The Pacific Explorer woman overboard tragedy led to the recovery of a body on Wednesday 14th December 2022.
The Pacific Explorer was the first cruise ship to return to Sydney harbour after the 2020 – 2022 cruise ship ban.
This tragic loss of life reopens the question of whether cruise ships should be fitted with man overboard technology.
Pacific Explorer Woman Overboard
It has been reported that the alarm was raised that a passenger had fallen overboard at around 11:30pm on Tuesday 13th December. The passenger was a 23-year-old woman travelling on the Pacific Explorer with her mother.
The cruise had departed Melbourne on a 4-night round trip to Kangaroo Island. The vessel was off South Australia’s south-east coast at the time.
Search and rescue mission in extremely poor conditions
An overnight search and rescue mission was launched including search lights from the Pacific Explorer, and a plane and two helicopters deployed from the mainland.
Dan Gillis of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority told ABC Radio Adelaide that there was about 25 knots of wind and 4 metre swells, making the search conditions extremely poor.
Passengers have also reported to news outlets that the seas were rough and weather conditions poor.
Tragically the young woman died. However, despite the poor conditions, her body was found in the water at approximately 7am on Wednesday 14th December.
The ship abandoned its visit to Kangaroo Island and returned to Port Melbourne.
South Australia Police announced that Victoria Police will commence an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the passenger’s death.
This is welcome news as we understand that the passenger’s body was found in a search area 45km off the coast of Cape Jaffa. Australia’s territorial waters extend to 12 nautical miles from the coast, which is around 22 kilometers. This means that the death occurred in international waters.
Crimes that occur on cruise ships in international waters are governed by the laws of the country where the ship is registered. This can often be a barrier for victims and their families in seeking answers and justice after assaults, foul play or suspicious deaths at sea. The announcement that Victoria Police will investigate the circumstances of this tragedy is therefore welcome.
Man Overboard Statistics
Professor Ross Klein of the School of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, tracks man overboard incidents on cruise ships.
His website, Cruise Junkie, shows that 13 people have fallen overboard in 2022. This brings the total number to 375 since his records began in 1995.
Time for Man Overboard Technology?
Given the poor weather conditions, the search and rescue team should be commended for retrieving the woman’s body for her family.
However, this tragedy raises the question as to whether it is time that man overboard technology should be installed on cruise ships.
The technology, as featured in a recent edition of Under Investigation | Dark Seas: What happens when cruising goes wrong? features a system of sensors that alerts crew to when a person goes overboard in real time. The technology also tracks the position of the person to assist in the search and rescue mission.
Sadly however, even when this technology is installed, going overboard can be fatal. It has been reported that a 36-year-old woman was found after she went overboard from MSC’s Meraviglia cruise ship sailing to Port Canaveral on Thursday 15th December 2022. MSC Meraviglia has man overboard technology systems that immediately alerted the crew. However, despite the fast search operation, the woman had suffered fatal injuries.
Nevertheless, time is crucial when it comes to finding survivors who have fallen overboard from vessels. Passenger groups are therefore advocating for cruise lines to install this technology across their fleets to help save lives.
Lessons must be learnt
Everyone should come home from their holiday. Lessons must therefore be learnt from this tragic loss of life.
Accidental falls over cruise ship railings are extremely rare. Most man overboard incidents are the result of fooling around (often under the influence of alcohol or drugs), being pushed, or suicide attempts.
We welcome the police investigation and any measures that the industry can take to make cruising safer.
For more information on how Victory Travel & Cruise Lawyers can assist with cruise accident claims, read about our expertise here.
This report does not comprise legal advice and neither Victory Travel & Cruise Lawyers nor the author accepts any responsibility for it. For advice on your specific circumstances, book an appointment with a lawyer.