CBS television station in California aired an interesting program this week regarding the unexplained disappearance of a young man from a Holland America Line cruise ship last summer.

Blake Kepley, age 20, vanished from the HAL Oosterdam last July during a cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

The disappearance occurred when my family was vacationing near Seattle.  I wrote about the incident in my blog article:  Back From Vacation – Safe, Sound & Thankful

Months after Mr. Kepley’s disappearance, his mom finally received a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard investigative report.  But it reached no conclusions.   It contained just one blurry surveillance image of a person walking on deck in the early morning hours when her son went missing.  The person’s face was blacked out, and the names of witnesses who claimed to have seen Mr. Kepley on the ship were also redacted.

Holland America Line claimed that there was no surveillance video available to explain what happened.

No one should disappear from a cruise ship without closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras recording what happened, says Mr. Kepley’s mom.

The case has the attention of the President of the International Cruise Victims organization.  Ken Carver lost his daughter on a Celebrity cruise ship in Alaskan waters and faced the indifference of the cruise line who did not even report her missing. 

Mr. Carver also discusses the problem of the FBI not releasing accurate number of cruise ship crimes, and the U.S. Coast Guard not implementing provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act designed to protect cruise passengers. 

 

Whistler mountain bikingLast night our family arrived back in Miami after a three week vacation in the Pacific North West.  We enjoyed Pike Place Market in Seattle, kayaked in the Orcas Islands (amazing), mountain biked in Whistler, and hiked Mt. Rainier.  What a blast.

Aside from a spectacular wipe-out on a mountain bike trail by my youngest son, we returned to Miami safe and sound.  

Given the nature of my profession, I am ever mindful that some family vacations do not turn out to be happy memories. 

An experience while visiting Orcas Island reminded me of that.  My wife and law partner Lisa was visiting a quilting store when she overheard the store owner talking about just returning from a Holland America cruise to Alaska with her partner.  Lisa asked how they enjoyed the cruise.  The store owner’s face turned grim.  She paused and said a young man disappeared during the cruise.     

The store owner was referring to twenty year old Blake Kepley, who disappeared during an Alaskan cruise with his family aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam on July 22nd.  Like many cruise ship disappearances, the cruise line has not disclosed whether there are closed circuit television images of the young man which may explain what happened.  This lack of transparency causes great stress to the surviving family members who must struggle not only with the misery of losing a child but the confusion of not knowing what really happened.

Kayaking Orca's IslandWhen I hear of incidents like this, I see images of other young men and women who have disappeared from cruise ships without explanation.  Like Amber Malkuch from Holland America’s ZandaamRebecca Coriam from the Disney WonderMerrian Carver from the Celebrity Mercury MercuryAngelo Faliva from the Coral Princess, George Smith from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, and Amy Bradley from Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas.

I do not know how these families endure their grief.  In the case of Amy Bradley, the Bradley family has suffered through twelve years of missing their daughter with no answers from the cruise line. 

When I hear of incidents of loved ones lost at sea I pray that my children, and all children, remain safe when they travel and vacation.  And when I return home, I am thankful that my family stayed safe from harm.    

Blake Kepley, a Fallbrook High School graduate was last seen between 12 and 1 a.m. on Friday, July 22, 2011. His family reported the 20-year-old missing at about 2:30 p.m. that same day according to the Village News; however, Sign On San Diego reports that the family notified the cruise line as early as 7:00 a.m. Both reports maintain that Holland America waited until 4:00 p.m. before contacting the Coast Guard to report that Kepley possibly went overboard.

The Coast Guard immediately began the search; however, was unsuccessful in locating Kepley and the search was suspended nearly 24 hours later after covering more than 352 miles. Kepley went missing between Sikta and Ketchikan during his Alaskan cruise aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam.

For more information click on NBC’s San Diego News Report:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=FiTAQwMLmQ4%3Fhl%3Den%26fs%3D1

If you have any information or tips regarding the disappearance of Blake Kepley, e-mail us at jwalker@cruiselaw.com

Video credit: NBC San Diego