Royal Caribbean Facing Legal Probe in Florida Over Failure to Rescue Young Cruise Ship Passenger

Several weeks after the disappearance of her daughter from Bahamas-bound cruise ship Allure of the Seas, a grief-stricken mother retained Florida legal counsel to gather facts and ask tough questions of Royal Caribbean International, the ship’s owner. Shortly after the ship left Port Everglades on September 16, Vera Marion’s daughter Ariel fell overboard under as-yet undetermined circumstances. A U.S. Coast Guard effort to find her was discontinued on September 18th. According to an October 3 report in the Sun-Sentinel, when Ariel joined her mother on the cruise from which she would never return, Ariel was happily anticipating the start of a new modeling job that she had just landed.

Vera Marion has since shared with NBC South Florida her conviction that had cruise ship personnel acted promptly on the initial report of Ariel’s fall, Ariel could have been rescued. According to reports, Royal Caribbean International has, in fact, admitted that after ship officials received an urgent call from a passenger who witnessed the fall, instead of undertaking rescue efforts, ship’s security proceeded to take over an hour to review surveillance video for evidence of what had already been reported reliably. Making matters worse, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, it was not notified of the incident until over two hours after Ariel was seen tumbling into the ocean, and for all this time, the Allure of the Seas was sailing full-steam ahead, away from the location of Ariel’s disappearance. Eventually, the Allure of the Seas was stopped and turned around, and the Coast Guard and three nearby ships undertook a search, but these belated gestures were to no avail.


The Cruise Industry’s Abdication of Responsibility

Attempting to defend its conduct in this case, Royal Caribbean told the Sun-Sentinel that it was obliged to be very sure that a passenger was not still on board before it asked the Coast Guard to dedicate assets to a search operation. Critics in the maritime community have countered that Coast Guard regulations and International Maritime Organization guidelines require immediate action in the event of a report of an overboard passenger, such action to include measures like promptly reducing travel speed, directing the ship back to the reported location of the overboard fall, and making preparations to dispatch life craft.

Efforts to downplay or deny the responsibility to respond promptly to overboard falls are nothing new in the cruise ship industry, but victims of this kind of cruise industry arrogance are fighting back. In a case currently pending in a Miami federal court, the surviving wife of an individual who fell to his death from a Carnival cruise ship is suing Carnival for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Her court papers state that when her husband fell overboard, there was no immediate response by ship personnel. As passengers threw life preservers into the sea, ship personnel failed to provide so much as a rescue boat until more than twenty minutes after the fall was reported. Revealing its contempt for the safety concerns of passengers, when the incident came to public light, Carnival told media, utterly without basis, that the fallen passenger had committed suicide.

Minimizing Overboard Fall Risk: The Multiple Duties of Cruise Ship Operators

A cruise liner’s duty to undertake adequate rescue operations is not its only duty in relation to preventing drowning deaths. Cruise ships have a duty to correct defects in handrails that could cause passengers to topple overboard. Ship personnel have a duty not to serve alcohol to passengers who are approaching intoxication, and who are therefore at high risk for overboard falls. Ship officials have a duty to warn passengers of rough sea conditions that increase the risk that they may be swept overboard. Cruise companies, moreover, are required to prevent any and all violent crew-member conduct that could result in overboard falls, and to take measures to prevent any foreseeable violent activity on the part of passengers that could produce the same result.

The maritime personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA have the knowledge and experience required for standing up successfully to the powerful cruise ship industry in cases involving cruise ship disappearances and injuries. For further information on how we may be able to assist individuals affected by these issues, please contact us at (305) 371-6000 or info@gslawusa.com.