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Man overboard? Mystery disappearance at sea

May 8, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Mystery surrounds the fate of an American who went missing on a Golden Princess cruise on the way to Sydney and has not been sighted since.

The 61-year-old man boarded Golden Princess in New Caledonia. While it’s suspected he may have gone overboard, no one noticed his absence for some days. Crew last saw the man a week ago (Monday 1 May 2017 at about 0930) on the first of three sea days back to Sydney from Latouka, Fiji.

A report on ABC News said the man was reported missing “after he was not seen for several days” and the whole ship was searched when it docked in Sydney on Thursday.

As there was no sign of the man after the search, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is treating his disappearance as a man overboard case. NSW Water Police is reviewing shipboard CCTV footage as part of its investigation.

Example of the term ‘fallen overboard’ in a headline relating to the case

Meanwhile Golden Princess sailed to Brisbane and Papua New Guinea.

Many cruise ships have extensive monitoring and alarm systems to detect passengers going overboard but the systems are not infallible. Cruise expert Ross Klein has listed 296 people going overboard during the past 17 years, which, considering the numbers who have cruised over that period, puts the incidence at less than one in a million. About 24 million people now cruise annually.

Curiously, media reports often still use the term “fallen” overboard. It was used in this case, with one headline stating: “US man believed to have fallen overboard from Golden Princess, in north east Australian waters”.

To any reader unused to cruising, the term suggests that a passenger can trip on a cruise ship deck and fall overboard. In reality, that is profoundly difficult. Railings are built above waist height, even for a tall person.


It is still common journalistic practice to use terms like “fallen overboard” or “disappeared overboard” unless evidence is produced to show the event was intentional, rather than misadventure or accident. The terms are also used, understandably, out of consideration for the victims’ families and friends.

Research into such matters indicates that males are much more likely to go overboard than females and the average age of a passenger who goes overboard is 41.

Written by Peter Needham

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