An Australian passenger has gone overboard from the Quantum of the Seas Wednesday night as the Royal Caribbean ship was sailing from Australia to Hawaii.
We first reported on the situation after reading about it in the popular cruise blog, Cruise Hive, yesterday afternoon.
The incident occurred around 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday (Hawaii-Aleutian standard time). Initially, as with most overboard cases, there was no confirmation from Royal Caribbean how the incident occurred or whether the person was a guest or crew member. AIS tracking systems do not show the classic circling maneuvers taken by ships searching for a person who has gone overboard. Compare the Quantum of the Seas‘ AIS data (immediately below) with the AIS data from the recent (last December) overboard from the Pacific Explorer (bottom). Instead, the tracking system shows that the ship made what appear to be only a slight change in it course, to the northwest, as it continued on to Honolulu, after leaving from Tahiti (after initially departing from Brisbane).
There is scuttlebutt that the guest intentionally went overboard at some time after his partner died earlier (for unknown reasons) on the cruise ship. The Sydney Morning Herald was the first newspaper to report this news.
Irrespective of how the person goes into the water (whether by jumping overboard in a effort to end his life, or by accident, or after consuming a gross amount of alcohol, or being thrown overboard), the search and rescue procedures should all be the same.
Cruise expert and sociologist Dr. Ross Klein maintains the definitive database regarding guests and crew members who have gone overboard (due to either an accident, excessive alcohol service, foul play, or suicide). His website documents at least 375 people have gone overboard from 1995 through December of 2022. Dr. Klein has testified several times as an expert before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives regarding cruise ship safety systems and the problem of overboards from cruise ships.
The last person to go overboard from a cruise ship was an eighteen year old guest from the Costa Toscana. The German young man reportedly intentionally went overboard from the Costa Toscana which had just left the port for Genoa on April 13, 2023.
Prior to that, a 36 year-old woman went overboard from the MSC Meraviglia as the cruise ship was returning to Port Canaveral on December 15, 2022.
Two days earlier on December 13, 2022 a 23-year-old woman who went missing after falling overboard from the Pacific Explorer cruise ship off the South Australian coast near Cape Jaffa was found dead after an extensive search by boats and a helicopter.
Like the Quantum of the Seas, the Pacific Explorer was not equipped with available automatic man overboard (MOB) technology which would have instantly notified the bridge officers that a person went over the railings of the ship and into the water. The automatic MOB technology utilizes motion detection and radar systems which automatically sends a signal to the bridge and tracks the overboard person in the water, even at night, so that the ship can immediately begin search and rescue maneuvers. Without such systems, which cost less than $500,000 to install, the chances of locating a person in the ocean, particularly at night, are akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.
Last month, another new automatic man overboard system was introduced into the market. The system, manufactured by SICK USA, 3D LiDAR sensors MRS6000, “can prevent faulty alarms by blanking out spray, waves and birds,” a common excuse voiced by the non-compliant cruise industry.
To our knowledge, only the Disney Cruises fleet and one cruise ship operated by MSC Cruises, the MSC Meraviglia, have implemented the life saving technology. No cruise ships owned or operated by Royal Caribbean brands have such systems.
In this case, the U.S. Coast Guard deployed a C-130 aircraft which searched unsuccessfully for nine hours for the missing man. Search and rescues, involving aircraft and cutters deployed by the U.S. Coast Guard, cost as much as $1,000,000 for a single person overboard. Such costs are borne by the U.S. government and are not reimbursed by the cruise lines.
Potentially complicating matters is the fact that Royal Caribbean has operating procedures which restrict the crew from conducting a prompt search and rescue of the overboard person. Royal Caribbean’s safety and quality (“SQM”) manual outline the cruise line’s written policies and procedures regarding a “missing person” that each cruise ship must follow.
The Royal Caribbean SQM (blurred in original) requires the master of the cruise ship to “immediately” notify the cruise line’s security and marine operations departments (located at its headquarters in Miami) by telephone in any “suspected overboard situation.” Unless there is an actual and reliable sighting of the person going overboard, the SQM also prohibits the Master from turning the ship around to conduct searches in the water and even then only after the Master first notifies the cruise line’s marine operations department in Miami and obtains approval to do so. (Read: Royal Caribbean Unreasonably Delays Reporting Overboard Crew Member from Vision of the Seas).
It is unknown exactly what steps the cruise ship took to initiate a search for the overboard guest, although the AIS data does not show the ship taking a “Williamson turn“to bring the ship under power to the point (it previously passed) to look for the person in the water. Life rings, high powered flashlights and a rescue boat were used. But posts on social media suggest that the the “conditions were rough and obviously the water was pitch black.”
Trying to locate a person in the black water at night is a near impossible task with no automatic system which can locate and track the person in the darkness.
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April 28, 2023 Update:
The Independent has some interesting updates to this story:
Image credit: Quantum of the Seas – Hublot via AP Images via NBC News and CruiseHive; rescue boat from Quantum of the Seas – Joshua Reynolds facebook page via the News Daily (Australia); photo of search in water – @cruisingtravellers Instagram via SkyNews (Australia)