Samantha Broberg, a thirty-three-year-old passenger, fell from the deck of a Carnival Liberty cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico around 2 a.m. Friday morning, May 13. However, it has been reported that she was not reported missing until Friday around noon. Had there been technology on the ship that could be “used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fall overboard,” as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, effective over four years ago in January 2012, this tragic incident may have had a happy ending. Instead the passenger went undetected for over ten hours before a search even began. The search did not end well with the Coast Guard suspending the search around 8:15 p.m. on Sunday. Additionally, video footage in fact captured Samantha Broberg falling over board. This raises another question, which must be addressed by authorities, why is there no requirement for the cruise line to constantly monitor the surveillance video cameras? The cruise lines admit that is not done, instead searching through footage after the long delay from the time the passenger went overboard, losing precious time and making the search and rescue effort almost a sure failure.
My firm has handled many cases involving passengers going overboard on a cruise ship, including the well-publicized case of George Smith, who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line cruise ship. His disappearance was suspected to be as a result of foul play, but an FBI investigation never resulted in any prosecution for any crime, and the case was closed by the FBI. I had the privilege of representing the Smith family, who was frustrated in their attempts to gain information from the cruise line about the incident. The family was relentless in pursuing the FBI, the cruise line, and Congress to solve the mystery, and to implement changes in the cruise ship industry.
The George Smith case resulted in congressional hearings. I had the privilege of being an invited speaker before Congress to answer questions on maritime safety and security as a maritime expert. The hearings led to more investigations and finally the implementation of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, implemented into law by President Obama when he signed the legislation on July 27, 2010.
Despite legislation that required cruise lines to implement technology that would assist in detecting passengers or crew members going overboard, providing for a faster response time to any rescue, the cruise lines have failed to implement this technology and have failed to explain why not. The only assumption can be that it is too costly to them, even if it saves lives.
There have been repeated instances of passengers or crew members going overboard for various reasons, many times the reasons are not determined or revealed. Passengers continue to go on cruise ships without the knowledge as to why people do fall overboard, what safety measures are in effect to prevent that from occurring, what measures are in effect to detect if a person goes overboard, and what procedures are in place to assure an appropriate search and rescue.
As a maritime lawyer with over 30 years of experience handling maritime cases, it is time that Congress gets more proactive in this issue and commissions a study of these incidents, to determine the causes, and to address what can and should be done to prevent these incidents from occurring. Congress needs to put some teeth into the legislation and pressure on the cruise lines so that we can stop reading about passengers or crew members disappearing after falling overboard on a cruise ship. This simply should not happen.
My maritime law firm continues to act as safety advocates for those harmed at sea. I have been handling maritime personal injury and wrongful death cases for over 30 years. I am available for a free consultation if anyone has any questions regarding a maritime incident.