There have been 8 Congressional hearings in the House and the Senate since December 2005 regarding issues of cruise passenger safety. One of the most talked about problems has been the issue of passengers going over-board from cruise ships.
Over the years, there has been a discussion about the problem and the necessity of requiring the cruise industry to install systems to detect when people go overboard from cruise ships.
The International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization has been responsible for bringing this issue to the public's attention. The CEO of the ICV, Ken Carver, lost his daughter, Merrian Carver, disappeared under suspicious circumstances from the Mercury cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises' subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. Although the cabin steward knew that Ms. Carver was no longer in her cabin early on during the cruise, his supervisor instructed him to do nothing about it. The cruise line never reported the incident to the Alaska State Troopers, or the FBI, or the flag state. Celebrity then discarded the majority of Ms. Carver's clothes and personal effects. You can read about the disturbing story here.
Mr. Carver attended the first Congressional hearing in 2005 which was convened following the disappearance of George Smith during a honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas. By all accounts, other passengers probably threw Mr. Smith over the railing of his cabin, but there have been no arrests over the last 8 years.
The cases of both Ms. Carver and Mr. Smith remain "mysteries."
Mr. Carver and the Smith family founded the ICV because their children disappeared at sea under suspicious circumstances with the cruise lines being uncooperative.
Subsequent Congressional hearings has focused on the disappearance of other cruise passengers. Although the cruise industry claims that it does not track man over-board cases, cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein has a list of over 200 people who have gone overboard from cruise ships since 2000. Of course, crew members in addition to passenger have disappeared from cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean and its subsidiary Celebrity has experienced 11 people going overboard since October 2010.
In 2010, after years of opposition by the cruise industry, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act to address the issue of properly detecting persons who go overboard.
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) requires that ‘‘the vessel shall integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available.’’
Three years later, it appears that few cruise ships have been fitted with the required technology.
(Editor"s note October 1, 2013: Since publishing this article, we have been informed that some Disney cruise ship have infra-red man overboard systems which are in compliance with the CVVSA, and these systems have been in place over a year).
Cruise passengers and even a larger number of crew members have continued to disappear from cruise ships without explanation.
There is no question that the technology exists to detect when a person goes overboard which will immediately signal to the bridge, capture an image of the person going overboard, and record the exact location. See the video in this article I wrote about man overboard systems here.
But instead of installing these systems, most cruise line are still having to review hours and hours of CCTV images after a report of a man overboard is made to try and figure out when and why a person went overboard. In the case of cruise passenger Jason Rappe who went overboard from Holland America Line (HAL) Eurodam cruise ship last year, HAL did not install the required man overboard system even though several cruise passengers recently disappeared on HAL ships.
The delay in determining when a person goes overboard increases the area which the Coast Guard is required to search by air and sea, and reduces the chances of locating and rescuing the person overboard. It also substantially increases the expenses borne by U.S. taxpayers. The Coast Guard expenses in the Jason Rappe search efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard were almost $1,000,000.
Another problem also exists. If a person can go overboard undetected, then people can just as easily come onto a cruise ship undetected - like terrorists, pirates or criminals.
Last year, Congress commented on the cruise industry's lack of progress in implementing the requires man overboard systems. Congress commented: "the degree to which the cruise industry has complied with this requirement is entirely unclear. There may be additional camera surveillance (but no indication that this is the case), however there has not been adoption of any of the active measures recommended by the International Cruise Victims Association in discussions with the industry prior to the legislation being passed. There are many systems available, many manufactured and marketed in the U.S., but none of these appear to be under consideration for adoption, no doubt because of the cost involved."
In addition, the the U.S. Coast Guard posted a Federal Register Request for Input from the maritime security Industry, and received a number of proposals, but there is no indication that these have been acted upon. Proposals were received from Seafaring Security Systems and Radio Zealand DMP Americas, along with supporting documentation which was posted on the U.S. Coast Guard website.
I have found only one cruise line which has agreed to install a state of the art man overboard on some of its ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) recently agreed to install a system by Seafaring Security Systems on two of its newest ships which are being built. The Seafaring company describes the "Varuna Man Overboard System," or V-MOB, as a "revolutionary system designed to enhance safety, security and situational awareness aboard ships." Here's the company's description of the product.
"The V-MOB is a unique integration of advanced cameras, sensors and a customized graphic interface that automates surveillance and detection around the ship’s perimeter, alerting the crew to anomalies such as man-overboard, fires, and unauthorized boarding.
When an overboard incident occurs, the V-MOB sensors detect it, GPS coordinates to the overboard site are recorded, and designated personnel are alerted via specific alarms. The V-MOB significantly enhances the opportunity for rapid rescue of overboard personnel.
The V-MOB system detects the presence of fire sooner than contemporary fire detection systems (recent testing provided alarms two minutes before existing fire detection systems) commonly found on ships, thereby maximizing fire suppression and extinguishing efforts.
The V-MOB system also detects unauthorized attempts to board from deck railing, alerting security personnel onboard the ship to provide critical response time to meet and deal with the threat in a timely manner."
I first read about the Seafaring system in a July 24 2013 article in Maritime Executive entitled "Seafaring Security Systems Wins Surveillance Systems Bid on Norwegians New Ships." (The article is no longer available on line.)
A system like this will reduce rescue time and expense, safe lives, and assist in apprehending criminals when foul play is involved.
If the news is correct, then NCL should be applauded for being a leader in implementing the new man overboard technology. It's a shame none of the other cruise lines appear to have have done so.
Photo Credit: Seafaring Security Systems