call Wednesday with 48 Hours’ Crimesider.

The victim fell two stories — from the ship’s seventh floor to its fifth — where he landed on a narrow metal support beam holding a lifeboat.

Minutes later, as other passengers watched, and at least one filmed, Bernardo Elbaz lost his grip on the beam and plunged into the sea about 17 miles from Turks and Caicos. The passenger’s video of Elbaz, who was from Brazil and lived in New York, quickly spread via social media.

In video recorded on Bernardo Elbaz’s cell phone and released Wednesday afternoon by Winkleman, Erik Elbaz can be heard yelling, “He didn’t fall. You pushed him, you killed him!”

Winkleman says the video is proof that both of Bernardo Elbaz’s falls were the results of failures by the Royal Caribbean staff.

The cruise line disputed that assertion in a statement Wednesday, saying, “The attorney’s disproven claims that our security staff had any culpability in this tragedy are shameful and offensive.”

Zieger, the Royal Caribbean spokesman, told Crimesider the staff did everything it could.

“Crewmembers risked their lives in an attempt to save this man’s life,” Zieger said, adding that a member of the crew crawled onto the beam five stories above the water.

Zieger noted that the explanations offered for Bernardo Elbaz’s death have varied in the last few days. Winkleman at first said crew members pushed Elbaz, and then later said the man jumped as a protest against anti-gay slurs hurled at the couple by Royal Caribbean staff.

“He was so upset and devastated by how they were treating him, he was either going to throw himself overboard or pretend to throw himself overboard,” Winkleman said Wednesday morning.

Video previously released by Winkleman shows a conversation between the couple and Royal Caribbean security, just before Bernardo Elbaz went overboard.

Zieger said staff were called to the couple’s cabin because of a report of a loud fight. In the video, Bernardo can be seen telling staff he was upset because of things said to him while aboard the ship.

“I have a husband, I am not a pedophile,” Bernardo Elbaz says in the video.

Winkleman said there were multiple incidents in which crew members said offensive things to the couple. In the first instance, a bartender was involved according to Winkleman.

“He repeatedly referred to them as ‘lipsticks,'” Winkleman said. “They complained about it and the bartender was removed.”

Zieger said there is no record of a bartender being removed from the ship, though he did acknowledge that the couple filed a complaint about something. A service manager apologized to them, he said.

Winkleman was unable to offer details about other incidents.

“It definitely happened throughout their trip,” Winkleman said. “I know Royal Caribbean is extremely gay friendly, but there are staffers from throughout the world, from places that are extremely unfriendly to gays.”