MSC Wasted U.S. Coast Guard Resources By Delayed Report of Overboard Crew Member

This afternoon, May 17, 2018,  the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released an official press statement indicating that it ended its search for an overboard crew member from the MSC Seaside cruise ship. 

The search was for a Filipino crew member who went overboard from the MSC cruise ship around 1:00 A.M. in the late night / early morning hours the previous day, on May 16, 2018.  But the Coast Guard stated in its official press release that it was not notified of the man overboard until 4:00 A.M. on May 16, 2018, which is approximately three (3) hours after the crew member went overboard.

The press release states that a Filipino crew member went overboard southeast of St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands "at approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday. The cruise ship crew launched a search MSC Seasideand contacted watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector San Juan Command Center at approximately 4 a.m. alerting them of the situation."

This is consistent with the eye witness accounts of a passenger on the MSC Seaside who notified me that the ship began employing searchlights around 3:00 A.M.

It appears from this information that the MSC Seaside was not equipped with an automatic man overboard system that would be triggered immediately whenever someone went over the rails of the cruise ships and automatically notify the bridge that a person went into the water. 

This is disappointing because last October, MSC Cruises announced that it installed a state-of-the-art man overboard system on the MSC Meraviglia and is planning to deploy similar systems across its fleet of cruise ships. Apparently, MSC has not employed the technology on the MSC Seaside.

There are currently several very sophisticated systems manufactured by a variety of companies that use motion, heat sensing and radar technology that will not only automatically notify the bridge of the person going overboard but will actually track the person in the water at night.

Waiting three hours to notify the Coast Guard of a person going overboard suggests that the ship did not know the person went overboard because the ship was not equipped with this life-saving technology. 

The failure to employ the technology not only leads to these type of delays but it results in a huge wasteful expenditure of money by the U.S. government. The Coast Guard release sates that:

"Coast Guard rescue crews comprised of a C-130 aircraft from Air Station Clearwater, two MH-65 Dolphin helicopters from Air Station Borinquen, a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft–Law Enforcement response boat from Boat Forces Saint Thomas and the Coast Guard Cutter Confidence conducted five air and three surface searches covering an area of approximately 1,216 square nautical miles."

By notifying the U.S. Coast Guard three hours late, at 4:00 A.M. after the crew member went Confidence Cutteroverboard from the MSC Seaside at 1:00 A.M., MSC not only ensured that the late search would be unsuccessful but wasted the resources of Coast Guard stations in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas USVI and Clearwater Florida involving the deployment of a C-130 Hercules aircraft, two MH-65 Dolphin helicopters, a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft, and the Coast Guard Cutter Confidence (based in Port Canaveral, Florida). These governmental vessels involved in the delayed search are in addition to the commercial vessels also involved in essentially looking for a needle in a haystack, including the Carnival Glory and the oil tanker Rose which were both involved in the belated search.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding other man overboard searches indicate that the U.S. government spends around one millions dollars in deploying Coast Guard aircraft, helicopters and vessels for each similar search. It costs a lot of fuel to fly a C-130 down to the Caribbean from Clearwater, Florida and deploy a couple of of Dolphin helicopters and a Coast Guard cutter to conduct a (delayed) search of over 1,200 nautical square miles. Cruise lines do not pay anything to the U.S. government for the deploying of such vast resources for such man overboard searches which become necessary simply because cruise lines refuse to invest the necessary money to employ existing man overboard technology. 

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Photo credit: Top - Dickelbers - CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.Bottom - U.S. Coast Guard 7th District Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Fred Folson - May 18, 2018 9:05 AM

Thank you for the great reporting of this incident. My family and I will be taking a cruise aboard this vessel later this year. Not our first cruise with MSC, but our first on the MSC Seaside.
What doesn't make sense to me is the crewman reportedly went overboard at approximately 1:00AM, but an "eyewitness" told you that a search was underway at 3:00AM. I wouldn't necessarily infer from that person's account that the ship's search began at 3:00AM; that just may have been the time at which they noticed the search lights. I'd also like to know who came up with the approximate time of 1:00AM? Was he supposed to work at that time and didn't show up for his shift? Did someone actually see him go overboard at that time? There are still a few questions surrounding this incident for me to start drawing conclusions.
And if the Coast Guard can no longer afford these types of rescue operations, then they need to request more funding in their budget requests, or change their mission profile to exclude these types of operations. I don't like to hear them complaining about wasted resources in a search for a human in distress. If the person overboard was an American citizen would they have made the same remarks?
Again, thank you for the great information.

Brent - May 18, 2018 10:32 AM

MSC was negligent, but at least the coast guard is getting required recurrent training.
http://gcaptain.com/cost-rescue/

Jim Walker - May 18, 2018 1:58 PM

Fred: I am not suggesting that the Coast Guard stop performing these important services. Rather the rich tax-avoiding cruise lines should be required to pay for the USCG services particularly when they refuse to pay for the auto-MOB systems and then delay several hours to notify the USCG which exponentially increases the USCG's search area for the lost souls.

Fred Folson - May 25, 2018 12:44 PM

Thanks for the reply Mr. Walker. I didn't mean to assert that you [personally] were suggesting the USCG stop performing these much needed services, and I offer my apologies if it came off as such. Keep up the great reporting on these incidents. My wife and I love cruising, and I find great value in the information you provide in this forum.

jim walker - May 25, 2018 1:26 PM

Fred: Thanks for you reply. No problem. I should have said that the services of the Coast Guard are valuable but its job is made harder by late reporting due to a failure of cruise lines to implement current technology. Happy cruising! Regards. Jim

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