MIAMI, Florida–Another passenger has been reported to have fallen overboard from a cruise ship. Unlike the latest tragedy aboard the Carnival Elation, this story ended successfully. According to news reports, a cruise ship passenger aboard Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess fell into Pacific Ocean when the ship was between Brisbane and New Caledonia at around 4 p.m. this past Friday. The ship was on an 11-day cruise from Brisbane, Australia. Once the “man overboard” announcement was made, the ship turned around in hopes of finding the woman. Life rings and a lifeboat were deployed into the water, and about 45 minutes later, the woman was located by the lifeboat and brought back aboard the ship. There are no details as to why she fell overboard and whether the ship had a man overboard system in place. It seems like either someone spotted the woman falling overboard or the ship did have some sort of system in place because of the quick turnaround time between when the woman was reported overboard and her successful rescue.
With the increasing number of passengers or crew members being reported going overboard from a cruise ship, even two man overboard incidents in one week, the news of such events occurring is not as shocking as it used to be, but obviously still is alarming as ever. On Ross Klein’s website Cruise Junkie, a site that keeps track of cases involving people going overboard on cruise ships, this high number of overboard passengers and crew members is illustrated. This most recent case on the Sun Princess, along with Ross Klein’s statistics, again points to the need for the cruise lines to step up to the plate and comply with the legislation requiring man overboard systems to be installed on the cruise ships. Clearly whatever system cruises currently have in place is not enough.
On a side legal note, most of the cases we hear about where a passenger goes overboard and is never found, results in little or no recovery against cruise ship company because of a law called the Death on the High Seas Act. Most cases happen when the cruise ship is outside the territorial waters of the United States, which triggers the application of the Death on the High Seas Act. This statute unfairly eliminates any recovery for the surviving family members for their mental anguish, grief, and emotional distress, which is referred to as non-pecuniary damages. The Death on the High Seas Act limits recovery to pecuniary damages, which many times will not be substantial, allowing the cruise ship company to escape responsibility. This is a law that is archaic and needs to be changed. Holding the cruise lines accountable if there is negligence, including failure to follow laws requiring implementation of man overboard systems, provides the additional incentive to make cruise ships safer for all. Instead, making companies more responsible under our system of law has been eliminated in the cruise ship industry by applying the Death on the High Seas Act