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When we read headlines about mishaps aboard cruise ships and ferries, we immediately wonder, “How safe are these ships?” even if statistically plane crashes are more common and deadly and more highly relied upon by passengers each year. Ship staffs and vessel captains are always on the lookout for a variety of potential disasters at sea including “man overboard” calls that send the ship into emergency rescue mode.

  • Nearly 300 people have gone overboard since 1995, according to Cruise Junkie, most of which were covered in the maritime publication Cruise Law News and sometimes by other general global media outlets. The highest single-year period for overboard incidents was 2015 when 27 people were reported overboard; in contrast, only four people were reported overboard in 2002.
  • Overboards nearly always involve a single passenger. In four cases, two passengers went overboard, including in 2007, aboard the Princess Cruises, 2009 on the Carnival Cruise Line and Star Cruises, and 2013, again, on the Carnival Cruise Line.
  • Overall, Carnival Cruise Line not only has the greatest number of cases of persons overboard—57 cases between 2000 and 2017—but it has also reported overboard incidents every year during that period except in 2002. Carnival's ships also represent two of the two four ships with the highest number of incidents. Carnival belongs to the Carnival Corporation & plc, which carried 11.5 million passengers in 2016 on its various cruise lines.

Going overboard is not always fatal. Since 2000, 53 people (about 18%) of people that went overboard were rescued, including one ship officer. Live rescue depends on several factors including the nature of the overboard incident—such as going overboard at night as a suicide—and whether a body was injured by impact with a part of the ship or the water while falling.

  • As railings on ships are built with the aim of preventing accidents, people rarely “fall” off cruises. Since 2000, only 11 falls have been recorded whereas there are 19 known cases of suicide. Falls typically occur when people climb somewhere they shouldn’t be, for example onto a railing. Suicides often take place at night and are attributed to excessive alcohol consumption and domestic disturbances.
  • Other primary factors include sea temperature as well as weather and wind that make swimming difficult and impede emergency search efforts.

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