Death by cruise ship? It can come in several ways

OK, so “death by cruise ship” is not exactly the kind of story that makes us want to break out the suntan lotion or brush up on our Bingo skills but it happens. People can and do die on a cruise ship for a variety of reasons. Earlier this week the decrepit Russian ship that sank in the Volga river was a Titanic-like example we might not think possible today. But it happened and over 100 people died. Still, there are other ways to die on a cruise ship. Some you really have to try to make happen, others just sort of happen all on their own.

Fall off the ship
Its not as hard to do as we might imagine. But people who do this really have to be determined to be successful. Nobody simply falls off. Nobody really gets blown off by high winds either. If the ship is in a high-wind situation, open decks get closed for obvious safety reasons. Suicide By Cruise Ship is a common reason though as well as alcohol/drug-induced shenanigans close to the edge of the ship. Most common reason for falling off a cruise ship: sitting/standing on the guard rail of a balcony stateroom.

Get murdered
A 57-year-old Los Angeles County teacher pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Thursday in the beating death of his wife on the Carnival Elation in July 2009. reports that Robert McGill admitted that he “deliberately and intentionally” killed his wife, Shirley McGill, after an argument. The couple were celebrating Robert’s 55th birthday and Shirley’s retirement by going into the port city of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico according to court papers. Witnesses aboard the ship saw McGill just before he beat his wife of five years to death in the bathroom of their cabin saying he was stumbling around and barely able to walk.The Ship Sinks
Again, that does not happen all that much. Like never. Finding out what went wrong is the focus of investigations into the sinking of that Russian river boat. These things are not supposed to happen in today’s world and that incident could have been prevented had the ship been maintained properly and commonly-accepted safety protocols followed.

This week marked six years since George Smith mysteriously disappeared from Royal Caribbean‘s Brilliance of the Seas. He was on an eight day honeymoon sailing when something went terribly wrong and he somehow went overboard to be lost at sea.

It’s a tragic yet fascinating story that captivated media world-wide at the time and maritime personal injury attorney Jim Walker was all over it.

“Our firm represented Mr. Smith’s wife, Jennifer Hagel. She hired us to obtain answers to what happened to her husband and to seek compensation for his death” Walker says on his CruiseLawNews blog wrapping up a week-long series of posts about the event today.

The incident started a firestorm of attention on the cruise industry how it does business and what they could do to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.

“Mr. Smith’s disappearance, and the manner in which Royal Caribbean chose to handle the incident, brought much needed attention to the cruise industry” said Walker adding “The events which followed Mr. Smith’s death led to five Congressional hearings into disappearances and crimes on cruise ships, culminating in the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act in 2010.”

Bad medicine
Cruise ships have what amount to fully-functioning hospitals aboard that can handle anything from a case of motion sickness to surgery.

Don and Marlene Bryce were celebrating Don’s retirement and their 53 years as a married couple on Holland America Line’s Rotterdam. Eight days into the cruise, Don became ill so Marlene called the ship’s doctor who gave Don medicine for vomiting reports Apparently treating Don for motion discomfort, his condition worsened. Marlene communicated to the ship’s infirmary several times over the next few days that Don was not getting better only to be told to give him more medicine.

12 days into the cruise, in the middle of the night, Don’s skin was turning dark. Marlene called for a nurse, who never came. Give him water and food, she advised over the phone.

Finally at 4:50 a.m., after Marlene called again, a nurse arrived. By this time Don’s skin was dark, and he was cold. Then he collapsed and died. The doctor arrived two minutes later.

“I was probably five feet away from him on a chair and saw him die,” said Marlene tells KOMO and ABC News.

Under maritime law, cruise lines aren’t responsible for the actions of the doctors they hire, since the doctors are independent contractors.

Not everybody dies
In defense of the cruise industry, the number of people who die while on a cruise is quite small, probably about the same as the number of people who die licking stamps. tracks this sort of thing and list Cruise and Ferry Passengers and Crew Overboard. Since 2000 the number they report is 164 people. That’s out of an estimated 83 gazillion people who have taken a cruise and lived to tell about it. The cruise line with the most people overboard? No, not the Funships of Carnival Cruise Line but Royal Caribbean according to CruiseJunkie.

Is there hope for me?

If all this has you a bit worried about your upcoming cruise-of-a-lifetime and you don’t want it to be the last, following some simple safety tips will probably reduce the odds of dying on your cruise.

  • Watch the drinking– As noted here, alcohol and/or drugs are a common ingredient in the recipe for death by cruise ship. Its really easy to get loaded on a cruise with crew members walking around with trays of drinks that you don’t even have to carry cash to buy. Going ashore in Mexico is not like going to your favorite local Mexican restaurant. They play by different rules and not one bar will be held accountable for selling you too much liquor like they might stateside.
  • Be medically responsible- Tell your travel agent or the cruise line in advance of any existing medical conditions you may have no matter how small. Once on the ship, pay a visit to the ships infirmary to be sure they got that information and to put a face with it. Later, if you have to call about a problem, odds are someone you met will answer. Medical professionals naturally “size up” people when they meet them then note differences if they meet again.
  • Don’t go if you don’t want to– Going along on a cruise vacation because that is what the rest of the family or group wants to do is not a good idea if you too are not into it. This is not like a theme park ride. This is a floating city and a closed environment you can not walk away from. That can lead to all sorts of bad, negative things. What might have been a simple misunderstanding on land can become a major problem at sea resulting in really destructive behavior.

Death by cruise ship? It can be avoided pretty easily.

Flickr photo by Jemingway

Bombs under cruise terminal to be removed

The US Army Corps of Engineers says old Navy munitions found under Seattle’s cruise ship terminal are not a major threat and cleanup is underway. Still, that the old shells and weapons were initially uncovered by cruise ship thrusters and that has experts talking.

“Wherever munitions have been handled in the past, they have rolled off the pier, they’ve been dropped out of cargo net. It’s perfectly normal, it’s expected. What is unexpected is that there is a cruise ship terminal built directly above where some of these munitions are.” Jim Barton, an expert in underwater munitions, told Seattle’s back in October.

Divers started spotting the munitions in April as part of routine security sweeps required by the Coast Guard. Apparently the bombs were dropped in the water between the 1930s and 1970 when the U.S. Navy used the the facility. Initially it was empty shell casings found by divers but later searches revealed live ammunition capable of being exploded under where cruise ships travel.

“These are munitions, designed to kill people. Barton said adding “They’re pretty safe to be around unless you disturb them”

When the munitions were first discovered, Seattle’s cruise ship season was still in operation. Records indicate that at least two times in September, live ammunition was brought to the surface with cruise ships nearby.

This week the Corps of Engineers announced that it is leading a $10 million cleanup project with the Port of Seattle, U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency. Check this initial report about it all below:

Flickr photo iwona_kellie

Carnival Splendor in nightmare engine fire incident – Navy airlifts supplies

What was supposed to be a week long Mexican Riviera cruise on board the Carnival Splendor, has turned into a nightmare for the passengers. Three days ago, a massive engine fire knocked out almost all the facilities on this 3300 passenger vessel.

Propulsion systems, electricity, climate control, water and entertainment were all disabled, and the ship was been stuck 200 miles off the coast of San Diego. The situation was so bad, that the U.S. Navy had to be called in to supply food for the stranded passengers. The USS Ronald Reagan used its helicopters to drop thousands of pounds of supplies and Navy sailors were airlifted to the Splendor to assist with unloading.

The 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members have cold water and toilet usage back, but most other services are still disabled. A tug boat reached the ship yesterday, and she is expected to arrive in San Diego tomorrow.

Carnival has made hotel and flight arrangements for the passengers, and everyone is being offered a full refund and a complimentary future cruise on Carnival.

Sadly, the ship has already has its fair share of bad luck – and despite being less than two years old, some are already asking whether the vessel is cursed. For more coverage on the Carnival Splendor fire, head on over to our friends at AOL Travel News.


[Image: US Navy / Getty / AP]

Australian cruise ship mistakes tuna fishermen for pirates

Everyone was on edge aboard the MV Athena as it passed through the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday night, local time. The gulf has become a hot spot for pirate activity. Earlier in the week a large cruise ship on its way from Rome to Singapore, outran pirates after they opened fire from their skiffs. So when a group of boats surrounded the Athena, the captain ordered passengers off the deck as crew members prepared for the worst. The captain reported to the relevant authorities that 30 boats had surrounded his vessel.

However, no shots were fired and no attempts to board were made. That’s probably because the “pirates” were actually not pirates at all. They were fishermen in search of tuna. A spokesperson from Classic International Cruises Australia, the company that owns the Athena, explained the situation.

“The captain followed all security measures as far as readiness on board for any eventuality by placing fire hoses around the decks and continually liaised with all authorities. It has been confirmed that the approaching small ships were a tuna fishing fleet.”

Cruise Safety

By now, everyone’s heard about the sinking of the cruise ship in the Aegean several weeks ago. But the post-disaster coverage did have some useful info.

USA Today reviewed some of the rules involving passenger safety, particularly safety drills with life jacket instruction within 24 hours of sailing, as well as requirements for how many life vests must be carried (15 percent more than the number of passengers).

It also provided some useful websites, including the detailed and informative, run by Canadian professor Ross Klein, which tracks illness outbreaks, marine accident reports, as well as even labor and environmental issues in the cruise universe. You can check out the record of a cruise company before you go. They also mention the flashy, a broad-based cruise-travel site that provides general info and allows you to purchase packages.