The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has indicated that it is involved in the investigation of the disappearance of 35 year-old Ronnie Peale, Jr. from the Carnival Magic last weekend. A local news station in the cruise ship’s home port in Norfolk, Virginia, 13 News Now, reports that according to the FBI’s Norfolk office, the FBI “has joined the investigation” into this disappearance. The FBI “is now the lead investigating agency with the assistance of multiple other agencies.”

The FBI has jurisdiction to investigate crime on cruise ships where either the victim and/or the assailant is a U.S. national. Regarding deaths, the FBI can investigate homicides or “suspicious deaths” at sea. The last time the FBI investigated a death was on February 27, 2023 when a woman died under suspicious circumstances on the Carnival Sunshine cruise ship.

Aside from clear cases where a passenger has been murdered, most FBI investigations on cruise ships go nowhere. For example, we were involved in the disappearance of George Smith IV from Greenwich, Connecticut who went overboard from the Brilliance of the Seas in July 2005. Although there was substantial evidence that another passenger was involved in throwing Mr. Smith overboard, the FBI eventually closed its investigation with no arrests.

Mr. Peale went overboard from the Carnival cruise ship from the balcony which he shared with his wife. She stated to newspapers that her husband regularly gets up before her and she thought that he had already awoken and was somewhere else on the ship. At some time after 3:00 p.m., she reported him missing to Carnival. It is this company’s policy to first search on the ship for passengers believed to be “missing.” As part of this process, Carnival’s security personnel reviewed unmonitored closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras which revealed that Mr. Peale “leaned over the railing of his stateroom balcony and dropped into the water at approximately 4:10 am early Monday morning.”

Carnival eventually notified the U.S. Coast Guard that Mr. Peale had gone onto the water earlier that morning. It was not until 6:36 p.m. – over 14 hours later – that Carnival notified the Coast Guard. The federal agency then performed a massive search, using Coast Guard aircraft and at lease one cutter, which was unsuccessful.

There are few details released by Carnival regarding the circumstances surrounding Mr. Peale’s disappearance which would suggest that Mr. Peale was a victim of foul play.

His wife is quoted saying that ” . . .he loved the cruise life being able to drink, gamble, and socialize put him in his happy place . . .”

It is standard procedure for Carnival’s security personnel to print out the bar bill of a customer who is injured or goes overboard. It is unknown whether he was intoxicated when he fell into the ocean. Gross intoxication is the primary reason for overboard cases involving cruise guests on Carnival ships.

As we reported in our prior articles regarding this case, no Carnival owned cruise ship has a automatic man overboard system installed, despite the fact that numerous intoxicated guests have gone overboard.

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Image credit: Carnival Magic – Jim Walker; FBI badge – FBI Twitter.