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