After a 31 year old passenger went overboard from the Carnival Fascination cruise ship into the dark waters off of the Florida coast last night around 2:00 AM, all of the major news sources and cruise friendly bloggers all lined up to dutifully repeat verbatim what the Carnival PR people fed to the public:

  • A passenger jumped overboard; and
  • A security guard witnessed the jump and immediately threw life rings overboard. 

End of story.

Sounds like a suicide to me, everyone thought. How sad, a man overcome with the weigh of the world’s Cruise Ship Overboard - Suicide?  pressures. What a pity. Pray for his family.

But was this a suicide as the cruise line wants you to believe?

The first thing that struck me strange about the story is that a security guard just happened to be at the precise spot where a passenger chose to jump overboard from the top deck of the Carnival cruise ship.

One thing i have learned over the past 29 years as a maritime lawyer is that there are virtually no security on duty and patrolling at two in the morning on a cruise ships. Perhaps a guard or two around the bars and discos where drunken fights break out, but a guard patrolling randomly on a top deck who just happened upon a passenger choosing to end his life?  No way.

The International Maritime Organization (‘IMO") regulations suggest that cruise lines have just two security personnel on duty on the entire ship at night.  This is a ridiculously insufficient number of security guard to maintain order and safety on a cruise ship, particularly aboard the drunk fest atmosphere associated with the anything goes attitude on Carnival’s "fun ships."  

There must be more to the story, I thought. What really happened to the Carnival guest who fell 90 feet into the deep waters 25 miles off of the coast of Florida?

Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein has studied cruise overboard cases over the past decade. He has documented some 185 passengers and crew who have gone overboard from cruise ships since 2000. Most are never found. Most cases remain "mysteries."   

That’s the way cruise lines want it.  The cruise line PR people trot out the it-must-be-a-suicide-so-let’s-blame-the-passenger game.  90% of the public accepts the first thing they hear or read and lack the healthy cynicism to look behind the curtain.

When the cruise ship returns from the cruise at the end of the week we will see passengers returning to their computers and commenting about what they heard or saw on the cruise ship.  A different story will emerge. Already there are comments on Cruise Critic’s boards that this was no suicide but what is being called a strange situation where a Carnival security guard was chasing the passenger who grabbed a life ring and then jumped overboard.

Was excessive alcohol involved?  It would be surprising if not given the late hour and Carnival’s booze cruise reputation.  

But in a week from now, will anyone be concerned with what really happened?

Overboard number 185.  Carnival’s PR people have done their work.  Another mystery it seems.

Does anyone really care?      

August 30, 2012 Update:  Looks like the initial information released by Carnival is misleading.  Cruise Critic has this information today:

The case involves an "U.S. Army sergeant who was taking a vacation before shipping out to duty in Afghanistan. Sergeant Ronald Kemp, our source tells us, was intoxicated and had entered a crew-only area of the ship. There he was confronted by a female crewmember, who told him to leave. A physical confrontation ensued, during which time a security officer pepper sprayed Kemp, who then fled. Security gave chase, and Kemp ran up to the Verandah deck, one deck above the Lido deck. In order to evade security, he jumped over the railing, falling one level and landing on the Lido, and then continued to flee before grabbing a life ring and leaping overboard."

Cruise lines face liability when they serve passengers alcohol to the point of intoxication.

In the case of Hall v. Royal Caribbean, an appellate court here in Miami held that the cruise line can be sued in the following circumstances:

"  . . . a paying passenger on the defendant’s cruise ship, was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel’s employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways." 


Art Credit:   CruelKev2’s blog