I returned from a New Year's party last night feeling euphoric to be with my family at the start of 2014. Before heading to sleep, I turned on my laptop and clicked on Google news, only to read the dreadful account of a cruise passenger disappearing from the Independence of the Seas.
This is the third case of a passengers going overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in just 11 days. First, an overboard passenger from the Rhapsody of the Seas in Australia, then an overboard from the Adventure of the Seas heading to San Juan, and now a disappearance from the Independence of the Seas sailing to the Caymans.
Royal Caribbean says the latest disappearance, like the first, is a mystery. Why the mystery? Because the cruise line did not bother to install a man overboard system on its cruise ships. Royal Caribbean's CCTV cameras (which are not monitored by the cruise line anyway) did not record what happened either, at least that is what the cruise line is saying.
So we begin 2014 like we have begun decades of other New Years, with cruise ship passengers disappearing without a trace on the high seas. The families of the missing are left with trying to figure out why their spouse or children went overboard. All the cruise ships have extensive surveillance systems in their casinos because the cruise lines value their casino chips and don't want their money to disappear. You can't say that about their guests.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act (CVSSA) into law. It required, among other things, that cruise ships be equipped with automatic man overboard systems to capture images of overboard persons and/or send an automatic alarm signal to the bridge. This system has been extensively discussed and debated before our U.S. Congress and was enacted into law to become effective on January 1, 2012.
The purpose of the legislation was to require the cruise lines to implement systems to automatically detect when a person goes overboard so that immediate search and rescue efforts could save lives, regardless of whether the person going overboard was the result of an accident, negligence, intoxication, foul-play or a suicide.
But Royal Caribbean has refused to implement any type of system. There are all types of apologists for the cruise lines out there, like the cruise industry's trade organization the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). "The technology doesn't exist" (a lie) is one excuse. "We are working on it" is another excuse, from the cruise industry's gigantic book of endless excuses.
But at least one cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), has installed such systems successfully.
2014 could have started with a happy story of a successful rescue of the passenger from the Independence of the Seas due to Royal Caribbean's installation of an automatic man overboard system. But instead we start the year where we began it. It's business-a- usual with the cruise lines just shrugging off the latest death as a mystery. 18 people have gone overboard last year. The number will only increase and the mysteries will continue as the cruise industry continues to violate the CVSSA.
There are other ominous developments indicating that the disastrous effects of last year will continue into 2014.
Two days ago we mentioned an explosion which seriously injured 3 crew members on the MSC Orchestra. We also reported on a passengers alleging that another MSC cruise ship was throwing bags of garbage off the ship at night into the waters near a marine sanctuary off the coast of Brazil. He video-taped the dumping. For an industry which promotes itself as stewards of the environment and the safest form of transportation, these events showed that things are not as the cruise lines want you to believe. The stories should have been extensively reported and discussed within the cruise and maritime communities.
But in truth, the community of cruise fans, travel agents, cruise-friendly bloggers and the cruise industry public relations departments don't want these type of negative stories revealed to the public. It's bad for business. None of what I consider to be the top cruise bloggers would publish these stories.
The end of this year also saw evidence that Carnival knew that it had major problems with the engine systems on the Triumph and other ships, but it sailed nonetheless at great risk to its customers. Many cruise bloggers and travel writers instinctively rallied behind the cruise industry although the evidence of Carnival's guilt was overwhelming.
I wish that I felt optimistic about what lies ahead for the cruising public this year. But the cruise lines are showing signs that they have not learned a whole lot from the sad events of 2013. The recent stories are omens of more bad things ahead for the cruise lines.
Definition of "ominous:" Suggesting that something bad is going to happen in the future; being or exhibiting an omen; foreboding or foreshadowing evil.
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