One of the first comments from the Carnival Destiny cruise ship about a passenger going overboard earlier this week was by another passenger who remarked on Twitter that it took well over a hour to complete the rescue. The tweet stated that the overboard passenger had to tread the water for one and one-half hours.
Another person left a comment to my article about the incident, stating:
"The woman’s friends who knew she had fallen had a difficult time convincing the crew to stop the ship. They chose to search the ship first. Fortunately a passenger in an above deck had reported hearing a splash and that info convinced them to stop the ship and look in the water. She was not rescued for over an hour. She tried to swim after the ship until it disappeared and she was left in total blackness. . . ."
Coast Guard regulations and the requirements of most cruise ship safety management systems (SMS) required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) state that the vessel must immediately take steps to rescue a person who goes overboard.
Vessel operators must also notify the Coast Guard and other vessels in the vicinity if the overboard person is not "immediately" located in the water. Once a man overboard is reported, most SMS cruise line policies require a prompt reduction of speed of the ship, a "Williamson Turn" to head the ship back to the location of the overboard person, the deployment of extra look-outs, the use of spotlights, and preparation to deploy life craft. While this is happening the captain can order a muster and head count if there is any doubt about whether a passenger went overboard.
Why didn’t this occur in this case? If the comments by other passengers are true that the cruise ship did not promptly turn around and the overboard passenger was forced to tread water for over an hour, this is in violation of Coast Guard regulations and basic maritime rescue procedures.
Last month, a similar incident occurred on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas. A young woman went overboard and reportedly struck the arm of a passenger standing on a lower balcony. The passenger reported the incident immediately but the cruise ship sailed on and did not report it for over two hours. The cruise line initially falsely stated that it immediately initiated a search and notified the U.S. Coast Guard. When confronted with the fact that it actually delayed for over two hours, Royal Caribbean said that it decided to search the ship first so as to avoid unnecessarily causing the Coast Guard to deploy search aircraft and rescue vessels.
Unlike the Carnival case where the passenger was eventually rescued and taken to a hospital ashore (photo above), in the Royal Caribbean case the passenger was never found and her body was never recovered.
There were many comments after the fiasco aboard the Allure of the Seas that no one can survive a fall of 100 feet from a cruise ship, but the Carnival Destiny incident shows otherwise. In both cases, there were criticisms by other passengers that they were inconvenienced by the delay and/or they missed the next port because of the overboard. Cruise lines have to then deal with whining customers and unhappy people demanding credits and discounts.
Are cruise ships under so much pressure to keep their itineraries that they are ignoring basic search and rescue protocols?
Yes, everyone should be happy that the Destiny passenger survived. But the issue needs to be explored to understand why the ship delayed in searching in the water rather than wasting time looking around the ship.The next overboard will not be so lucky.
The notion advanced by Royal Caribbean’s PR people that cruise lines can delay a rescue for a couple of hours is preposterous. It’s exactly the opposite of what the applicable maritime rules and regulations require. After all, the Allure of the Seas is touted as the largest cruise ship in the world. In an emergency, no one has the luxury of searching an entire floating city before initiating a search and calling the Coast Guard for help.
A person struggling in the water at night does not have time to wait a hour or two for help.
Photo credit: Jetaria Taylor