A man who went missing from the cruise ship Bahamas Celebration on April 27th has still not been recovered, and search efforts have been suspended.
Although it’s unclear exactly what happened, 30-year-old passenger James Miller apparently jumped off the cruise ship while it was sailing between the Bahamas and South Florida, according to the Coast Guard. The South Carolina man was reported missing when the ship was sailing about 27 miles east of Florida’s Delray Beach. Witnesses who saw Miller go over the railing say it looked like he was arguing with his girlfriend shortly before the incident. Several passengers at the scene also said they saw Miller hit the water face down and float.
The crew of the ocean liner, which is part of Celebration Cruise Line’s fleet, turned the ship around when Miller was reported missing at 2 am on the 27th. Shortly after that, a Coast Guard cutter, two air crews, and several small boats joined the search and rescue efforts. The FBI also joined the investigation. However, the search was suspended on Tuesday the 29th, two days after Miller was first reported missing. The Coast Guard says they searched more than 3,000 square miles, but there has been no sign of Miller.
Cruise Passengers Suggest Rescue Was Mishandled
In the wake of this missing person incident, two passengers who were on the Bahamas Celebration have come forward to say they’re appalled with the way the crew handled the rescue attempt. Shea and Sandra Hambling, a Cape Coral couple who were going on a cruise for the first time, told Fox 4 that they were shaken because it seemed like the rescue crew didn’t put that much effort in.
Shea said that after Miller went overboard, the crew left the music on and turned up to the point that no one would be able to hear Miller if he were calling for help. He added that the crew turned a spotlight on, but it broke after only a couple of minutes. After that, one of the ship’s two rescue boats headed out to sea at a slow pace because the engine was broken. Shea said that he knew the engine was broken because you could hear a clicking sound when crew members tried to start it, and eventually the crew ended up paddling with oars.
The Hamblings say that after witnessing the ordeal, they will think twice before their next cruise, and they’re hesitant to ever bring their 10-year-old son on a cruise for fear of what might happen if he climbed one of the railings.
A History of Bungled Cruise Ship Rescues
Sadly, this isn’t the first case of a cruise line failing to recover a passenger who has gone overboard, and it’s not even the first case for this particular ship. About two years ago, a 47-year-old Canadian woman went overboard while the Bahamas Celebration was on its way back to Florida. After searching 7,300 square miles, the Coast Guard called off the search.
It’s difficult to determine the exact number of passengers that have gone overboard on commercial cruise lines because the incidents typically occur in international waters, and cruise lines are only legally obligated to report when an American citizen goes missing on ships sailing to or from North America. There’s also some leniency with the term “missing”—cruise lines only have to report passengers who went overboard and have not been rescued. If a passenger goes overboard but is later rescued, they’re not part of the tally, even if they were injured, or their rescue was delayed by crew negligence.
While you can’t necessarily get a straight answer from the cruise lines, Dr. Ross Klein, who wrote the book Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Ship Industry and has testified before Congress on cruise ship accidents numerous times, has been closely tracking the number of overboard incidences. Based on his research, Klein believes that 200 passengers went overboard between 2000 and 2013. Of those 200, only 10 have been rescued, and one was only recovered after spending 18 hours in the water.
Sarah Kirby, a 31-year-old former passenger on a Carnival cruise ship, is one of those 10 people who have been rescued. While it’s certainly good news that she survived her seven-deck fall into the ocean, it’s less encouraging that it took the crew over an hour to rescue her. Kirby, who says she fell overboard after a bartender over-served her and encouraged her to drink to excess, is now suing Carnival for negligence and emotional distress. According to her lawsuit, the crew allegedly refused to turn the ship around to rescue her before they spent an hour and a half searching for her onboard. Kirby claims that once she was brought back on board, she did not receive medical treatment for another 16 hours.
Do Cruise Ships Need Better Overboard Policies?
Considering that some 12 million people go on cruises every year, the number of people who go overboard is statistically small. Even if going overboard is relatively unlikely, though, cruise lines need to recognize that there are still dozens of people who fall off ships every year—and they need to be prepared to act if this happens on one of their own vessels. Crew members should be well-trained in rescue procedures, equipment needs to be in good working order, and appropriate medical treatment should be readily available for recovered passengers. Moreover, if cruise lines fail to live up to their duty of care and lose a passenger, as a result, they need to be held responsible.
If you or someone you love has fallen overboard or gone missing on a cruise ship, you should contact a cruise accident lawyer as soon as possible in order to ensure that the negligent cruise line is held responsible. By showing that there are consequences for negligence, we can help make cruise lines maintain a higher level of safety and act quickly if the worst should happen and a passenger falls or jumps overboard.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.” His experience in successfully handling numerous cruise ship accident cases recommends him as one of the most competent and skilled lawyer in the area of maritime personal injury law and wrongful death.