MIAMI, Florida–This past Monday, a 24-year-old male reportedly fell overboard from the 11th deck of the Carnival Elation cruise ship. The cruise ship returned to its port in Jacksonville yesterday without the missing passenger. It used to be shocking for people to hear that a passenger was reported to have fallen overboard on a cruise ship. Then came the case of George Smith, a man who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. George Smith was a young handsome man who had just married his young beautiful wife, Jennifer Hagel, in a storybook wedding in Connecticut. They then headed off to their honeymoon on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and George Smith never returned. During the cruise he was reported missing, and after searching for him, blood was discovered on the canopy below his balcony, where it is believed he struck after falling off his cabin’s balcony before landing in the water.
The case received national attention, which prompted congressional hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security. The case generated so much interest and focus that it even became the subject of books and movies. His body was never found. Most experts believe he was the victim of foul play, possibly murder. However, an FBI investigation never resulted in the prosecution of anyone for any crime. The parents spent years searching for answers, and unfortunately, many questions remain today, 10 years later.
In this recent case where a young cruise ship passenger fell from the 11th deck of a Carnival cruise ship, the facts reported again illustrate that the cruise ship industry is not employing man overboard systems, nor monitoring their surveillance cameras, so that if a passenger does fall overboard, immediate action can be taken. According to reports, the 24-year-old passenger was last seen by his wife at around 2:45 AM, and she then reported him missing at 8:30 AM when the ship reached Nassau, Bahamas. The procedures followed by Carnival then took place, where the surveillance cameras were reviewed back in time, and it was discovered the passenger actually went overboard at 2:45 AM. The Coast Guard was notified at around 11 a.m., which is when the search began. Therefore, any search and rescue efforts took place over eight hours after the passenger went overboard!
It is obvious that if there is any chance of a successful search and rescue, it must take place immediately after someone falls overboard. This is the reason that our Congress, after congressional hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security, enacted legislation requiring cruise ship companies to implement available technology regarding man overboard systems that would detect any time someone fell overboard, so that immediate search and rescue efforts could begin. The current system, apparently still being followed by most cruise ship companies, is simply to wait until someone reports the incident, and then review the surveillance cameras, often times occurring too late to initiate a successful search and rescue effort. It has been proven that the technology exists for the man overboard systems, and that it is feasible for such a system to be implemented on the cruise ships.
According to the most recent reports, the Coast Guard’s search for the 24-year-old Carnival passenger did not end successfully. Of course, with this significant delay before initiating a search and rescue effort, it was highly unlikely it would. This is the reason the cruise ship needs to install an automatic man overboard system.