On Saturday morning, Holland America Line (HAL)’s M/S Rotterdam arrived at Port Everglades after a six day cruise to Mexico and the Western Caribbean without one of its crew members. HAL didn’t realize that one of its ship employees disappeared during the cruise until, apparently, another crew member noticed that he had not reported to work on Saturday morning. The HAL cruise ship then reviewed its shipboard closed circuit television (CCTV) images and eventually observed the unidentified crew member going into the water the preceding evening as the ship was returning to port.

A local CBS station in Miami reported that HAL reported the crew member missing only after the Rotterdam docked in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning. Shipboard security reviewed CCTV video which showed the crew member going overboard “around 9:45 p.m” on Friday evening. According to this news station, it was not until “around 11:18 a.m. Saturday,” that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office at the port responded to HAL’s first report that a crew member was missing from the ship.

By the time that the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) announced that it was searching for the crew member, nearly twenty-four hours had elapsed since the man went overboard.

There is a discrepancy in where exactly the crew member went overboard. HAL reportedly told the local CBS station that the crew member went overboard “while the vessel was still en route between Cuba and Key West” but the USCG reported that it was searching in water “20 miles south of Marathon,” several hundred miles away.

The surreal nature of the reporting of this latest person going overboard from a cruise ship is that by the time that the USGC reported that it was finally searching for the crew member somewhere near the Florida keys, the M/S Rotterdam was already sailing in a different direction on the next cruise to Europe.

The image of the USCG searching in waters near Marathon, Florida as the Rotterdam sailed in the opposite direction pretty much sums up the sad state of affairs of the cruise industry which steadfastly refuses to install state-of-the-art automatic MOB technology which would instantly detect a person going over the rails and alert the bridge.

Cruise fan pages of course do not report on such issues or anything that might embarrass the cruise industry. The Cruise Hive publication, (which does not mention the absence of a MOB system or the delay in reporting, misleadingly writes “search operation are already underway in the exact area of the incident”), reported that there was “no impact to sailings” as a result of the the disappearance of the crew member as the “ship has already departed on its next sailing with no delay.”

Arriving at port without a cruise member on a ship which refuses to install technology which would instantly notify it when someone goes overboard is not only embarrassing but borders on criminal indifference in my view. The task of searching for overboard crew members and passengers, which can easily cost a million dollars of U.S. taxpayer dollars (which the foreign flagged cruise industry does not reimburse), always falls on the USCG while cruise ships from where the person fell, jumped or were thrown scurry to the next port so as not to inconvenience the next round of thousands of cruise guests ready to start their vacation.

HAL claims that the crew member allegedly jumped overboard and was quick to report this to the local news station and publications like Cruise Hive (“the person went purposefully overboard” says HAL). Of course, the obligation of cruise companies to install MOB systems on cruise ships calling on U.S. ports exists regardless of whether the person went overboard intentionally or was thrown or fell.

Assuming the crew member went overboard in an intentional effort to end his or her own life raises the issue of why the unidentified crew member committed suicide (which is the most frequent explanation when a crew member goes overboard). Contracts that last as long as 8 to 10 months, grueling work hours and conditions (which would be illegal if U.S. applied), alienation from family members and friends back home, and a lack of mental health resources on ships are factors we have raised for over a decade.

This case illustrates the sad state of the cruise industry: ignore the legal obligation to install like-saving MOB technology (required by the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act), delay for half a day in reporting the missing crew member, then sail off in the opposite direction on the next cruise with a shipload of new customers while the USCG performs a belated search by air and sea for the overboard employee who the company is quickly blame in the first place.

According to the comprehensive reporting of cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein, there have been at least 407 people who have gone overboard from cruise ships (and a few ferries) in the last 25 years.

Carnival Corporation, the owner of the M/S Rotterdam, has not installed a single MOB system in its fleet of around 100 cruise ships since the CVSSA required such systems over 12 years ago.

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Image credit: M/S Rotterdam – kees torn via Wikipedia Commons; AIS image – cruisemapper.