On Monday, Inside Edition aired a special about Sarah Kirby, a cruise ship passenger who fell overboard from the Carnival Destiny and wasn’t rescued until nearly two hours had elapsed. The program featured a harrowing interview with the victim, as well as our maritime lawyer Michael Winkleman, who discussed the cruise line’s negligence in rescuing Kirby from the dangerous waters.
The show addressed the critical question of whether the Carnival took too long to rescue Kirby. Cruise lines must conduct a search of a vessel when a passenger is reported missing, contact the necessary authorities such as the FBI and Coast Guard, and return to the location where the victim was last seen. But despite being told of exactly when and where Kirby went overboard by a friend who was in the stateroom when the incident occurred, Carnival decided to search the ship anyway, wasting valuable time.
Few people ever live to tell the tale after falling from a cruise ship, so it was a miracle Kirby was still alive when rescued. Kirby fell two stories from her cabin’s balcony, hit a lifeboat, then fell another five stories to the pitch black and dangerous waters below. Desperate to stay afloat, Kirby watched in terror as the Destiny sailed on.
“I felt hopeless; helpless and hopeless,” explained Kirby, who screamed for help as she bled from her injuries into shark-infested waters.
When she was finally rescued two hours later, Kirby explained that her nightmare continued onboard the vessel when cruise operators refused to have her medically evacuated to obtain hospital care. An unbelievable 16 hours went by before Kirby was given the proper medical treatment she needed.
Several things went wrong for Kirby from the start, beginning with Destiny bartenders encouraging her to keep drinking by offering her casino vouchers. Cruise lines make a huge profit from alcohol sales and are constantly criticized for over-serving alcohol to guests – sometimes even underage passengers. Of all cruise lines, Carnival is often regarded as the “Booze Cruise” because of the party atmosphere it promotes.
But aside from alcohol, had Carnival equipped the Destiny ship with an infrared camera to spot Kirby in the water, she could have been rescued much more quickly. Unfortunately, Carnival has been making headlines for quite some time due to a perceived lack of shipboard safety, and while the company has claimed it will be undergoing a multimillion-dollar fleet-wide safety upgrade initiative, accidents are still taking place and no one is doing anything about it.
Kirby decided to take legal action against Carnival with the help of Lipcon’s Michael Winkleman, and together, are trying to bring to light the brazen conduct of the cruise line in abandoning Kirby in the middle of the ocean for an unnecessary and unreasonable period of time.
“I went on a Carnival cruise because I thought it would be fun and that I would be safe,” said Kirby, whose cruise ship experience was a far cry from the enjoyable, relaxing vacation she expected. “I don’t want this to happen to somebody else.”
Carnival refuses to comment about the pending lawsuit, but claim they “conducted a successful search and rescue of Ms. Kirby and saved her life.”
The cruise line claims it acted properly at all times, but given the fact that Carnival has the largest record of overboard passenger accidents – 48 on Carnival Cruise Line alone and 92 overall counting all Carnival Corp. subsidiaries – it appears Carnival has work to do to actually keep its passengers safe from harm.
Watch Sarah Kirby’s survival story and attorney Winkleman’s interview here.