A “man overboard” situation took place yesterday evening on the Wonder of the Seas as it was sailing to Mexico.

A man apparently went overboard at some time shortly after 8:00 p.m. when the Wonder of the Seas was sailing south of Cuba. I received a message at 8:47 p.m. last night from a woman on the cruise, stating that she heard an “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar” announcement over the ship’s PA system 31 minutes earlier.

Cruise Radio’s Doug Parker was one of the first bloggers to report on the situation. He reported that a passenger who goes my the name “Cabana Girl” posted on the Cruise Critic message board:

  • “Heard an Oscar Oscar Oscar Port on Wonder of the Seas during dinner this evening. A crewmember told us it was a child. Don’t know if this is true but there are spotlights and a boat down searching. Very sad if this true.”

Another passengers posted on the Cruise critic message board that the captain made an announcement of the man overboard around 8:00 p.m. yesterday evening. Others commented that a rescue boat had been deployed to search for the man in the water. Due to Hurricane Idalia, the Royal Caribbean ship had already modified its original Western Caribbean itinerary. An unrelated medical emergency cut short the search (after only around two and one-half hours) for the overboard man as the Wonder of the Seas decided to sail the ill or injured passenger to the Cayman Islands.

  • “I am on board the Wonder of the Seas now. The Captain announced that there was a man overboard about 8pm CT tonight Tues 8-29. I started video taping the small boat that was searching for the person and I searched with my camera from my balcony for about an hour with no luck. Our ship already had to change course because we were headed right into the hurricane so we are missing Honduras as a result of Hurricane Idelia and so we had to come around the bottom of Cuba. We were stopped for about two and a half hours looking for the overboard person when another emergency happened on board and now we are headed as fast as possible to Grand Cayman which was not one of our stops.”

A family member (a sister who was not on the cruise) of a nineteen year-old passenger posted pleas on social media for the search to continue for her brother, who she identified as Sigmund Ropich of Paris, Texas.

Unfortunately, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has indicated that it is not involved in the search. No explanation why the USCG declined to become involved was provided. According to Orlando Local News-6:

“When News 6 reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard, officials said they are not involved in the incident and that the Cuban Border Guard is the lead on the case.”

Royal Caribbean also told News-6 that it allegedly “is working closely with local authorities.” It is less than clear what Royal Caribbean means by this standard statement. I have never heard of Royal Caribbean or any other cruise line working with Cuba to locate a cruise guest missing from a U.S. based cruise ship. It is highly unlikely, in my opinion, that Cuba will devote any of its limited Coast Guard resources to search for a U.S. cruise passenger. It’s unknown whether the Cuban Coast Guard, known as “Tropas Guardafronteras,” has access to any C-130 type of aircraft to conduct search at sea.

Shown is the AIS chart of the Wonder of the Seas showing the slight change of course when it conducted a brief search for less than three hours. (Image credit: CruiseMapper)
Close up of AIS chart.

It seems outrageous if it is true that the crew of the Wonder of the Seas searched for less than three hours and then left their guest in the water at night, knowing that the USCG would not be dispatching cutters and helicopters to continue search and rescue operations.

In November of last year, a passenger was rescued after he fell from the Carnival Valor and treaded water for over twenty (20) hours.

In June of 2018, a crew member on the Norwegian Getaway fell overboard in the sea north of Cuba  and was rescued by a passing Carnival ship (Carnival Glory) 22 hours later (Read: How often do people fall overboard on cruise ships? by Rosie Spinks in Quartz).

In August 2018, a heavily intoxicated 46 year-old guest fell from the Norwegian Star and was eventually rescued, around 35 hours later, by the Croatian Coast Guard after the NCL cruise ship abandoned the passenger and returned to its home port.

In these two overboard cases from NCL cruise ships, the crew member and guest were eventually successfully rescued notwithstanding the fact that NCL abandoned them both.

Even though Royal Caribbean touted the Wonder of the Seas as the largest cruise ship in the world, the cruise line decided not to install an automatic man overboard (MOB) system, which are required by the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA). State of the art MOB systems utilize motion detection, radar and infrared technologies to instantly send an image to the bridge officers that a person has gone over the rails and can then detect and track the person in the water even at night. The chances of a successful search and rescue are greatly increased.

Royal Caribbean is one of many cruise companies which has decided not to install this life-saving system, citing a range of excuses which we have discussed in prior articles.

Hannah Towney of Business Insider recently wrote an interesting article regarding the CVSSA and why the USCG doesn’t check cruise ships for man-overboard technology that has been legally required for over 10 years: 4 people have gone overboard on cruise ships this summer. Here’s why most cruise lines don’t use technology that could’ve helped save them. My response is here.

There have been 392 persons overboard from cruise ships and ferries since 1995, according to cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein. The vast majority of cruise passengers lost at sea occured after Congress enacted the CVSSA.

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Image credit: Wonder of the Seas – By Daniel Capilla, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; AIS images of itinerary – CruiseMapper; Sigmund Ropich – Savannah Ropich Facebook.