Spring has arrived and Sydney harbour expects the warmer weather to bring another busy cruise season. As the northern hemisphere summer cruise season draws to a close, it has unfortunately been blemished with recent reports of man overboard cruise accidents.

On 30 June 2018 a crew member from the cruise ship ‘Norwegian Getaway’ was rescued in the Gulf of Mexico after spending 22 hours in the water. US Coast Guards called off the search, but a crew member on the vessel ‘Carnival Glory’ which was following a similar course spotted the man and prompted his rescue. The cause of this man overboard cruise accident is unknown.

On 19 August 2018 a British woman named as Kay Longstaffe was rescued in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia after falling overboard from the vessel ‘Norwegian Star’. She had been in the water for 10 hours when she was pulled to safety. Enquiries have been made into the cause of the cruise accident, with reports emerging that she had been arguing with her boyfriend that evening. There has been no allegation of foul play.

Unfortunately not all man overboard cruise accidents end in rescue. On 9 September 2018 a German singer Daniel Kueblboeck who rose to fame in the German version of Pop Idol went missing from the vessel ‘AidaLuna’ during a cruise from Hamburg to New York. At the time of writing he has not been found.

Such tragedies are not unique to the northern hemisphere. The Sydney based cruise ship ‘Carnival Spirit’ has suffered three reported man overboard cruise accidents in recent 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. A year later in July 2014, a Carnival Spirit crewmember disappeared in the waters near Vanuatu.

The Princess Cruises ‘Sun Princess’ suffered a similar fatality from a man overboard cruise accident 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, what can be done to prevent man overboard cruise accidents?

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 man overboard cruise accidents 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 health and safety measures to prevent cruise accidents and passengers’ privacy, particularly on private balconies.

Travel Law Practice Group Leader at Stacks Goudkamp Victoria Roy 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 accidents. They should also ensure the responsible service of alcohol, to avoid passengers’ putting their own safety at risk”.

Unfortunately not all cruise 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.

Written by Victoria Roy.

Victoria Roy is Practice Group Leader of the Travel Law Group at Stacks Goudkamp. She is a dual qualified (England and Wales/NSW) personal injury solicitor.