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Do US cruise ship have mandatory man overboard systems installed?

November 26, 2013 Cruise, Headline News No Comments Email Email

Grand PrincessOur good friend in cruise law in the US, Jim Walker of Walker & O’Neill posted on his site, his comments on a report in the Miami Herald titled “Overboard Cases on Cruise Lines Often Under-Reported to Public and you can read the report here.

Jim says that what jumps out from the article is that the cruise industry and while he is referring in particular to the US, as a whole, fundamentally still lacks transparency regarding the issue of cruise ship passengers and crew members going overboard on the high seas.

Miami Herald reporter Hannah B Sampson was seemingly unable to obtain a straight answer from the cruise lines or the cruise trade organization regarding exactly which cruise ships have implemented automatic man overboard systems with an alarm to the bridge which comply with the 2010 Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act (CVSSA), and which cruise ships have no systems or “passive” system which don’t notify the bridge and are in violation of the law.

The closest Ms Sampson could come to this basic issue was obtaining a quote from a company which installs both systems stating that “a significant number” of cruise ship just use passive technology.

The bottom line inquiry is whether the cruise industry is in compliance with the CVSSA, with Mr Walker’s assessment being that the industry is largely not in compliance at all.

A Carnival spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the industry needs to be transparent and showcase the steps it takes to provide the public with the “safest and highest quality vacation experience available”, but Carnival won’t state what basic steps it has taken to comply with the CVSSA.

Mr Walker asks whether a single one of the 100 plus cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation and sailing under the flags of Costa, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O or Princess have an alarm system which provides real time data to the bridge such that emergency rescue measures can be immediately undertaken?

He says that he has seen no evidence of that, with cruise lines like Princess still reviewing CCTV images to try to figure out what happened, while meanwhile the ship continues to sail on and the prospect of a successful rescue diminishes.

The proof of compliance or not, of course, is simple enough, in that has a single cruise passenger or crew member been successfully rescued after an automatic system has detected a person going overboard?

Mr Walker says he has seen no evidence of that either.

Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein, who was quoted in the Miami Herald article, has documented 57 overboards from 2011 to the present since the 2010 safety law was enacted, with not one automatic overboard system documented to have been in use and resulted in a saved life.

Mr Walker adds, take for example, the latest passenger going overboard from a cruise ship a few days ago, a woman went overboard the Grand Princess north of Hawaii.

There were no announcements that a CVSSA-compliance automatic system detected and immediately signalled the woman going overboard.

Instead, the cruise line announced that they were able to verify another passenger’s account only after reviewing images discovered during an after the fact review of closed circuit television (CCTV) images.

The public relations team at Princess Cruises were quick to announce that the woman “intentionally” went overboard and the media was equally quick in extrapolating that comment to mean that the woman intended to end her life via suicide.

Walker says that cruise fan sites like Cruise Critic were quick to bash the woman as selfish and responsible for ruining everyone else’s cruise, but he says that lost in the “blame the passenger” PR efforts were any discussions whether Princess was in violation of the CVSSA and whether the woman could have been rescued if the cruise line had been in compliance with the cruise safety law.

He says it is irrelevant under the CVSSA whether the person going overboard jumped to end their life, or jumped as a plea for help, or jumped in a state of confusion while intoxicated (we received at least one comment, to our article. that the woman may have been drinking heavily), or fell, or was pushed.

Walker says that three years after the CVVSA the cruise lines find themselves substantially in violation of the cruise safety law, still playing the game of blaming “suicidal” passengers rather than admitting that they have not invested into the new overboard technologies to try and save everyone who goes overboard for any reason.

Walker says that unfortunately, there will be no widespread compliance with the CVSSA until substantial penalties are levied against non-compliant cruise lines.

In addition, late discovery of a missing crew member or passenger results in massive search and rescue efforts by the Coast Guard and others, costing literally a million dollars.

He suggest that one approach to ensure compliance would be that cruise ships not in compliance with the CVSSA should be required to reimburse taxpayers who are paying for the unsuccessful rescue attempts, with the costs associated with one search and rescue effort paying for an automatic system.

Walker says that obviously the penalties for not complying with the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act are not sufficient, but if the captain of the ship and the directors of the cruise line faced manslaughter charges every time someone disappeared from a non-compliant ship, the compliance rate would rapidly approach 100%.

The cruise line should also be liable for search costs, and should be required to have a suitable rescue boat/vehicle ready to go at all times. Considering the size of some of these ships, they should probably be required to have several rescue boats ready, guaranteeing a mandatory maximum response time to the overboard person.

Particularly where jurisdictional issues could prevent prosecutions, non-compliant vessels could be prohibited from operating in US waters, or the waters of any other country with similar legislation, and the promotion and sale of cruises on these vessels could also be prohibited within these countries.

Whilst there would be loopholes, such as internet sales, the financial impact on these vessels should be enough to ensure rapid compliance.

What do you think? 

Image Credit: wikimedia

John Alwyn-Jones, Cruise Editor and Correspondent

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