It is commonplace to read stories about passengers who fall off cruise ships. According to experts, of the nearly 27 million people who board a cruise ship each year, an average of 1.5 people fall off or jump each month. It is a relatively small number of disappearances considering the overall total, but some wonder if the cruise ship industry could do better.
An industry not worried
According to a recent article, the cruise industry is not overly concerned with the people who go overboard. In their view, the industry standard for railings is sufficiently high at 39 inches (1 meter) and there are other structural barriers. Spokespersons also claim that there are no known cases where someone acting responsibly fell over the railing of a ship.
Technology makes this issue easy to monitor
There is currently thermal imaging technology and closed circuit television on ships that has been in place for several years. While many ships do not have the latest technology, the systems have steadily gotten better to the point where it is possible for a network of sensors including radar, infrared and video) to alert staff if a body falls overboard. If an alarm is triggered, crewmembers can view a 10-second loop of footage to determine whether a search and rescue mission should be launched or if a seagull or wave triggered a false alarm.
Critics voice concerns
However, while this technology is available, critics wonder why the cruise lines have been slow to address this issue. The reasons include:
Cost: The cost for new man overboard detection runs about a half-million dollars, which is relatively small in comparison to the billion-dollar price tag new ships can cost.
Cruise lines hesitant to admit likelihood: The other complicating factor is that cruise lines do not want to admit that it is foreseeable for passengers to fall overboard. In their view, by admitting to that possibility, they are acknowledging their own failure to provide reasonable duty of care to the passengers.
Families often have legal recourse
Suits filed in the U.S. are subject to the Death of the High Seas Act. While this does not cover the pain and suffering of the loss, family members can seek damages for funeral expenses and lost wages the deceased may have earned.
There may be other measures in 2019 that change the laws as well, including a bi-partisan support to further strengthen Cruise Passenger Protection Act. This would enforce cutting-edge detection of man overboard technology. It would also allow deceased individuals families to claim full compensation similar to what happens with airlines.