Note the distinction there — not just overboard, but actually missing. Someone falls into the water and is eventually found, dead or alive? Doesn’t go on the tally, says a recent report from the Miami Herald.
This is because federal law only requires that cruise lines report incidents in which U.S. nationals go missing, and only then on ships sailing to or from North America.
And anyone who has been on a cruise knows that many of the passengers — and often a majority of the crew — are from all around the world. So if any of those people go overboard, you probably won’t see it on a public report from the cruise line. Same goes with people rescued from the water, and anyone who goes overboard on a cruise abroad.
How many incidents does this mean don’t make it onto reports? Three major cruise lines recently reported, between Oct. 2010 and June 2013, a total of 7 U.S. nationals went missing.
But the Herald talked to a sociology professor who tallies his own overboard stats based on news reports and witnesses. He calculated that the real number for this time period was 30 overboard incidents for these cruise lines. The cruise operators have confirmed 28 of these, meaning that only 1/4 of all overboard incidents are being reported by these cruise lines.
Among the majors operating in the U.S., the Herald found that only Royal Caribbean Cruises publishes an annual report accounting for all overboard incidents.
Figuring that 12 million people a year go on ships operated by under-reporting cruise lines, and the number of overboard incidents accounts for a 33 month period, you can assume that this means 28 out of 33 million people went overboard during that period of time. That is .000085% of all passengers. Given that this is such a tiny fraction of cruise passengers, is the industry shooting itself in the foot by fudging the numbers?
“It makes it appear as though they have something to hide,” says the professor. “You just wonder, because if it’s as infrequent as they say it is, no one’s really going to take note of it.”
Pending legislation in Congress would require cruise lines to report all overboard incidents, along with bringing other reforms to the industry.
“Reviewing the many horror stories from cruise ships in recent years, it is clear that proper oversight of the industry and consumer protections for passengers are desperately lacking. At times, it is the Wild West on the high seas,” writes the bill’s sponsor, Congressman John Garamendi of California.
“We must ensure that consumers have transparent and accurate data about incidents that occur on cruise ships so that they can make informed decisions when considering a trip,” Congresswoman Doris Matsui, also of California, tells the Herald. “This includes reporting ‘man overboard’ incidents separate from other onboard incidents so that consumers have as clear a picture as possible of the safety and security of a ship.”