A passenger who disappeared from the MSC Divina yesterday marks the first person to disappear from a cruise ship in 2017.

As usual, there are no facts released by the cruise line which indicates exactly when, or why, or where, or how the person went overboard.

Based on information released by MSC, the U.S. Coast Guard stated that the passenger was "last seen by his wife at approximately 3 a.m. going out to the couple’s room balcony to take some fresh air." The Coast Guard says that the "circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the passenger remain unknown."  Accordingly, we have only the cruise line’s version of when the wife allegedly last MSC Divinasaw her husband, but there is no indication when the passenger actually went overboard, or when the ship first learned that the passenger went overboard, or whether the ship promptly deployed a rescue craft or other watercraft to conduct a timely search and rescue, or when the ship notified the U.S. Coast Guard to begin search and rescue efforts.  

Yesterday I wrote that it sounds like MSC was not initially aware that the passenger went overboard, which is the typical situation. The vessel’s online automatic information system did not reveal that the vessel slowed down, stopped or turned around to initiate a search for the missing man. MSC told the Coast Guard that, at some undisclosed time, it searched the ship and made call-outs through the public announcement system without success. This sounds like many other cruise lines which are told long after the fact that a person’s loved one or friend cannot be found on the ship. This leads to ship personnel conducting a search or making announcements or reviewing closed-circuit television images to see if it they can figure out what happened to the passenger – an unduly time consuming process considering that the passenger may be struggling in the water as the cruise ship sails away.

Six years ago, President Obama signed the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act ("CVSSA") which requires cruise line calling on U.S. ports to implement automatic man overboard systems. Before the  CVSSA was passed into law, there was considerable testimony before Congress regarding Man Overboard Systemwhy people go overboard – suicides, accidents, excessive serving and consumption of alcohol, and foul play were all discussed. But whatever the reason for the person going overboard, our Congress determined that cruise lines needed to implement state-of-the-art systems to signal when passengers or crew members went over the rails and into the water.

Since the CVSSA went into effect, cruise lines have resisted implementing the technology. There are many companies which have good systems on the market.  Here is an example (photo left). Here is another. The best systems immediately alert the bridge when someone goes overboard and can track the person in the water via radar and thermal imaging so that the person can be located even when someone falls into the water at night. Many systems record the person going overboard so that there is no possibility of a false alarm.  

Man overboard systems also have an important feature of detecting when someone comes over the rails onto the ship. This is an obvious and vital security precaution in this age of terrorism. If someone can go overboard without the cruise line knowing it, then it is just as likely that someone can come onto the ship without detection. 

After my article yesterday, a PR representative from MSC sent me a barrage of emails demanding that I write that the "USCG was alerted by MSC Cruises as soon as the ship became aware of the potentially missing passenger; the ship, as per procedure, started search operations immediately as soon as she became aware of the potentially missing passenger; and the USCG launched its SAR shortly thereafter."  But the PR person refused to state basic facts such as when the passenger went overboard, or when MSC realized it, or whether it delayed notifying the Coast Guard until after it first searched the ship, or whether it conducted any type of timely search itself.  

Disturbing factual questions remain – did MSC even turn the ship around to search for the overboard passenger? Did it just conduct a search on the ship after-the-fact and finally alert the Coast Guard only when its onboard efforts were futile? Does MSC even have any type of man overboard systems in place?  MSC refuses to say.  

Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein’s research indicates that an average of over 20 people go overboard each year on cruise ships. Over 140 people have gone over the rails from cruise ships since 2010. When will cruise lines like MSC focus on implementing state-of-the-art technology rather than on PR efforts to create the illusion that passengers are safe at sea?

January 4, 2017 Update: The Coast Guard suspended its search last night at 9:55 p.m. The Coast Guard is quoted as saying that it "searched for more than 35 hours." If this information is accurate, this means that the Coast Guard initiated its search and rescue around 11:55 a.m. (i.e., 35 hours before 10:55 p.m. the next day), or a bit earlier, on the day the passenger went overboard.  This further means that notice to the Coast Guard was delayed at least 5 hours after the missing man’s wife woke up several hours after last seeing him (around 3:00 a.m.) and realized he was missing from their cabin. The cruise line says that it searched the ship and made announcements for the man, apparently before notifying the Coast Guard.

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment below or  join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

Photo credit: MSC Divina – Karl Borg – Albireo2006 – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, commons / wikimedia; man overboard video – PureTech Systems.

  • margaret szczurko

    I will be on this ship Jan 19. This scares me quite a bit.
    We have a balcony room….are they safe?

  • Vicky

    They are actually very safe. The balcony walls are quite high on Divina (as they are on most cruise ships).

  • Dan Philipp

    The ship is super save. Just got off the cruise and had a balcony room. The only way to overboard off your balcony is to jump or possibly be leaning over your balcony and have a heart attack or something medically go wrong. (Highly Unlikely). I would still like to get more details on this, because I have a 7 and 9 year old who were with me, and I felt save with them on the balcony. Something is not adding up here.

  • Victor

    My wife my two children and myself were on the ship we heard the announcements over the intercom system at approximately 7 a.m. you could tell the urgency and the announcer’s voice what he was calling John Pierre John Pierre please call there are emergency number in it they never turned around and never searched for him other than on the ship very scary they didn’t even tell anybody on the ship that someone had jumped overboard people were like talking about it behind closed doors

  • Victor:

    Thanks for the info. When did the cruise ship dock in San Juan?

    Jim Walker

  • steven

    Of course they were delayed. Because if she went to bed at 3a.m and then woke up not knowing were he was then it was way to late to turn around. The facts are there, but seems like this is a lost cause, no fault of the cruiseline. Did they drink till 3.am? Was there booze in her system? If so, he drank too much and fell over.

  • Sandra Dzon

    Margaret Szczurko, I am leaving on the 19th also, like 2 days. I know I haven’t had a good time booking and arranging this cruise. Havent even gone on the ship yet, and I know I wont book with MSC again. soooo many nightmare issues.

  • Tasia

    I was on this cruise at the time John Pierre came up missing. I had been up since 5am and had heard a call for him at least 2 times. We were due to dock at 7am. Tracking devices should be implemented in a wristband form to know when passengers fall off. I read an article that Carnival was trying to implement this now. This kind of thing happens quite often. There is actually a site that documents all lives lost aboard various ships whether from murder,suicide, or accidental. It’s just sad and scary to think that someone could fall without notice. The sea was very choppy and wind very high that morning. I would have never been near the railing of the boat. There is no telling what happened to this man he was a 74 year old gentleman.

  • Randi

    I just came off of the MSC Divina
    Worst cruise of my life and I have been on many.
    Beautiful boat but horrible customer service.
    My elderly aunt had her wheelchair on board stolen and no one would make an announcement or help us find out what happened to it. Guest relations refused to let us use a ship wheelchair and we couldn’t even file a report since it was a personal wheelchair.
    My aunt ended up falling exiting the ship and no one helped her and they refused to call 911.
    It took her lying there for 30 minutes screaming in pain for them to send out a nurse who said she couldn’t do anything because our cruise was over now.
    We have never felt unsafe and alone on a cruise like this before. This was horrific we had to slowly lift her off the ground and carry her to a taxi and to drive to where we had cell service to call the ambulance ourselves. No human should be treated like this ever!