Approximately 400 people have gone missing from cruise ships in the past 20 years. While this is no cause for general alarm, given that approximately 30 million people take cruise ship vacations each year, it is still a dangerous and concerning statistic.
There are several potential reasons people disappear on cruise ships. One common reason is falling overboard, which can happen if a person accidentally falls or intentionally jumps from the ship. Another is suicide, as the stress and isolation of a cruise ship environment can sometimes lead to this tragic outcome. Disappearances also occur during port visits. In all these situations, the person’s whereabouts and well-being are unknown, and it is up to the ship’s crew and authorities to investigate and try to locate the missing individual.
Here we review a couple of well-known cases of people going missing on cruise ships, as well as some of the regulations and laws in place to protect and prevent these disappearances.
When Cruise Ship Crew Members Get Lost at Sea
On March 22, 2011, British crew member Rebecca Coriam was last seen on board the Disney Wonder cruise. The 24-year-old had been working on the ship for nine months. After Coriam failed to start her work shift later that day and had not responded to calls from the public speaker system, the crew searched the ship while the Mexican coastguard searched the surrounding waters.
Reportedly, only one police officer arrived to investigate the case. The agent came from the Bahamas, as the ship was flagged there for tax reasons. Even though the ship was based in California, the company’s headquarters were in the United Kingdom, the same country of origin as the missing employee. Additionally, Coriam went missing in international waters between the United States and Mexico. Disney claims to have notified the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bahamas Maritime Authority, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Mexican Navy, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The most popular theory is Coriam slipped and fell overboard from the deck near the crew pool on a windy morning. Over ten years later, her body is yet to be found. In 2015, the family reached an out-of-court settlement with Disney for an undisclosed sum.
When Cruise Ship Passengers Disappear Onboard
On July 5, 2005, Connecticut resident George Allen Smith IV went missing from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas. The 26-year-old and his wife were on their honeymoon in the Mediterranean. When her husband went missing, the wife was reportedly unconscious on deck due to alcohol consumption. After the staff put his wife to bed, passengers reported hearing a thud in the cabin next door to the couple. Blood was discovered outside their cabin.
The staff believes the man fell overboard, but some speculate that he was involved in a fight with some rowdy passengers. The FBI investigated some of these passengers after they allegedly raped a female passenger. The FBI and US Congress investigated Smith’s disappearance and discovered that alcohol was being served indiscriminately on board, resulting in injuries, violence, and Smith’s possible death.
Smith’s widow settled with Royal Caribbean for nearly $1.1 million in 2006. Smith’s parents, however, filed a lawsuit four years later, claiming that the settlement was insufficient. Instead, the family requested $1.3 million in damages, as well as access to witness statements and information from Royal Caribbean’s investigation, which had previously been kept confidential under the original settlement.
Security Regulations for Cruise Ship Disappearances
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights in 2013, outlining CLIA members’ commitment to passenger safety, comfort, and care. The bill, which was inspired by cases such as Mr. Smith’s disappearance, includes the right to disembark from a docked ship if provisions are insufficient, access to professional medical care is lacking, and proper training of ship crew in emergency procedures is not adequate.
The same year, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which requires the cruising industry to provide critical consumer protections for passengers. Among other things, the bill gives the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers, allows passengers to call a toll-free number to report problems while on board, and makes all cruise ship crime-related information public. Additionally, the act mandates that the Department of Transportation appoint an advocate for each passenger who has been a victim of a cruise ship crime.
The 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) protects both crew and passengers. The bill requires the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to follow standards for crime prevention, detection, evidence preservation, and reporting of criminal activities in the international maritime environment. Some measures to prevent disappearances, deadly injuries, and criminal events include the implementation of peepholes in cabins for visual identification, security latches, warning devices when cruising under turbulence and high-risk areas, high ship rails above the deck, and technology to record and detect immediately a person falling overboard. Cruise lines that violate CVSSA standards are barred from leaving or entering any port in the United States, and the responsible individual can be fined and may be sentenced to up to a year in prison.
Contact Us for a Free Legal Consultation
If you have lost a loved one as a result of disappearance while on a cruise, whether a cruise ship passenger or a crew member, you are not alone. There are laws and regulations to help you. Take the first step and speak with an experienced maritime wrongful death lawyer to learn about your legal rights, obtaining justice, and potential compensation.