There is a report of yet again another passenger on a cruise ship reported to have gone overboard, and not found. The latest involves a 32-year-old male from Georgia, a passenger on the Carnival Liberty cruise ship, a Carnival Cruise Line ship, who reportedly went overboard in the early morning hours of Friday, April 7, while the vessel was in Bahamian territorial waters after having left Cape Canaveral, Florida.
At this time, the reports are that the United States Coast Guard was participating in the search and rescue efforts, as it does involve a United States citizen, and the ship did depart from the United States port. The Bahamian maritime authority will also get involved since the incident did happen in Bahamian waters.
Statistics that are available indicate there have been a number of passengers who have been reported to have gone overboard on a cruise ship this year alone. Just two weeks ago, we reported on another carnival passenger who fell overboard from the Carnival Victory ship.
The problem of passengers falling overboard during a cruise came to the spotlight in 2005 when George Smith, a Connecticut resident, went missing on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship during his honeymoon. The physical evidence reflected that he had fallen off the balcony of his cabin, leaving bloodstains on the canopy below, where it is believed he hit before he fell into the waters. It is believed his disappearance happened while the vessel was in international waters on its way to a port in Turkey, where ultimately the first authorities boarded the ship to start an investigation. Many times, which agency will be responsible for taking the lead in the investigation is not clear. In the case of George Smith, the possibilities of which agency would be responsible for leading the investigation were the FBI, since an American citizen was involved, the Bahamas, which was the flag state of the ship, and the authorities in Turkey, which was where the ship first docked after the incident took place.
George Smith’s body was never recovered, and although it was believed his disappearance was the result of foul play, the mystery was never solved, nobody was ever prosecuted, and his case was closed by the FBI after many years of remaining an open file. We were privileged to represent the family of George Smith in a civil action brought against Royal Caribbean International, which ultimately resulted in a settlement. It was believed by many authorities that the initial investigation was botched, and there was an attempted cover-up, which is the reason the potential crime was never solved and no one ended up being prosecuted.
However, the George Smith case did result in some positive action. I testified at Congressional Hearings that addressed cruise ship safety and security, after Congress became concerned about the prevalence of missing passengers on cruise ships, and other crimes, such as sexual assaults, happening on cruises. I was requested to appear before Congress to answer questions about what laws govern such incidents, and other matters pertaining to cruise ship safety and security.
The congressional hearings ultimately led to passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010. The legislation required cruise ship companies to adopt available technology regarding man overboard systems, which can detect when a passenger goes overboard so that a prompt search and rescue effort can be made. The act also addressed other issues, including increased safety on board cruises, and other requirements pertaining to the problem of sexual assaults on cruise ships.
In this particular case involving the missing Carnival cruise ship passenger yesterday morning, the Carnival Liberty cruise ship did not have a man overboard system, as the cruise ship companies have not adopted this available technology at this time.
As to the circumstances surrounding this particular incident of a passenger going overboard, that is unknown at this time. The reports do not indicate whether there is any evidence of foul play. Often times, the over-serving of alcohol on board a cruise ship plays a factor in a passenger going overboard. In the case of George Smith, overconsumption of alcohol was considered to be a main factor in his disappearance.
Sexual assaults on cruise ships are also associated with the over-serving of alcohol. The cruise ship companies make a lot of money serving alcohol on board their cruise ships. In fact, several companies have started selling all you can drink packages to passengers, which we have said is not a good idea as far as safety goes. It is important to note that every crew member on board the ship must be competent to handle an emergency situation, and to participate in any type of fire or lifeboat emergencies. One can only imagine what it would be like to evacuate passengers in the case of an emergency if many of the passengers are intoxicated due to the over-serving of alcohol. We believe there should be stricter rules and regulations pertaining to the service of alcohol on board cruise ships.
We also believe that a law called the Death on the High Seas Act, which will likely apply to this recent disappearance of the young Georgia man, assuming he is presumed to not be alive after the search and rescue effort, should be abolished. This is a law that applies any time a death happens outside the territorial waters of the United States, and will allow a cruise ship company to defend a wrongful death case by asserting this act applies, and that the damages available to the family members are extremely limited, and in some cases nonexistent.
We will continue to monitor this latest missing passenger case, and again urge Congress to step up enforcement of the law that requires implementation of man overboard systems on cruise ships.