Last year, crew members aboard the Cunard QM2 notified me that while the Cunard cruise ship was between Southampton and New York, a 26-year-old chef, whose name I later learned was Favio Onate, disappeared in the early hours of August 15, 2015. I wrote a short article Cunard Crew Member Lost at Sea, which was short on details but contained many comments from his co-employees who spoke highly of the young chef who perished at sea that foggy morning.
Later it was revealed from comments from crew members that Favio had been observed drinking but had been put to bed in his cabin. However, Favio was not seen by the ship doctor nor supervised by ship security. He later left his cabin and went to an open deck where he acted erratically and allegedly went overboard.
269 people have gone overboard since 2000. A small number are rescued but the majority are not and their bodies are not recovered.
Cruise lines, I have found, do a poor job of notifying the surviving family members of the devastating news of a missing loved one. They often delay. Many times family member first learn of the loss of their loved ones from newspapers or on social media. Cruise lines don’t provide basic information. They seem to think that they have the right to suppress the information that the family members desperately need in order to understand what happened and try to come to terms of what happened.
From the perspective of the families, cruise lines do an even poorer job investigating the circumstances surrounding the person’s disappearance at sea. Cruise line investigations are often managed by the cruise line’s legal and risk management departments which appear more interested in protecting the legal interests and image of the cruise industry.
Cruise lines often quickly blame the overboard person, thus stopping any legitimate investigation once they have affixed a label of "suicide at sea" on the nightmare. Investigating authorities at the next port are often to quick to adopt the conclusions reached by the cruise line and rarely conduct investigations which can be called either independent or comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination.
Many people commenting on social media are quick to say that it is impossible to fall off a cruise ship. They are often quick to hurl insults attacking the intelligence of those lost at sea. But these people don’t ask intelligent questions themselves inquiring into the working conditions on the ships or other factors which may have led the crew members to go over the rails or the apparent lack of medical and HR resources which could help people suffering from emotional issues on the high seas.
All of this results in the surviving families feeling cheated by the cruise lines which are often, and rightfully, accused of engaging in a cover up of the truth. Cruise lines never permit their employees to answer questions regarding what happened or release reports from the ship and often refuse to produce the last CCTV images of the person connected with his or her disappearance.
This is what Favio’s family and cousins apparently felt after they could not obtain information regarding the details of what happened to Favio. News accounts say that Cunard claims to have been in regular contact with Favio’s family. The cruise line says that it arranged for "a trip for his parents and sister to the UK to receive information about the circumstances surrounding the incident." When cruise lines communicate with family members, the information is often conclusory and without an explanation of the details of what happened on the ship. Favio’s family were not satisfied and filed a legal request to inspect the QM2 when it arrived in a port in Chile and take statements from the vessel’s captain and crew members. Fox News Latino reports that the judiciary in Chile, where Favio is from, issued a warrant on Tuesday for police to search the QM2, which docked on Wednesday in port of Valparaiso.
The Fox news source say that the legal procedure will seek to "locate, individualize, and take depositions" from the captain and any witnesses among the crew who "saw or knew anything about the incident under investigation." The newspaper also said that the "police will check out the cruise ship’s security cameras, make a photographic record of the scene of the incident, and carry out a . . . examination of the cabin where the chef slept and of the elevators, decks, cabins and restrooms used by the staff.
The Daily Mail added that the police seized the relevant CCTV images and forensic experts inspected the chef’s cabin and deck where he went overboard.
The family held a demonstration at the port with huge banners which read: "Justice for Favio" (video) with friends handing out pamphlets in different languages in order to show the passengers that the friends and family "still have doubts and very little information about Favio’s disappearance."
A number of radio and television stations covered the spectacle in Chile.
Its a sad commentary on how Cunard treated Favio’s family to have to seek legal intervention for police and prosecutors to board the QM2 to basic information regarding the circumstances surrounding Favio’s last moments.
The highly publicized court-ordered vessel inspection reminds me of the investigation and vessel inspection of the Brilliance of the Seas which we conducted following the disappearance of George Smith III back in July of 2005. After not receiving adequate information from Royal Caribbean, we hired forensic scientist Henry Lee and boarded the cruise ship with a team of seven forensic experts, videographers and detectives when the ship ported in Miami in December 2005.
Over ten years later, cruise lines continue to withhold information from grieving families who are forced to board the cruise ship with police officers to try and find out what happened to their missing loved ones.
Photo Credit: Reseg