A forty-one year old man went overboard from Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas last night according to multiple sources. It appears that the first information about the incident was posted yesterday evening (December 23rd) on Twitter (X). At 8:15 p.m., one Clark Kent posted:

At 9:27 p.m., Mr. Kent posted that a helicopter was on the scene and at 9:51 p.m. he posted that a rescue boat from the cruise ship was looking for the missing man in the water. It is unclear exactly when the guest went into the water or when the Royal Caribbean notified the U.S. Coast Guard. ABC News-4 in Charleston reported that the Coast Guard announced at 11:03 a.m. today that it was searching for the man who went went overboard 127 miles east of Charleston.
Another guest on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship posted on Twitter that the man went overboard as early as 7:15 p.m. yesterday evening.

As we have reported numerous times before, Royal Caribbean – like most other cruise lines – has not installed an automatic man overboard (MOB) system. Such systems include motion detection technology which would instantly send a signal to the bridge when a person goes over the rails. Advanced MOB systems can actually track the person in the water, even at night, using radar and infrared technology.

Without such systems, looking for an overboard person in the water at night is similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.

This is at least the 400th person who has gone overboard from a cruise ship or ferry in the last 23 years, according to Dr. Ross Klein who tracks such incidents on his website. There have been at least twenty-four people who have gone overboard this year alone, which is about two people a month going overboard this year.

According to Dr. Klein’s definitive data, nearly 250 people have gone overboard since the U.S. Congress passed the the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 which required the installation of MOB systems on cruise ships calling on U.S. ports.

To our knowledge, only Disney Cruise Line has installed MOB systems on all of its cruise ships. Only one other cruise line, MSC, has installed a MOB system, but only on the MSC Meraviglia.

There are two primary reasons why cruise lines refuse to install life-saving MOB systems. First, there is no financial consequence to a cruise line when someone goes overboard from a ship not equipped with a MOB system. There is a federal statute, the Death On the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”), which governs wrongful death in international waters which prohibits a judge or jury from awarding non-economic damages like pain and suffering, grief, or bereavement to compensate a grieving family who lost a family member at sea. The only damages which potentially can be awarded against a cruise line is loss of income to a beneficiary and burial/funeral expenses. If the person lost at sea is retired or a minor, the only recoverable damages are burial expenses. If a retiree goes overboard and his or her body cannot be located, and therefore there are no burial expenses, there are damages recoverable whatsoever.

Thirteen years ago the first article I wrote for my blog was about the inequities of DOSHA which has not changed, at this point, for over 100 years.

The second reason that most cruise lines refuse to install such life-saving mechanisms is that they largely avoid all significant costs associated with searching for the overboard guest or crew member. The U.S. Coast Guard incurs hundred of thousands of dollars in dispatching search vessels, helicopters and airplanes but does not charge the cruise lines for the cost of such searches which would be largely unnecessary if MOB systems were installed. The average cost of a Coast Guard search is around $1,000,000 for operating searches via air and sea of souls lost overboard from a cruise ship. The Coast Guard has incurred tens of millions of dollars searching for the 24 people who have gone overboard this year without a dime of reimbursement from the cruise industry which refuses to invest in MOB technology,

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December 24, 2023 Update:

The Post and Courier reports that the Coast Guard’s North Carolina command center received a call at 7:17 p.m. about a passenger who had fallen overboard. The Coast Guard dispatched C-130 airplanes from Elizabeth City, N.C. and Clearwater, Fla “after 11:00 p.m.” according to the local newspaper. The Vision of the Seas unsuccessfully searched for the passenger for six hours and then resumed its cruise around 2 a.m.

Image credit: Pjotr Mahhonin – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.