Yesterday a cabin attendant discovered two cruise passengers dead in their cabin on the Holland America Line (HAL) Ryndam.
The proper procedure for the cruise line to follow is for the crew member(s) to immediately leave the cabin, lock the door and call security who, in turn, will secure the cabin and assign a security guard to safeguard the crime scene until the FBI team boards the ship.
The cause of death of the couple cannot possibly be determined until the FBI has conducted its forensic work, the bodies have been removed from the cruise ship, and a medical examiner has concluded a thorough examination of the bodies with the assistance of other forensic experts, pathologists and toxicologists. This is a time consuming process (we are still awaiting medical examiner reports from cruise deaths last summer).
There's no information regarding how, why or when the deaths occurred, but HAL quickly announced that the case "appears to be a murder-suicide." The cruise line didn't bother to wait for a medical examiner's report or for the experts at the FBI to perform their work.
So how can a cruise line make an instantaneous determination of the cause of two dead people in a cabin? It can't, certainly not without violating protocols and entering the cabin and conducting a quick amateurish attempt at acting like a crime scene investigator where it is likely to accomplish little other than spoliating the evidence.
HAL announced to reporters that it was an apparent "murder-suicide" strictly as part of its PR strategy. That's what it wanted the press to report. There are now literally hundreds of newspapers using this phrase in their reports of the cause of the cruise ship deaths. Many newspapers and news sources, including the Associated Press, have dropped the word "apparent" and said that the husband murdered his wife and then committed suicide based on HAL's rush to judgment.
HAL's PR people wanted to dispel any notion that a crew member may have been involved in the couple's death. HAL is still reeling from the bad publicity created when a crew member violently beat, raped and tried to throw a woman off her balcony on the Nieuw Amsterdam last year.
This is not the first time HAL has pulled such a stunt.
Washington resident Amber Malkuch was 45 years old when she disappeared from the HAL Zaandam in 2009 while sailing to Alaska. But before the Alaskan State Troopers concluded their investigation, a member of HAL's PR department and CLIA's PR team, Sally Andrews, announced to the media that it appears that Amber took her own life. The "suicide" conclusion was reported on major news stations.
This surprised not only Amber’s friends and family, but it dumbfounded the Alaskan State Troopers who had yet to review photographs and video, conduct interviews or analyze toxicology reports. The Anchorage Daily News reported "Troopers Miffed at Cruise Line’s Rush to Judgment." The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted a representative of the Alaskan State Troopers saying:
We’re the people actually looking into the exact cause of death . . . We’re the ones doing the interviews and looking at the evidence . . . And if we haven’t been able to make a determination, how can the cruise line who isn’t trained?"
Investigators never concluded that Amber took her own life. Her family continues to search for answers. Meanwhile you can still read the headline on FOX News: Cruise Passenger Goes Overboard in Apparent Suicide, six years later.
Does Holland America Line care about what the evidence in death cases reveals? In the world of cruise line PR (perception vs. reality), what matters most to the cruise lines seems to be the public’s perception that cruise ships are safe rather than the reality that perhaps they are not.
Determining the cause of cruise ship deaths is the role of experts - the FBI, medical examiners, and other qualified forensic specialists - not the cruise lines' PR departments.
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Photo Credit: WKBN