The Carnival Magic returned to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia early this morning without one of its guests. The Carnival cruise ship arrived back in Norfolk at 5:30 a.m. following a five day cruise to the Bahamas. Yesterday, a passenger was reported missing from the ship “late Monday afternoon,” according to a statement released by the company’s corporate communications department.

Carnival eventually reviewed its shipboard security videos and observed a guest going overboard from his balcony. Carnival’s PR statement (which you can read here) released early today claims that the missing guest “leaned over the railing of his stateroom balcony and dropped into the water at approximately 4:10 am early Monday morning.” Accordingly, assuming “late Monday afternoon” was around 4:00 p.m. or so, there was a delay of around twelve (12) hours before Carnival finally contacted the United States Coast Guard to commence search and rescue efforts.

A cruise ship can easily sail over 200 miles during this amount of time.

AIS data does not indicate that the Carnival Magic altered its course to search for the missing man. The Coast Guard apparently eventually conducted a search, although no initial news accounts reflect the details.

The New York Post identified the missing guest as 35 year old Ronnie Lee Peale Jr.

There is no information regarding the circumstances surrounding the person who went overboard. The vast majority of people who go overboard on Carnival ships are grossly intoxicated.

Cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein indicates that 381 people have gone overboard from cruise ships in the last twenty-five years.

In 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (“CVSSA”) which requires cruise ships operating from U.S. ports to install automatic man overboard systems to detect guests or crew members going over the rails and into the water. Technology has long existed to detect people who go overboard by using motion detection, infrared and radar systems. Modern systems can detect and record when a person goes overboard and instantly send an alarm to the bridge which can then use the system to track the person in the water, even at night.

The CVSSA requires cruise vessels to “integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard.”

Learning for the first time twelve hours later that a guest has disappeared into the sea at night is outrageous.

Carnival Corporation has not installed a single automatic man overboard system over the past decade on any of the cruise ships it operates under numerous (nine) brands.

Certain members of Congress recently sent a letter (dated May 9, 2023) to the Coast Guard inquiring into the status of why Carnival, and other cruise lines, have refused to implement the life saving safety systems. To our knowledge only Disney Cruise Line and one MSC cruise ship, the MSC Meraviglia, have these systems. Senator Blumenthal, Senator Edward Markley, Representative Lloyd Doggett and Representative Doris Matsui authored the letter to the Coast Guard.

The members of Congress commented that positive search and rescue outcomes in
overboard incidents are rare. “According to data on 212 cruise overboard incidents between 2009 and 2019, only 48 persons were successfully rescued – a mere 28 percent.”

“Time is a critical factor in overboard incidents: the delay between an incident’s occurrence and the person’s friend or family reporting them missing can dangerously expand the search grid and decrease the likelihood of a successful rescue.”

The letter also requested that the Coast Guard answer the following questions:

  1. What type of overboard prevention systems does the Coast Guard currently
    require installed on cruise vessels? If such requirements do not include systems
    that (i) capture images of, (ii) detect, or (iii) both capture images of and detect
    passengers who have gone overboard, please explain why not.
  2. Please describe the Coast Guard’s understanding of the status and commercial
    availability of image capture systems and detection systems for cruise vessels.
  3. Please describe the level of collaboration between international standards
    organizations like ISO and the Coast Guard on overboard detection technology
  4. Does the Coast Guard recognize the ISO MOB detection technology standards? If
    not, please explain why not.
  5. Please describe any steps the Coast Guard plans to take to further prevent
    fatalities from overboard incidents and improve SAR operations, including the
    status of any rulemaking efforts and the development of an enforcement plan.
  6. Does the Coast Guard require any additional resources or further congressional
    direction to effectively enforce the CVSSA, particularly in relation to overboard
  7. Does the Coast Guard require any additional resources to ensure the effective
    operation of SAR missions more broadly?

You can read the letter here.

My view is that Carnival Corporation is disinterested in the life saving technology because it views these systems as an unnecessary cost item, even though the systems costs as little as a few hundred thousand dollar to install. Perhaps Carnival’s decision-makers think that if Carnival were to install one system on a ship on one brand, it might be criticized when it does not install systems for all ships in all of its nine cruise brands. Also, the CVSSA does not include penalties for non-compliance. Carnival’s renegade corporate culture is such that it does not hesitate to ignore laws when it determines are not in its financial interests.

In addition, the damages available under the applicable wrongful death law, the “Death on the High Seas Act” (“DOSHA”) are minimal and are limited only to financial losses. Pain and suffering, mental anguish and other damages for emotional losses are not permitted. Read: The Death on the High Seas Act – Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years. The bottom line is that there is no financial consequence when a person disappears from a cruise ship. Until there is accountability, greedy cruise lines like Carnival will not install automatic MOB systems.

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May 30, 2023 Update:

The Coast Guard is apparently continuing to search for the missing guest, Mr. Peale. However, the grid for the search increased greatly due to the delay caused by Carnival’s refusal to install a man overboard system.

Image Credit: Top – 13 New Now; Ronnie Lee Peale Jr. – 13 News Now.