This summer has been another busy cruise season in Sydney harbour, with a number of impressive ships visiting our shores including the royal meeting of Cunard’s ‘Queen Mary 2’ and ‘Queen Victoria’.

However as cruise holidays become increasingly popular, unfortunately reports of people falling overboard are becoming less uncommon.

On 18 March 2015, a body was recovered in the Gulf of Mexico a day after a man fell overboard on the cruise ship ‘Carnival Triumph’.   This was the third reported overboard death in the US in as many months. Just 10 days earlier, a university student went missing after climbing over a balcony railing on the cruise ship ‘Carnival Glory’ during a Caribbean cruise. Back in December 2014, a Holland America crewmember’s remains were found on the Florida coastline after going overboard on the cruise ship ‘Ryndam’.

Such tragedies are not unique to the US. The Sydney based cruise ship ‘Carnival Spirit’ has suffered three reported deaths in the last 2 years. In May 2013, a young couple was discovered missing when the ship docked in Sydney. CCTV footage showed them going overboard off the mid NSW Coast the night before. More recently in July 2014, a Carnival Spirit crewmember disappeared in the waters near Vanuatu.

The Princess Cruises ‘Sun Princess’ suffered a similar fatality in November 2014, when it was reported that an elderly passenger fell overboard off the Newcastle coast on a cruise returning from New Zealand.

With such tragedies seemingly becoming more frequent, this begs the question, are today’s cruise ships safe?

Whilst the height of railings is regulated on cruise ships, this is with the intention of preventing passengers and crewmembers tripping and accidently falling overboard. However it seems that most overboard cases are caused by suicide attempts or risky behaviour whilst under the influence of alcohol.

So what more can be done? In the US, there is a legal requirement for cruise ships to have infrared technology to detect passengers who have fallen overboard. Other safety measures that have been mooted are for higher ‘anti climb’ balconies, and for onboard CCTV to be constantly monitored to check passengers’ behaviour near railings. However, this would require a balance between safety and passengers’ privacy, particularly on private balconies.

Travel law expert at Stacks Goudkamp Victoria Gallanders comments:

“One death at sea is one too many. As Australia’s cruise industry continues to boom, I call upon cruise operators to look into additional safety measures to prevent cruise ship accidents. They should also ensure the responsible service of alcohol, to avoid passengers’ putting their own safety at risk”.

Unfortunately not all cruise ship accidents will be prevented. The laws relating to accidents at sea are complex. Therefore if you do have the misfortune of having an accident on a cruise ship, you should seek specialist legal advice.

Victoria Gallanders is available for interview on legal issues regarding travellers.



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