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 Ryndam Murder Cruise Ship WKBNawaiting 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 PHolland America Line Cruise DeathR 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 

11 Responses to HAL Jumps the Gun (Again), Calls Deaths a “Murder-Suicide”

I agree that it is the appropriate authorities, that after investigating a death at sea, who notify the public with the cause of death. It is NOT the role of the cruise line or their parent company’s PR department to state otherwise.

If the line is asked by the press what happened, they should only indicate that an investigation is underway and once the investigation has been concluded, the press will be notified.

Cruise ships are just as vulnerable to crime or natural or unnatural deaths as a resort located on land. But, the proper authorities are the professionals who must be the ultimate authority that provides the final report on what took place on the ship, just as it would be if the incident took place on dry land.

If the cruise line had said it looked like a double murder that there would have been a ship full of passengers and crew looking over their shoulders for a murderer lurking around every corner. They should just say nothing. People will always jump to conclusions anyway.

I’m a little surprised that any statement was made by HAL. The cruise seems to be continuing, so I suppose they took the bodies off in San Juan and the appropriate people investigated things there. I have seen bodies being taken off ships on two different occasions, but there were no announcements, no explanations, no anything as to what happened to these people- the cruises continued and I never heard anything further. I’m sure the majority of “bad” things that happen on cruise ships never see the light of day.

Thank you so much for writing this article. We have been besides ourselves with horrible grief over the loss of our relatives. But even worse is the harsh way in which people jump to thier own lableing as to what happened. I never thought this type of thing would ever happen to our family. Please remember that even though they are gone and can not hear what rude comments are being made. WE the living relatives can and you don’t ever want to be in this position.

if you are reporting HAL then why is there a Princess Cruise Ship in the picture with the couple? Surely this puts a bad light on Princess when they are not even involved in this situation!

Princess is just another horrible Carnival owned cruise line. People who cruse on princess should know this…

I knew them personally. if this IS what happened i/we never would have guessed in a million years. so when the PROPER people make thier conclusion, i hope the family owns a couple ships. or at least a public appolagy from the cruise line on all the news outlets they have misguided by the words of someone that has absolutely no training in crime scene investigation. lord please bless the familys and take your children to be home with you.

We were on the ship, same floor of the crime or “alleged murder/suicide”, about 20 cabins away. I could not believe the announcement in the evening after seeing all of the police/FBI agents on board all day and having the hall closed. Very eerie feeling, never felt comfortable during the cruise knowing that there was no way anyone could actually say it was a confirmed murder/suicide that quickly. To me, it was so wrong for the cruise line to hold all passengers on the ship acting like everything was okay and all of us believed the story that was told. My heart and prayers go out to the family of this couple. May they rest in peace.

11days later and still no word to our family as to what really happened to our loved ones. We have no ideas where the bodies are. And yet the ship set sail with the cabin crime scene on board. They should have brought another ship to transport all the passengers on and left the crime scene at San Juan to be investigated properly. Worst nightmare our family has ever encountered.

As a close friend of Mr. Banner, I am glad to have found this article. I was devastated to accidently discover the news of this tragedy. I am horrified about what the families are going through. I hope and pray that the investigation, and the return of the Banner couple is swift so that the families can begin to heal. I didn’t know Darla, but John was a good father, grandfather,and a very special friend. I am terribly saddened and pray that all of his boys hold all that he had taught and shared with them close in memory. To a very special little boy…..your Banpa loved you to pieces. Hugs and kisses.

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