A woman went overboard from the Celebrity Solstice early in the morning of May 17, 2022 while the ship was sailing on an Alaskan itinerary. KTOO reported that “a cruise ship camera showed the woman going overboard at approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday as the ship sailed from Juneau to Skagway.”

There has been no explanation from Celebrity Cruises regarding why or how the passenger went overboard or even an acknowledgement that the cruise line’s guest disappeared from the ship.

The U.S Coast Guard stated that the captain of the Celebrity ship first notified it at 3:00 a.m. yesterday. The time between the guest going over the rails and the cruise line notifying the Coast Guard is currently unknown. Nor do we know when the agency launched a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka. We do know that a a 45-foot Response Boat from a Coast Guard station in Juneau and the Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur arrived around 5:00 a.m. The ship crew used search boats until 5 a.m. when the Coast Guard crews showed up to help. 13-WGME reported that “It’s unclear if the ship is staying in the area or not.” There is no indication on AIS tracking systems that the Celebrity Solstice altered its scheduled path to conduct a search for the overboard passenger.

The Coast Guard rescue efforts were not successful and ended after nine hours. By the time that the media began reporting on the overboard today, the search had already ended nearly 24 hours earlier.

Celebrity Cruises is one of the cruise companies which refuses to install automatic man overboard systems (MOB), as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. Such systems utilize sophisticated motion detection and infrared and radar technology to send a signal directly to the bridge when a person goes over the rails and then tracks the person in the water even at night.

Cruise ships without such systems first conduct a manual search of the ship and then review the video of cameras along the side of the ship (which are not actively manned) to see if they show someone going overboard. (In fact, Celebrity’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, requires that Royal Caribbean owned ships first contact Royal Caribbean’s Global Security Office in Miami before turning the ship around to begin search operations in the water). Such “old school” systems unreasonably delay rescue efforts. It’s akin to looking for a tiny needle in a huge haystack.

There is no indication when the cruise line first realized that the woman went overboard.

Cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein’s popular cruise site CruiseJunkie indicates that 367 people have gone overboard from cruise ships since 2000. Most cruise lines have not installed automatic MOB systems, despite the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act’s requirements to do so over a decade ago.

There are numerous automatic man overboard systems available for use such as shown here and here.

Searches conducted by the Coast Guard for overboard guests and crew members typically cost around $1,000,000 a search, depending on how many helicopters, cutters and other vessels are utilized and how long the search lasts, as evidenced by documents we have obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Cruise lines have no obligation to reimburse the Coast Guard for these costs. Such free services by this federal agency is one of the many perks that foreign incorporated cruise line enjoy despite that facts that they all register thier ships in foreign countries (except NCL’s Pride of America) in order to avoid all U.S. income taxes, U.S. wage and labor law, and U.S. occupational health and safety laws.

Since 2010, when the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act was passed, there have been around 120 passengers and crew members who have gone overboard on cruise ships. In the last two years before the COVID-19 pandemic (218 and 2019), an average of over 27 passengers and crew members went overboard each year.  Yet, cruise lines refuse to comply with the law and install MOB systems. These systems have long been readily available on the market; several manufacturers remain eager to sell and install these systems. The cruise industry has largely rebuffed these manufacturers without any real explanation.

Disney Cruise Line, to our knowledge, is the only U.S. based cruise line to install such systems on its fleet of cruise ships.  Royal Caribbean and its sister brand, Celebrity, and all Carnival owned brands refuse to do so, despite the relatively inexpensive costs.  The average cost to purchase and install such a system is around $300,000 to $500,000 per cruise ship.

Until the cruise industry is forced to comply with installing such systems, perhaps by a Congress that blocks it from U.S. ports until its ships are in compliance, don’t expect lines like Celebrity to do so.  It seems that Celebrity has chosen to not even bother to offer an explanation when a guest goes overboard and disappears in the middle of a vacation cruise.

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Image credits: Celebrity Solstice – Aah-Yeah –  CC BY 2.0, commons / wikimedia.