Blue Horizon Ro-RoA young man went overboard from a passenger ship in the port of Piraeus four days ago, according to the Safety4Sea publication. During the evening of May 23, 2018, the passenger went overboard from the "RoRo" (roll on / roll off) ferry Blue Horizon, while the ship was still docked in the port of Piraeus.

The Piraeus Port Authority and the Hellenic Coast Guard authorities are reportedly searching for the 25 year-old man.

The man overboard incident was first reported after the passenger ship had departed from Piraeus for the port of Heraklion, with 255 passengers aboard; however, the ship returned to Piraeus once the officers realized that a passenger was missing. 

Safety4Sea states that once the Port Authority was notified, five patrol boats of the Hellenic Coast Guard and the Hellenic Navigation searched for the missing man without success. 

The Blue Horizon is owned and managed by Blue Star Ferries Maritime based in Athens, Greece.

Man overboards ("MOB’s") are an issue which occur not only on large cruise ships but have been an ongoing problem regarding ferries and other passenger ships.  The most publicized case is that involving a young man on the Pride of Kent who went overboard several years ago. Richard Fearnside disappeared from the P&O Ferries ship, sailing across the English Channel, which like all other ferries operated by this company did not have an automatic man overboard system or, for that matter, even a single CCTV camera focused on an exterior deck. 

Richard’s parents, Marianne and Bob Fearnside, of Whitstable, Kent (U.K.) have petitioned the ferry company to install cameras on the decks of its ships, without success to date. Over 100,000 have signed the petition to date

Photo credit:  Shipspotting via Safety4Sea

A reader of Cruise Law News brought to my attention that a crew member disappeared at sea from a ferry operated by Irish Ferries from Rosslare, Ireland to Pembroke, Wales yesterday. A number of newspapers have reported that a a large air and sea search was just suspended after the crew member apparently went overboard into the St. Georges channel from a ferry during the cruise of less than five hours.

The crew member has not been identified but was said to be a member of the catering staff aboard overboard crew member disappearancethe ferry.

The Western Telegraph newspaper quoted the ferry company as telling the BBC "We just don’t know where he is. Technically speaking it is possible that he walked off in Pembroke . . ."

This rather clueless statement reveals a problem with many ferries throughout Great Britain (Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) and Europe. They have not bothered to invest in closed circuit television on their ships despite a series of overboards over the years

I have been critical of the U.S.-based cruise industry due to the failure to install automatic man overboard systems which can immediately send a signal to the bridge of the cruise ship whenever someone goes over the railing and also can track the overboard passenger or crew member in the water via thermal imaging and radar which increases the possibility of recovering the overboard person. But many U.K. and European cruise and ferry companies have not only refused to install this state-of-the-art technology, they have refused to even install old-school CCTV systems on their ships.  

A spokesperson for the Irish Ferries company, which recently won the Best Ferry Company award by a travel media public relations firm in Ireland, defended the company saying that "this is the first time in my memory for a crewman to go missing."

It seems that the ferry PR person has a poor memory. The disappearance of people from ferries, as well as from cruise ships, is well documented and includes crew members as well as passengers.

Last week (May 21st) marked the three year anniversary of the disappearance of 30 year-old Richard Fearnside from P&O Ferries’ Pride of Kent ferry as it was sailing from Calais back to Dover. His girlfriend said that he was going to the top deck to smoke a cigarette. Richard never returned. 

P&O Ferries could offer no explanation to Richard’s parents, Bob and Marianne, regarding what happened to their son.  Although P&O Ferries has experienced safety problems before in the past, the ferry company had not bothered to install a single CCTV camera on the decks of its fleet of P&O ships for safety and security purposes.

P&O chose instead to install surveillance cameras only in its duty free shops on the ferries. Jewelry and alcohol, it appears, are more precious to some ferry companies than its customers.

overboard passengerRichard’s mother, Marianne, wrote a letter to P&O Ferries CEO, Helen Deeble, about her son’s disappearance and sought information. P&O sent a boorish response, not from Ms. Deeble, but from a public relations representative at the ferry company. The PR company man told her that installing safety cameras was a silly, impractical idea.

In 2013, I sent an open letter to Ms. Deeble about the absence of CCTV cameras on P&O ferries. There are huge cruise ships in the U.S. that have literally over 1,000 CCTV cameras installed on board. Ms. Deeble chose to ignore my letter just like she initially ignored Marianne’s letter. Marianne started a petition to require P&O Ferries to install CCTV cameras on its passenger decks. The petition resonated with the public. To date, over 99,456 people have signed the petition while making insightful comments explaining why safety cameras are required. You can see the petition here.

The overboard crew member yesterday shows that little has changed with ferries in the U.K.  "We don’t know where he is" is reflective of negligence, if not wanton indifference, particularly coming from a ferry called the "best ferry company."

Please take a moment, sign the petition and voice your concerns.

Have a thought? Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credit:Bottom photo credit: Canterbury Times 

Richard Fearnside Missing at SeaITV television broadcast this video to a nationwide audience in the U.K. yesterday about the plight of the Fearnside family who lost their son, Richard (photo left), at sea from a ferry, the Pride of Kent.

The ferry is operated by P&O Ferries. The ferry line does not have any automatic man overboard systems or even surveillance cameras on its ferries.

In the U.S., virtually all cruise lines have many hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout their cruise ships. Some U.S. based cruise lines (but not many) also have automatic man overboard systems which send an alarm to the bridge when passengers or crew members go overboard.

I sent an open letter to P&O Ferries CEO, Helen Deeble (photo below right), which she ignored. 

It is amazing to me that P&O does not have such basic safety systems in place.

Helen Deeble P&O responded to the ITV program by saying that it is not required by law to install even a single camera on its ships. P&O has chosen to install cameras only in its duty free. Jewelry and alcohol  appear to be more precious to P&O than its customers.

Watch the video about the Fearnside – P&O Ferries dispute here.

Richard’s mother, Marianne, started a petition to require P&O to install CCTV cameras on its ferries. Over 91,000 people have signed it so far. The petition is addressed to Ms.Deeble.

Click on the petition here and please sign it. You will have an opportunity to the reasons why cameras should be installed on the P&O ships.

PO Ferries Pride of KentLast week I wrote an article entitled Top 10 Most Outrageous Cruise Ship Stories of 2013. There were a lot out outrageous moments in the maritime community last year. I had to work hard to whittle my initial list of outrageous cruise stories down to just ten.  

One outrageous story which I had to cut from the list at the last moment was the story of the disappearance of Richard Fearnside from the P&O Ferries Pride of Kent. Earlier this year, Richard was a passenger on the P&O ferry sailing with his girlfriend back to the U.K. from Calais when he went to the top deck to have a smoke. He disappeared.

P&O could offer no explanation regarding what happened to its fare-paying guest. Why? Because the P&O ferry did not have an automatic man overboard system to detect persons going overboard. Incredibly, it did not even have a single CCTV camera on the exterior, top passenger deck.

Mysteries like this are unacceptable in a caring and civilized world. But they are not rare.

Two days ago, a Canadian man disappeared from Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas as the cruise ship sailed on a Caribbean cruise to the Cayman Islands. The cruise ship had no man overboard system and no CCTV cameras which captured what happened to the cruise line passenger.

Just eleven days earlier, an Australian man fell from from Royal Carribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas. Again the ship had no man overboard system and no surveillance camera recorded how or why the passenger went overboard.  

P&O has also experienced a rash of overboards where the ferry line could offer no explanation what happened. 

Richard Fearnside’s mother, Marianne, wrote to the CEO of P&O, Helen Deeble, and inquired why there were no cameras on the ferry. Her letter was sloughed off to a PR man who rudely told her to take a hike. Marianne made the mistake of pointing out that P&O has CCTV cameras in its duty free shops to protect the booze on its ship, so why no CCTV on exterior passenger decks?

The same problem exists with larger cruise lines like Royal Caribbean which monitors CCTV cameras in its casino to protect its casino chips. Companies like P&O and Royal Caribbean don’t want to see their booze or casino money disappear. But they don’t feel the same way about their passengers.     

Richard Fearnside Marianne Fearnside Marianne Fearnsie recently started a petition to require P&O Ferries to install CCTV cameras on its passenger decks. To date, over 90,000 people have signed the petition while making insightful comments explaining why surveillance camera are required.

I sent an open letter to P&O CEO Ms. Deeble, inquiring why something as simple and inexpensive as CCTV cameras have not been installed, which you can read here.

Unfortunately, P&O ignored my little letter. But P&O cannot ignore Marianne Fearnside’s growing petition.

Victim advocate organizations and the media have taken notice of the Fearnside family’s plight. Unexplained disappearances in the cruise industry and on P&O ships will surely continue in 2014. And just as surely, every time someone goes overboard from a P&O ferry, the advocacy groups, the media and this blog will protest loudly why P&O has done nothing about this problem.      

 

Sign the petition here.

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

We have asked P&O Ferries’ primary competitors to answer whether they have CCTV cameras on the passenger decks on their ships. We’d like to see whether P&O Ferries is the only U.K. based ferry line not using CCTV cameras to monitor and record the activities on their passenger decks.

France’s MyFerryLink answered today stating only "Yes." We’re less than sure exactly what applications this ferry line is using surveillance camera for (gift shop, interior hallways or exterior decks), although we appreciate the (one word) response.

DFDS Seaways Dover to CalaisDFDS Seaways provided the following response to our inquiry:   

"DFDS Seaways has, to a varying degree, camera surveillance on all of our ships, monitoring indoor and outdoor areas, for both safety and security reasons. In our experience, we believe that cameras are a passive monitoring method that will not efficiently prevent people from falling overboard or lead to a faster response and life-saving action. We will always monitor and consider the latest safety developments, new methods and techniques, including onboard cameras, that could save people and prevent accidents. We are also always open for discussion and sharing both experiences and best practice with other operators in the industry."

Okay, its not exactly the response I hoped for.  Seems like DFDS is doing something but is not supportive of requiring CCTV cameras on all exterior decks on all ships.  But DFDS has voiced an open mind, unlike P&O Ferries, and has stated an interest in open discussions and best practices. 

When push comes to shove and the issue of mandatory legislation requiring CCTV cameras on U.K. ferries comes to a vote, at this point DFDS may side with P&O Ferries. But its responsiveness to our requests evidences a different and more respectful response compared to their ferry rivals.

There’s no question that CCTV and man overboard detection systems can immediately notify the bridge of man overboards, hasten rescues, and save lives. Perhaps DFDS can meet with experts on this issue and can be a leader in this field.   

We previously requested our readers and Facebook followers to send us photographs of the CCTV cameras on P&O, DFDS and MyFerryLink.  We’ve received some responses and images but would like to see a broader response to this inquiry.  If you are crossing between Dover and Calais on one of these lines, please take a photo of any cameras on the exterior decks on these ferries and send us an email. If you know of any safety issues on these ferries, good or bad, we’d like to hear from you as well.

Don’t forget Marianne Fearnside’s petition to require CCTV cameras on ferries.  There are over 85,700 supporters so far!          

Dear Ms. Deeble.

Cruise and ferry executives have difficult jobs, I suspect. You have to effectively deal with labor disputes, increasing fuel costs, and price wars with your competitors in an increasing difficult economy. What a headache.

In addition to managing the financial pluses and minuses of your businesses, cruise executives like you also have to timely and effectively respond to public criticism when things go wrong on the high seas. But many maritime CEO’s, who are well educated and highly experienced in business and Helen Deeble P&O Ferriesaccounting matters, suffer from an inability to manage their company’s reputation when they face public scrutiny.

I know that you have faced tough economic times before while running your ferry business. At this time last year, you were finishing a major evaluation of P&O operations which addressed declining revenue and increasing costs facing your staff over 4,000 employees. P&O encountered stiff competition from rival ferry lines Danish-based DFDS Seaways and France’s MyFerryLink as well as the underwater train operators to France, in addition to generally tough economic times across Europe.  

It must be hard to be responsible for over 4,000 employees who depend on P&O to support their families. After prior evaluations over the years, I know that you had to axe thousands of ferry employees to maintain profitability for the corporation. It’s doubly hard when a U.K. company like yours goes head-to-head with well run companies like DFDS Seaways (those Danish are hard working and efficient people, aren’t they?)

Your other competitor, France’s Groupe Eurotunnel, has not only the underwater train system but they enjoy lower priced ferry fares with their MyFerryLink brand. This upsets me. I’m a fan of Winston Churchill and the U.K. battle against Germany from 1939 to 1945 still inspires me. So P&O having to compete with the French, who would be part of Germany but for the P&O FerriesU.K.’s sacrifice and courage, seems hardly fair. I am rooting for your U.K. ferry line to beat its overseas rivals. But I suppose that’s just my biased perspective.

Added to your difficult financial equation, I know that P&O received embarrassing treatment by the press in the U.K. last year after an internal company report concluded that exhausted cross-Channel P&O ferry workers suffering from sleep deprivation and stress presented a danger to their ships and passengers. The information from your internal report, based on a survey of 500 of your ferry workers measuring their hours of work, watch-keeping and fatigue, was leaked by a worker to a newspaper which published "Passengers at Risk Because of Tired Ferry Workers." Sometimes its hard to keep these type of things secret with all of the newspapers looking for a scoop. 

I am also not insensitive to the recent bad news when the British Competition Appellate Tribunal granted relief earlier this month to Groupe Eurotunnel, which had been hit with an antitrust ruling stopping it from also operating its MyFerryLink ferries between Calais and Dover. You got a ruling knocking them out of your ports for a while. Good for you! But the ruling was overturned which brings stiffer competition to P&O.

But the stiffest challenge you face is growing protests that your company treated the parents of ferry passenger Richard Fearnside shabbily after he disappeared from the Pride of Kent earlier this year. I was disturbed to read that your ferry lacked any closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) on its exterior passenger decks. Money’s tight I know, but no CCTV? And I was even more disturbed and angered when Richard’s mother, Marianne Fearnside, raised this issue of why-no-CCTV cameras in this day and age in a letter to you. You kicked the letter downstairs to your PR fellow Chris Laming, who rudely rebuffed her and, incredibly, dismissed her proposal as "not practical."

You may recall that this dismissive attitude has plagued P&O in the past. Over 190 passengers and crew were killed in 1987 when the ferry line considered it was not practical to install CCTV cameras or alarms to determine whether the Herald of Free Enterprise bow doors were closed. The ferry capsized after a crew member responsible for closing the doors was exhausted and fell asleep (a problem which continues today). I know you were not with P&O / Townsend Thoresen back then, but as a well educated professional I am sure you are more Richard Fearnside - Marianne Fearnsidefamiliar with this disaster than I. You understand that when you forget history, it repeats itself. 

I wonder what you think of Marianne Fearnside. I really do. You’re a mother of two boys, now men. You must love your children deeply. You must have thought, at least once, what if one of my boys disappeared from one of my ferries at sea, at night, into the dark and cold water, alone. How would I feel?  What would I do? You must have thought of these things, right?

I can tell you what I, as a father of two boys, think of Marianne. Unlike prior P&O victims understandably crippled by the loss of loved ones, Marianne Fearnside is a brave soul and a tough lady. She will not let her son’s voice fade away. It’s not easy, but she has taken her heart-felt campaign to improve safety on P&O ferries to the public. Initially dumbfounded and paralyzed, she has been vocal and full of action of late. She has found an audience and her cause has resonated with the public. Over 85,000 people have signed her petition to require P&O to install CCTV on its ferries. (This is a modest request considering that cruise ships based in the U.S. not only have hundreds of CCTV cameras but are required by U.S. law to install state-of-the-art automatic man overboard systems).         

It’s only a matter of time before a major newspaper in the U.K. digs into this appalling story and P&O’s tattered image is further sullied. No one wants to see a home-town U.K. company take such a hit. You have hard working staff who deserve better than go down with a ship sinking in the eyes of the public. But even former P&O ferry workers have signed Marianne’s petition and proclaimed to the public that it is unreasonable and irresponsible for P&O to refuse to install CCTV. They are saying George Smith - Royal Caribbeanwhat many of your tired staff are probably thinking.

Let me quickly tell you a few lessons from cruise CEO’s here in Miami, the cruise capital of the world, who have failed miserably handling public relations disasters. There are lessons to be learned.  

Cruise passenger George Smith disappeared in 2005 during his honeymoon cruise. When a passenger photographed a blood soaked awning on the ship, the story went viral. Royal Caribbean fought a war on the cable news for a year claiming that Mr. Smith was drunk and it could not have prevented his death. The cruise ship had no CCTV cameras or overboard systems. We represented Mr. Smith’s widow and appeared on FOX News, MSNBC, CNN and the major networks bickering with the cruise line’s PR representatives, safety managers and even the Chairman Richard Fain on Larry King Live. A Congressional hearing was convened about cruise passenger safety, followed by six other Congressional hearings in the House and Senate which continue today. It turned out that Mr. Smith didn’t just fall overboard as the cruise line said. He was likely thrown overboard by other Royal Caribbean passengers. The cruise lines were subsequently ordered not only to install CCTV cameras but automatic man overboard systems on all of their cruise ships, but not before the Miami-based cruise lines tarnished their image. 

Another lesson comes from the debacle of Carnival CEO Micky Arison who, by all accounts, acted callously after the Carnival owned Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy and killed 32 passengers and crew and terrorized thousands. He was roundly criticized for his apparent indifference Costa Concordia to the disaster involving one of his over 100 cruise ships. But he didn’t seem to care. He continued to focus just on profits and losses (and his Miami Heat basketball team) and not the human suffering created by his irresponsible captain. As additional Carnival disasters and embarrassments (like the infamous Carnival poop cruise) unfolded, Arison stayed indifferent to the plight of his suffering cruise line guests. His once proud and popular cruise company became the laughing stock of late night comedians. When the Carnival earnings and stock flattened out, his board removed him as CEO. The new CEO has spent hundreds of million of dollars in safety improvements to the ships in the neglected fleet. 

How will you respond to the PR nightmare facing your company?  The P&O website is filled with thousands of well reasoned and succinctly written criticisms about the line’s perceived insensitivity and lack of ethics. Continuing to slough the matter off to your PR team will only make matters worse.

Now one other cruise CEO story to tell. Here’s a hint how to turn things around.

When the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Sea caught on fire earlier this year, the passengers faced a raging 2 hour fire after the automatic fire suppression system failed to operate. Royal Caribbean faced a major PR problem, especially coming on the heels of other well publicized Carnival mishaps. But unlike Carnival’s CEO Arison, Royal Caribbean’s CEO Adam Goldstein jumped on a jet to the Adam Goldstein Cruise Fire Bahamas where he quickly met up with the burned ship. I’m not a fan of Mr. Goldstein, but this time he was a man of action with the right attitude.  He was photographed inspecting the scene of the fire and discussing the fire while drinking iced tea with the passengers. He apologized profusely and promised improvements to his ships. The public quickly forgave the cruise line for the fire, and praised the cruise CEO for his quick action, transparency and concern for his guests.

The press is coming after you Ms. Deeble. The public outrage is growing. The nation is learning that other passengers and crew have disappeared off your ships. The time for mysteries is over. The Fearnside petition will shortly have over 100,000 signatures. Legislation requiring CCTV is inevitable.

How are you going to respond. Will you even respond?

My suggestion?   

You are the past President of the U.K. Chamber of Shipping. You’re highly respected and influential in your industry. Others will follow your lead. 

Its time to get out from behind the desk. Put your financial papers aside for a moment. Drive the short distance over to Marianne’s house. You both live in Kent. Invite yourself in for a cup of tea. No lawyers, just you and Marianne. Make a New Year’s promise to her to install CCTV on your ferries. Future passengers and your own crew deserve it. And bring your photographers too. The public will love the image of you doing the right thing, and saving your company in the process. 

Respectfully,

Jim Walker

Following intense public pressure brought by Richard Fearnside’s mother Marianne, P&O Ferries has posted comments on its Facebook page stating that it will be discussing the use of CCTV cameras with the "wider shipping community" and will be raising this issue with the "UK and European Maritime safety authorities."   

Don’t believe it. This is a stall tactic.  P&O Ferries can install CCTV anytime it wants. It doesn’t need to discuss this with rival ferry companies or obtain permission from any governmental authority.

I have attended over a half-dozen U.S. Congressional hearings over the past 8 years which have addressed over-board passengers from the U.S. based cruise lines. Cruise lines don’t like to be told what to do. They resist man over-board systems at every turn. They drag their feet. They say anything and everything to delay. I’ve seen every cruise line trick in the book. The cruise lines first say "It’s not practical."  When they lose that fight, they change their tune: "No new laws are necessary because we will voluntarily agree to install man over-board systems," but they don’t. After the lies are revealed and legislation is passed, the cruise lines will try and change the law. When that doesn’t work, the cruise lines don’t comply with the law.

If the U.K. ferries are like the U.S. cruise lines, expect a long fight.

Today, I received a mocking tweet on Twitter from a self-proclaimed U.K. ferry executive, Paul D. Paul WoodburyWoodbury:

"A USA ‘maritime lawyer’ on P&O Ferries! CCTV throughout is not a practical proposal. They’re ferries not TV studios."

To me, Mr. Woodbury demonstrates the U.K. ferry business interests at their worst. Disrespectful to the dead. Arrogant. Flippant. And more interested in bottom line corporate profits than human life.

Mr. Woodbury’s resume indicates that he worked for P&O Ferries for four years and "played a key role in safety management."   

This is the ferry lines’ mind set. Be prepared for it. They don’t care about you or your family.  Your pain and sorrow have no place on their profit & loss statements. They want it done as cheaply as possible. They are shameless. And they won’t do the right thing until you force them to.

 

Leave a comment on our Facebook page if you have a thought to share.

Is this of interest? Read our other articles about the P&O Ferries – Richard Fearnside CCTV debacle:

Have you signed the petition yet? I did, so should you.

 

Photo Credit: P&O Ferries (top); LinkedIn (bottom).

As a maritime lawyer in Miami Florida, I have mostly followed and reported on the schenanigans of the Miami-based cruise lines.

But after learning of the plight of the Fearnside family who lost their son, Richard, on a P&O ferry based in the U.K, I have broadened my horizons.

What on earth is going on with the U.K. based ferries? It sounds like they are technologically stuck back in the 1950’s, maybe the 40’s.  

P&O Ferries says that CCTV cameras on open decks is impossible. But P&O Ferries has lots of CCTV cameras on its duty free booze in the ferry’s shops. But not on its decks where passengers have disappeared. It has no automatic man overboard detection systems. I suppose that’s impossible too.

Poppycock.

Tonight we learn from Kent On Line that Port of Dover police charged three men after assaulting a passenger on board the P&O Spirit of France ferry, causing bodily harm. They are also jointly charged with threatening unlawful violence towards others.    

Violence on a P&O ferry? Seems so. I’d like to review the CCTV cameras to see what the police in Kent can prove. P&O does have that basic capability, right?     

Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

PO Ferries Spirit of France

Photo Credit:  Spirit of France – Wikipedia / 2013harry

P&O Ferries spokesperson and crisis manager Chris Laming is at the epicenter of the public relations disaster following the disappearance of ferry passenger Richard Fearnside.       

After 31 year-old Richard went missing from the P&O Pride of Kent, his mother Marianne Fearnside wrote to P&O Ferries to ask what happened to her son and to complain that the ferry company did not have closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras on its ships.  The chief executive officer of the ferry company tasked Mr. Laming with writing a letter back to the grieving mother.  

In a time of crisis a cruise line’s reputation, and its relationship with the families of killed or missing passengers, P&O Ferries Chris Lamingare often formed not by the circumstances which caused the crisis but by the company’s attitude, appearance, and action afterwords. 

I call this the "three A’s" of cruise line crisis management: attitude, appearance & action. When disaster strikes and passengers are killed or disappear during a vacation cruise, the public has a remarkable capacity to forgive the company involved – provided it takes a few basic steps not to make matters worse.  

In practical terms, people understand that accidents are inevitable. "Sh*t happens," the saying goes. An individual or company can be forgiven if they demonstrate a humble and respectful attitude; they appear on the scene and appear to take stock of the problems they caused; and they take prompt action to prevent others from suffering a similar fate. 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But most cruise lines and ferry operators don’t seem to have a clue what to do in a time of crisis. Many companies do the opposite of what they should do. They demonstrate an obnoxious attitude. They try and disappear from public scrutiny and disavow responsibility. They act defensively and take no steps to prevent the event from occurring again.

Bad or malicious PR can infuriate families of the victims and cause them to dedicate their lives to requiring cruise lines and ferry companies to act responsibly. 

I’m not sure what P&O crisis manager Chris Laming was thinking when he wrote back to Richard’s mother. His letter consisted of just seven sentences. You’d think that a PR professional for ferry companies for 27 years could string together a few sincere sounding pleasantries to acknowledge the grief of a mother who lost her child, together with choice action phrases suggesting that the company would be conducting a full investigation with an eye toward learning lessons from the mishap and possibly implementing safety improvements to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

Just two weeks ago, I complemented P&O Ferries who did the right thing when it transported a morbidly obese young man from Dover to Calais by ferry. Cunard and British Airways had refused him passage from the U.S. because of his weight (500 lbs). Virgin Airways flew him to the U.K. and then P&O helped him reach France where he lives. Mr. Laming had issued a very compassionate statement on P&O’s behalf: "It’s difficult to imagine the frustration that this gentleman has gone through. But for us, it’s very straightforward as we are set up to carry people who have medical needs."  

P&O’s letter to Mrs. Fearnside, however, contained no hint of compassion or sympathy and no illusion that the company would be taking the matter seriously with an eye toward remedial action. There was nothing sounding like "please-accept-our-sincerest-condolences-for-the-loss-of-your-son" type of thing. P&O’s attitude (the first "A" in crisis management) was all wrong. The letter contained nothing polite, conciliatory or respectful. 

But the last couple of sentences were worse. Mr. Laming wrote:

"It would not be physically possible to cover all of the open deck spaces with CCTV, or monitor such cameras 24 hours a day, or make and retain recordings in perpetuity."

He concluded his letter stating ". . . we do not consider that anything more could have been done in the circumstances." 

Later, when local newspapers in the U.K. began to cover the story, Mr. Laming explained why P&O refused to consider installing CCTV cameras on open passenger decks to prevent and assist in responding to man overboard situations:

"It is so rare. It is just not practical to consider doing this."   

I have seen many PR managers at cruise lines make these type of statements to try and get out of a tight spot. "We have carried millions of passengers and nothing like this has ever happened before. We are the safest way to travel. Overboard passengers are ultra-rare. Our ships are safe. We are going to continue to sail without any changes." And so forth and so on.

Statements like this are usually false. (P&O has a history of unexplained man overboard cases). Plus these type of statements eventually make the cruise or ferry company look like they are hiding something. The "it’s rare" defense just invites people, like me, to begin to investigate how many times similar incidents have in fact occurred. Invariably, the public learns that man overboards are hardly rare and occur with alarming frequency. The end result is that the ferry companies lose credibility and invite public scorn.          

Mr. Laming has defended ferry companies in the court of public opinion before. According to his resume poster on LinkedIn, a year after he became the public relation officer for Townsend Thoresen / P&O European Ferries in 1986, the ferry line experienced one of the worse public relation disasters imaginable.

In 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise was sailing a route between Dover and Zeebrugge in Belgium. Herald of Free Enterprises DisasterThe ferry carried 459 passengers, 80 crew members, 81 cars, 3 buses and 47 trucks. Within minutes after leaving its berth in Zeebrugge’s harbor, the ferry began taking on massive amounts of water. The ship began to list. It lost all power and electricity, leaving the passengers in darkness. The ferry then capsized. 193 people died due to drowning or hypothermia in the icy cold waters.

Mr. Laming responded to the disaster on the cruise line’s behalf. He told newspaper reporters words to the effect that the ship was safe and this was just an isolated, freak accident. He was quoted in a London newspaper article entitled "Disaster Cause Unknown" saying that the ferry company’s fleet of three ships of this class had carried "millions and millions of people without any mishap . . . Our ships will continue in service, and this, as far as we are concerned, was a tragic, one-oft incident."  

But the ferry line knew exactly what had happened and also knew that at least one similar incident had happened before. A subsequent public inquiry revealed that the ship’s giant bow doors (which open to permit trucks and cars to drive on ramps into the ship) had been negligently left open when the ferry left the port in Belgium. Incredibly, an assistant boatswain responsible for closing the doors had fallen asleep in his cabin. A ship officer, who duty was to stay on deck to make sure that the bow doors were closed, left his post.  Another boatswain who was the last person on the car deck, testified that he did not close the doors because it was not his job. The captain did not verify that the doors were closed. There were no alarms in place to signal that the doors were open. The ferry line thought that it was frivolous to spend money on equipment to indicate if employees had failed to do their job correctly. 

The official investigation also revealed that the ferry line suffered from a "disease of sloppiness" and "negligence at every level of the corporation’s hierarchy." The investigation showed a major problem with the ferry ship itself. The ship did not have any watertight compartments; any flooding would allow water to flow the length of the ship. This was revealed in a similar prior incident when in 1983, the ferry’s sister ship Pride of Free Enterprise had sailed from Dover to Zeebrugge with the bow doors open. Its assistant boatswain also fell asleep in that incident as well.  You can read the official report of the disaster here

Survivors of the disaster are still grieving and traumatized today

The disaster lead to substantial changes in the rules and regulations pertaining to ferries of this type.

What Mr. Laming told reporters about the Herald of Free Enterprises two and one-half decades ago was the opposite of the truth. There were deadly design flaws in the ferry; there had been prior problems with a boatswain asleep on the job and sailing with open doors; and there had been at least one essentially identical problem with a sister ship sailing between Dover and Zeebrugge.

So here we are 26 years later. The ferry line’s crisis manager is telling essentially the same PR story to the public. Don’t worry. We’re safe. There’s nothing wrong with our ships. Passenger overboards are "so rare." Its "not practical" to invest in CCTV equipment for safety reasons, he says.

But PR statements like this won’t work if the public has a healthy dose of skepticism and takes a hard look at a company’s actual safety record. How many other passengers will be lost at sea because P&O thinks its frivolous to invest in CCTV cameras and automatic man overboard alarms?

 

Follow the story on Ms. Fearnside’s Facebook page.  After receiving P&O’s letter, she started a petition to require ferry operators like P&O Ferries to install CCTV cameras. Over 80,000 have signed the petition so far. Click here and sign the petition.   Also please leave a comment if you have a thought about this issue or join the discussion on our Facebbok page

Photo Credits:

Photo Top: P&O Ferries’ Chris Laming – LinkedIn

Photo Bottom: Herald Of Free Enterprises – BBC 

Closed circuit television (CCTV) video helped the Sun Cruz Casino defend a claim made by a passenger who staged a fake accident at the bottom of a stairwell on the ship.

The video shows an elderly man walking repeatedly up and down a stairwell, apparently rehearsing how the accident will unfold.  When no one is looking, he gently kneels down and rolls over. That’s when the acting starts.  He begins squealing in pain and claims that he sustained injuries to his neck, back, hip, knee and ankle.  He is taken from the "accident scene" on a stretcher.

The cruise passenger retains a lawyer who is smart enough to verify whether an accident really occurred by requesting "all video of the accident."

The cruise line complies. Upon receiving the video below, the lawyer drops the claim like a hot potato. 

Do fake accidents like this occur? Yes, as this video proves.

The first thing that we do when we represent a cruise passenger who alleges a serious accident or being a victim of a crime is to request CTTV of the circumstances surrounding the accident or crime. Sometimes cruise lines will show us videos which contradict our client’s account.  That’s a good thing. No one wants to have anything to do with a bogus or exaggerated claim. But that’s extremely rare.

Most of the time, the cruise lines ignore us.  When we press the matter, the cruise lines claim that there is no video of an accident.  I have never seen a cruise line produce an incriminating video which confirms an accident or crime. Cruise lines typically argue that there is no CCTV cameras at that location, or the cameras didn’t work, or the tape was inadvertently erased, or the dog-ate-it type of excuse.  

I even had a case where I proved that there was CTTV video of my client’s accident that was given by the ship security to the defense lawyer.  But at the hearing on my motion to compel the production of the video, the defense lawyer argued that the video was in a video player which was allegedly stolen during a break-in at the law firm. Evidence destruction is a problem in the cruise industry.

In this case, its nice to see the fake claim against Sun Cruz exposed.  Now only if the cruise lines will produce video of all of the legitimate accidents and crimes.      

 

Video Credit: My Fox Tampa Bay / Peter Linton-Smith, FOX 13 Pasco Bureau Reporter