In November of 2015, a 78 year old passenger from South Korea drowned in a swimming pool on P&O Australia’s Pacific Dawn cruise ship that did not have a lifeguard.  The cruise ship was sailing from Brisbane, Australia to New Guinea.

The ship’s un-monitored closed circuit television recording showed the passenger enter the adult-only lifeguard-less swimming pool around 10:37 A.M. and swim around.  At 10:51 A.M., another cruise passenger in the pool noticed that he was lying on the bottom of the pool and began to shout for help Pacific Dawn Drowning Report - MAIBone minute later. A security employee happened to see the bystander waving his arms and ran down to the pool. The drowned passenger was removed from the pool  and another security personnel called the bridge and the emergency telephone number. At 10:55 the bridge team made a tannoy announcement and summoned the medical department. Other passengers began chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.    

The ship’s medical team (consisting of two doctors and three nurses) arrived promptly once summoned at 10:57 A.M. and administered treatment including the use of an external defibrillator. At 11:20 A.M., the senior doctor declared the passenger to be deceased.  

A subsequent autopsy found some signs of artery disease but concluded that the primary cause of death was drowning.  

Because the P&O ship was flagged in the U.K., the death was investigated by the U.K.’s Marine Investigation Branch (MAIB) which has done excellent work in other cruise drowning cases like the  passenger drowning case on the Princess Sapphire Princess last year. The MAIB concluded in that case that "a lack of dedicated pool attendants potentially delayed the emergency response, and that risks relating to the use of the swimming pools by unsupervised passengers had not been formally assessed and documented." The MAIB recommended to Princess Cruises that it perform a "suitable and sufficient risk assessment" regarding the cruise ships’ swimming pools.

In this case involving the Pacific Dawn, the MAIB concluded that "constant poolside supervision by lifeguards provides the best assurance of pool user safety." The cruise line also was required, but did not perform prior to the death, a risk assessment to determine whether pool supervision was necessary. 

Among other factors, the MAIB noted that "constant poolside supervision" is necessary when, among other factors:

  • the pool has water deeper than 1.5 m (the pool was deeper than this);
  • crowded conditions are expected;
  • food or alcohol will be available to pool users.

The MAIB noted that although the medical team’s response was swift once they were finally summoned, "if a dedicated pool attendant had been monitoring passengers in the pool, Mr Oh’s (the decedent’s) situation could have been identified and an emergency response initiated at the earliest possible opportunity." 

The MAIB also said that the frequency of near drownings in unsupervised swimming pools should be considered when conducting risk assessments "so that an appropriate level of pool supervision is maintained in all circumstances." Consistent with other reports, the MAIB said that "constant poolside supervision" is required whenever "the pool will be used by unaccompanied children aged under 15 years."

As we have discussed many times, there have been numerous drownings and near-drownings on NCL, Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the last several years. 

It’s a real shame that most Miami-based cruise lines which do not bother to hire lifeguards or conduct swimming pool risk assessments (because they usually flagged in places like the Bahamas or Panama) are not subject to criticism from reputable authorities like the MAIB.

Photo credit: MAIB gov.uk 

Hat Tip: Safety4Sea

  • John Goldsmith

    Subtle pressure from all safety and security agencies will slowly make the use of supervision at the pools a reality. You mentioned in the article that Booze, Food , Sun crowds may be a factor, well that’s a given at a large resort of cruise ship.
    Note to all cruise lines….. get a lifeguard programme in place.