A crew member from Vanuatu was sentenced to five years and eight months in jail on Tuesday after he was found guilty two months ago of raping a co-worker during their employment for P&O Cruises’ Pacific Dawn.

A court in Vanuatu sentenced former Pacific Dawn crew member Noel Isaac to a count of  sexual intercourse without consent in December of 2017, according to a recent article in the Daily Post newspaper in Vanuatu.  The court had earlier found him guilty of one count of an act of indecency as well as one count of sexual intercourse without consent.

The court found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Isaac trespassed into the victim’s cabin on the morning of December 6, 2017. Despite her pleas, he overcame her resistance and committed what the newspaper described as full and forcible sexual intercourse with her without her consent shortly before he disembarked from the cruise ship.

The victimed crew member reportedly did not return to her job duties and was forced to leave the ship due to the trauma. She later notified P&O that she would not return to work due to the assault. She reported the crime to the local police who reportedly had to halt the investigation awaiting the ship’s next visit to obtain the CCTV images.

The victim  was a new hire who worked in the galley. She boarded the Pacific Dawn in Brisbane in early December 2017; the ship thereafter sailed for New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The assault took place just a few days after she started work on the cruise ship.

The newspaper describes Mr. Isaac as having difficulties answering basic questions at trial about the incident. He claimed that he did not know where the victim’s cabin was located on the ship and denied ever going in to her cabin two days after he first met her. However, the evidence showed that Mr. Isaac entered and remained in the victim’s cabin for 40 minutes on the morning in question, according to the local newspaper.

Convictions of crew members for sexual assault are rare, due to the fact that flag states are not interested or equipped to investigate such crimes which occur in far off locations at sea. In this case, Carnival Corporation owned the Pacific Dawn, which was operated by P&O Cruises Australia and registered in London. This case, however, involved a crime committed by a citizen of Vanuatu where the ship called on its capital, Port Vila and where the crew member resided.

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Photo credit: P&O Cruises via Traveller magazine.

 

The disappearance of a 47 year-old woman last week from P&O Cruises’ Pacific Dawn was one of 213 people overboard from cruise ships in the last decade and one of 7 disappearances in less than 4 months this year alone. The incident raises the fundamental issue whether it is, in fact, possible for someone to fall off a cruise ship. 

I have written about nearly 200 overboard incidents since I started this blog eight and a-half years ago.  The single most common comment which I hear is that it’s impossible for someone to fall off of a cruise ship. When I reported on the recent overboard incident on the Pacific Dawn, the first comment was passengers don’t just fall off of a cruise ship.

But based on some of the eye-witness accounts, that is exactly what might have happened on the Pacific Dawn. 

The 47-year-old passenger from Brisbane, Australia, was reportedly with her husband on an exterior Pacific Dawn Overboarddeck, about 15 feet away from where other passengers were playing table tennis inside the cruise ship. Several passengers said the woman "went outside to vomit as she was seasick," according to an Australian newspaper the Courier Mail.

One eye-witness told the Courier Mail that the woman began to vomit while leaning over a railing when she lost her footing and went overboard.

Another passenger, who expressed condolences to the family of the woman, posted a somber photograph (right) of an empty deck and the railing where the woman apparently went overboard. The low railings immediately caught my eye. 

A standard sized life-ring, which you can see mounted slightly above the deck, is only 28-30 inches in diameter, which suggests that the top of the top of railing is probably no more than a total of 40 to 42 inches in height. 

One of the eye-witnesses took a photograph of the railing (below right) which was published in several newspapers. The photo shows four crew members standing around the deck railing. Two of the crew members are leaning on the railing with one crew member is standing in the middle nearby the railing, which appears to barely come to the crew members’ waists and the middle crew member’s hips.

Several years ago, when I attended a series of Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. on proposed legislation to require the cruise lines to raise the height of railing on their ships, the cruise lines refused to consider raising their ships’ railings Pacific Dawn Overboardto more than 42 inches.

The cruise industry has known for years that passengers who have puked (due to being either sick or intoxicated) over the railings on cruise ships sometimes have fallen overboard in the process. Yet, the cruise lines consistently resisted agreeing to higher railings. They felt that a higher raising would have been too expensive to retrofit on their fleet of ships.

Eventually, when the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) was finally passed into law in 2010 in the U.S., the cruise industry successfully had lobbied for the lower (42 inch) provision.

Before the Pacific Dawn even finished its cruise following the woman’s disappearance, news reports announced that P&O Cruises already intended to argue that the woman intentionally went overboard. MSN reported that although "early reports suggested the woman was suffering from sea sickness and had been vomiting over the side," a representative for P&O said "there was nothing to suggest anything of this kind" despite the fact that there were high waves and strong winds at the time. Another newspaper reported that: "9NEWS understands cruise liner P&O will claim its early investigation has concluded that ‘it appears the missing person has jumped with the husband attempting to catch her unsuccessfully.’"  9News reported that a ship’s security camera footage allegedly showed the passenger "deliberately launching herself over the side" of the ship, according to P&O.

By the time that the ship had returned to Brisbane, the cruise line had already revealed the woman’s name to the press and implied that she may have committed suicide. 

It’s troubling to see a cruise line dispute eye-witness accounts, state that it intends to prove the passenger intentionally went overboard even before law enforcement boards the ship, and then reveal the name of the victim to the media.

Police "investigators" have apparently now reviewed the surveillance film and agreed with P&O’s pre-determined conclusions. But notably absent in the media statements, from either the police or the cruise line, is there any mention that the video shows the woman climbing up on the railings. 

Whatever occurred on the Pacific Dawn, this would not be the first time that a cruise line may have falsely reported that an overboard passenger committed suicide.

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We suggest reading: "Suicide" – One of the Cruise Lines’ Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea.

Photograph credit: Top – Twitter via hashhag @vviivviieennnne and Fox News; bottom – Channel 10/Twitter via Courier Mail and Associated Newspapers Limited via MSN.com

ABC News in Australia reports that a woman has gone overboard from the P&O Pacific Dawn today. The cruise ship left Brisbane, Australia last weekend on a cruise of the Pacific Islands.

The P&O ship is now conducting a search for the missing guest.

P&O released a statement today stating that a crew member observed the unidentified woman going overboard from the ship around 4 P.M. today (April 12, 2018).  The incident reportedly occurred when Overboard Pacific Dawnthe Pacific Dawn was approximately 300 kilometers west of New Caledonia.

The crew member apparently notified the bridge and the ship turned to conduct a search. Other vessels in the vicinity assisted in the search.

A spokesperson for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said that the ship faced three-to-four-meter swells and high winds (55 kph winds).

According to cruise expert Professor Ross Klein, at least 308 people have gone overboard from cruise ships since 2000.

According to the Herald Sun, a passenger on the cruise ship posted a photograph of a life ring in the water about an hour after the ship began its search, stating that the passenger had not yet been located although it was getting dark at the time.

“Horrendous here on ship. Man over board an hour ago. Ship going round and round searching.” pic.twitter.com/jpC0NGRomU — Jonathan Trevithick (@JonTrevithick) April 12, 2018

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April 12, 2018 P.M.Update: New details emerge regarding the passenger reported overboard from the Pacific Dawn earlier this morning – From news.com.au: “A cruise ship passenger who was lost at sea had gone onto the deck because she felt sick and was knocked overboard by a freak wave.”