News outlets have reported that an American passenger aboard Holland America’s cruise ship the Maasdam died when she fell overboard while attempting to board a tender, which is a small boat used to transport the cruise ship passengers to land, while the ship was sailing in the South Pacific. The passenger was 70 years old.
It was reported the passenger was conscious when she was initially recovered from the water, but lost consciousness soon thereafter and never recovered. Holland America would not confirm the cause of the fall, but a case like this involving a death on a cruise ship will prompt a full and complete investigation by authorities, as well as an internal investigation on the part of the cruise ship company. It is interesting to note that when the cruise ship company conducts their internal investigations regarding a serious accident like this, which they must do by both international law and internal policy when an incident occurs, they will not share the results of the investigation with the public nor with the victim or the victim’s family. Rather they will claim it as their own personal work product and as privileged from disclosure.
This is despite the fact that often times the cruise ship’s internal investigation will be the only way the family can reach closure and find out what happened to their loved one during the cruise in which they were killed. We have fought many times against the cruise ship companies for access to their internal investigation regarding deadly accidents and are virtually always met with resistance. However, the cruise ship company will not be able to shield from disclosure any factual information that is determined, and hopefully the cause of the accident will be known, and then it can be determined if any party is at fault for this tragedy.
Tender Boat Dangers
It is very common to use tender boats to take passengers ashore while anchored at port. Often the transfer of cruise ship passengers to the tender can be tricky due to weather conditions and high seas. It is the ship captain’s duty to properly observe the weather conditions and to determine whether the passengers can safely board the tender boats. It is better to cancel a port then to risk the safety of passengers, although cruise ship companies are very reluctant to cancel ports of call because they would lose a lot of money due to pre-booked and paid shoreside excursions, plus risk the wrath of angry passengers who wish to visit the particular port. However, safety should be the main concern, not profits.
It remains to be seen in this case whether tender operations should have been suspended due to weather conditions, as well as whether the transfer of the passengers themselves was conducted safely with adequate assistance for the passengers, especially the elderly who might need additional assistance to board the tender safely.
Safety Advocates for Those Harmed At Sea
In a case like this, the family members may have a wrongful death case to pursue against the cruise ship company, but the cruise ship company will have the benefit of a very archaic and unfair law called the Death on the High Seas Act, which provides for very little damages in a case like this. We have also advocated for abolishment the Death on the High Seas Act, an outdated and useless law that unfairly deprives survivors of family members killed at sea from adequate compensation, and unnecessarily and unfairly benefits the cruise ship industry, even when a death onboard a cruise ship is due to the fault of the cruise ship company.
We fight constantly for appropriate compensation for victims of these horrendous and preventable accidents and urge everyone to support legislation overturning the Death on the High Seas Act.