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Cruise Ship Injuries and Deaths

Cruise ship accidents

For many people, a cruise is a dream vacation. You get ready-made ocean views and a luxurious means of transport between bucket-list locations. But sometimes, that dream turns into a nightmare. There have been many incidents resulting in cruise ship deaths, as well as onboard accidents causing injuries and illnesses.

We chronicle some of the most bizarre, interesting, and devastating cruise ship accidents when things go wrong aboard luxury liners.

Cruise Ship Injuries

Leading Causes of Injuries and Deaths on Cruise Ships

Things can go wrong on cruise ships for all kinds of reasons. Accidents and injuries are not uncommon, and recent studies have identified these as some of the most likely causes of deadly cruise consequences.

  • Falling overboard.
  • Murder.
  • Suicide.
  • Natural causes.
  • Cardiac incidents.
  • Slip-and-fall accidents.
  • Food contamination and food poisoning.
  • Swimming pool accidents.
  • Poor maintenance or technical issues with the ship.
  • Fires and explosions.
  • Pirate/terror attacks.

We will explore the most serious cruise ship dangers on this page, providing statistics and examples of past accidents.

Recent Deaths on Cruise Ships

The following are just some of the most recently reported deaths on a cruise ship.

Intoxicated Florida Man Leapt Overboard

In April 2024, a 20-year-old man set sail with his family on a Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But the trip soon turned to disaster.

Levion Parker was on a four-day Royal Caribbean cruise with his dad and brother. According to witnesses, Levion and his brother had been in the 11th deck whirlpool of the Liberty of the Seas ship until about 3.30 am. They appeared happy and were drinking alcohol despite being underage.

After leaving the hot tub, Levion was seen arguing with his dad. One eyewitness said Levion pulled himself away from his dad and threw himself out of a sliding window on the 11th deck.

Crew members were alerted immediately, and they launched a search and rescue mission with Coastguards. But Levion was not found, and authorities halted the search five days later, with the young man presumed dead.

Teen Fell From Balcony on Cruise

A 16-year-old boy died after falling from a balcony on a Royal Caribbean cruise in November 2023. The teen tumbled from an inward-facing balcony in the ship’s Central Park area, falling onto the deck below.

The victim was on a short Bahamas cruise on Allure of the Seas, sailing from Port Canaveral in Florida, when the tragic accident happened. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment but passed away at the hospital.

Fellow guests on the cruise reported that an urgent message went out over the ship’s intercom asking for blood donations at 3 am.

Crew Members Die in Cruise Ship Engineering Accident

Two crew members on the Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship died in an incident aboard the vessel in March 2024. The accident happened in the ship’s engineering space when the victims were caught in an accidental steam release.

The ship, run by Holland America, was docked at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas when the accident happened. Operators have not provided any details of the accident.

They notified authorities, and the relevant safety bodies started an investigation. Counseling was offered to fellow crew members onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Investigation and Arrest After Passenger Found Dead in Cabin

A woman was found dead in her room onboard a Margaritaville at Sea cruise ship called Paradise, sailing from Palm Beach, Florida, in March 2024.

The 27-year-old Floridian was found unresponsive in her cabin one day after the ship left its starting point. Crew members performed CPR, assisted by the woman’s traveling companion, but she was declared deceased at the scene.

An investigation was launched, coordinated by the FBI as standard practice. Agents had full access to the cabin, and a substance believed to be cocaine was confiscated from the room by police.

Authorities arrested a 32-year-old man in connection with the death.

These are just the deaths that occurred in the last six months at the time of writing. There have been countless other incidents throughout the years. Some are purely accidental, while others are deliberate actions that end in tragedy.

Cruise Ship Accident Statistics

The chances of suffering a serious injury or perishing while at sea on a cruise are pretty low. However, the number of accidents will probably still surprise many people.

  • About 30 million people take cruises every year.
  • One study found 623 reported deaths between 2000-2019. Other statistics indicate the number might be higher.
  • More than 100 cruise ships have run aground since 1980.
  • Only 28% of people who fall overboard will survive.
  • 89% of cruise ship deaths are passengers, while 11% are crew members.

One study looked at passenger incidents over a three-year period, analyzing data from the ship’s medical center. It found:

  • Across three years, 663 injuries were reported onboard.
  • Of the injuries, 12.5% were serious, meaning that they required onshore hospitalization or 2+ weeks of recovery time.
  • Most of the injuries (65.3%) were sustained onboard the ship. Of the rest, 31.1% were sustained during shore excursions, and 3.6% were on tenders.
  • Slips, trips, and falls accounted for nearly 45% of injuries on the vessel and almost 70% of injuries on shore.
  • Aboard the cruise ship, the most common locations for injuries were cabins (20%) and bathrooms (13.4%). tracks reported accidents involving cruise ships. The following statistics show the types and number of incidents occurring on cruises from April 2014 to April 2024.

A graph showing cruise ship accident, injury, and death statistics.

Key to the Cruisemapper accidents:

  1. Crew/passenger deaths – Including all deaths of both passengers and crew: 307
  2. Coastguard Medevacs – When a passenger is airlifted to hospital due to an illness or injury: 299
  3. Illness/viral outbreak – When disease outbreaks are recorded onboard: 277
  4. Structural/technical issues – Including problems with the ship before or during a cruise: 168
  5. Propulsion/loss of power – Including blackouts and engine issues: 164
  6. Ship collisions – When cruise ships collide with other vessels or objects: 108
  7. Fire accident – Including all instances of fire outbreaks onboard: 106
  8. Crime – Violent crimes, such as assault or sexual assault: 104
  9. Injuries and Overboards – Including severe injuries and survived overboards: 91
  10. Boat Rescue – When authorities divert a ship to help another vessel: 76
  11. Ship grounding – When a cruise ship runs aground and is immobile: 42
  12. Drug smuggling – When crew or passengers try to transport banned substances: 41
  13. Sea pollution – When a vessel is polluting the water, usually due to an equipment failure: 18
  14. Ship listing – When a ship tilts excessively to one side and takes on water: 10
  15. Pirates/Terrorist Attacks – When ships are seized or occupied by unwanted parties: 3

Cruise Ships: Falling Overboard

Many people have died after falling overboard on cruise ships. According to the website Cruise Junkie, 373 passengers and crew members plunged into the ocean while on cruise or ferry journeys between 2000 and 2021.

There are safety measures in place to prevent accidental overboards. The railings on public decks extend to chest height – legal requirements are at least 3.5 feet high, but most are higher by choice. The majority of incidents involving people falling overboard on cruises are suicide attempts, a result of drunken or intoxicated behavior, or down to foul play.

Experts say the chances of someone falling overboard while acting normally and responsibly are slim.

The Dangers of Falling Overboard

Most people who fall overboard will die. Cruise ships are massive, and falls often take place from great heights. For example, one man died in 2020 when he fell or jumped from the 10th deck, dropping 177 feet into the water.

When you fall from great heights into cold waters, there is a danger of suffering significant injuries on impact, such as broken bones, due to the force at which you hit the water.

A person’s body will also go into shock as they hit cold water. This can cause them to try to take a deep breath, which in turn puts them at risk of taking in water and drowning immediately. Experts say that 60% of people falling into cold waters die very quickly.

Other dangers include the ship’s propeller, the significant wake caused by the vessel, and the threat of hypothermia.

Locating the fallen person is also extremely difficult. Cruise ships travel at an average of about 23 mph, and it takes time for the vessel to turn around. In most cases, a boat will have traveled at least a mile from the point of a fall before it can complete a turn. Given the unpredictable tides and currents in the ocean, it is difficult to locate someone who has fallen.

Can You Survive Falling Overboard on a Cruise?

While the odds of survival are low, it does happen. In June 2023, a woman fell from her cruise liner about 30 miles from the Dominican Republic coast.

The fall was from the 10th deck, and she was lucky to survive the initial impact. Crew launched a rescue boat, and passengers on the ship helped guide rescuers toward the right spot. After about 45 minutes, she was successfully brought back to the cruise ship and was in good health.

Top tips on surviving a fall overboard, according to experts:

  1. Don’t panic. Panicked breathing will put you at risk of drowning.
  2. Grab anything you find in the water, such as driftwood or debris.
  3. Alternate between treading water, swimming, and floating to preserve energy.
  4. Do not drink salt water. Try to protect yourself from the sun to conserve your natural water reserves. Your body also has the reserves to survive without food for a couple of days.
  5. Try to create some form of distress signal.

Improving the Odds For Those Falling Overboard

Most cruise ships do not have any form of automatic detection system to track people who fall overboard.

A law was passed in 2010 requiring ships to integrate technology that captures images of passengers or detects passengers falling overboard. But most ships are not fitted with such technology.

The Coast Guard should ensure that ships comply with the law, but regulation has been limited. One major concern is that the technology is not yet good enough. Watchdogs require devices to have a 95% detection success rate with no more than one false reading per day.

New automatic man-overboard systems are still being tested using dummies. Developers hope that effective equipment will one day be fitted on every ship.

Cruise Ships Occasionally Sink

We’re now more than 100 years removed from the tragedy of the Titanic. The famous luxury ocean liner suffered catastrophic damage after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage. It sank, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 people.

Ocean travel has come a long way since then. Modern cruise ships are far bigger and more stable than the Titanic. They are incredibly safe, and sinking ship incidents are relatively rare…but they still happen.

The most recent example of a cruise ship sinking was the Costa Concordia in 2012.

Costa Concordia: January 2012

With 17 decks and a capacity of 4,200 passengers, the Costa Concordia is one of the largest ships ever to sink. In January 2012, it embarked on a week-long Mediterranean cruise with 3,229 people onboard.

Disaster struck when the ship veered off course. Captain Francesco Schettino sailed closer to the Italian island Isola del Giglio than usual for a sail-by salute. The captain navigated by sight, turning off the ship’s computer navigation system alarm.

Costa Concordia hit an uncharted rock formation and suffered massive damage to the hull. It started to flood, losing power and steering. A six-hour rescue effort saved thousands of people, but 27 passengers and five crew members died in the incident.

Captain Francesco Schettino left the ship during the rescue while 300 others were still onboard—a cardinal sin for a ship’s captain. After the accident, he was charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning his passengers. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, while Costa Cruises accepted a €1 million fine.

The partially submerged ship wreckage was refloated and towed to a nearby port for scrapping. The cost of the accident, including the massive salvage operation and compensation for the passengers (valued at about $11,000 per person), reached about $2 billion.

This is not an isolated incident. A 2013 report in The New York Times said that 16 cruise ships sank between 1980 and 2012.

What Causes a Ship to Sink?

Ship sinking incidents are most commonly caused by:

  • Running aground or colliding with another object.
  • Extreme weather conditions.
  • Flooding or loss of stability.
  • Explosions, fires, or other mechanical issues onboard.

In most instances of ships sinking, the accident is caused by inclement weather, human negligence or error, faulty equipment, or a lack of proper maintenance.

Stranded at Sea

Stats show that it is far more common for a vessel to run aground or become stranded than to sink completely.

In 2023, a small expedition cruise ship called the Ocean Explorer became stuck on a deceptive bed of sediment, silt, and sand. Efforts to float the ship to freedom at high tide were unsuccessful because the muddy bed created a suction effect.

In that case, the 200 passengers waited in relative safety and comfort until help arrived. But that is not always the case.

A New York Times report indicated that an average of 2.5 cruise ships become stranded at sea after running aground every year, with 98 recorded instances from 1972 to 2011.

In 2019, a luxury cruise ship called Viking Sky suffered engine failure off the coast of Norway with more than 1,300 passengers onboard. Rescue boats brought everyone to safety, though 28 people required hospital care.

“The Poop Cruise”

In 2013, the Carnival Triumph set out from Texas on a cruise around Mexico with more than 4,000 people onboard. A fire broke out during the journey, knocking out the ship’s power.

The Triumph was left drifting through the Gulf of Mexico without drive for several days. Passengers reported a miserable experience onboard.

Foul toilets were overflowing, and bags of human excrement littered the hallways. The cabins were insufferable, with no lights or air conditioning, and there were long lines for rationed water and very little food. Passengers said the ship was rocking violently with the tide, causing a lot of people to be sick. It became known as the infamous “poop cruise.”

The passengers were eventually rescued, but many filed lawsuits against Carnival Cruise Lines. Investigators later discovered that four of the ship’s six generators were not fully operational upon departure, and operators knew of the fire risk.

What Happens When Someone Dies on a Cruise Ship?

Cruise ships need to be equipped for all eventualities. That means every ship must have procedures and facilities to deal with accidents, injuries, and even deaths onboard.

Most cruise ships have medical centers staffed with doctors and nurses who treat minor ailments. There are strict rules regarding the qualification and training required for cruise ship medical personnel.

A severe injury or illness may require airlift from the ship to the nearest mainland hospital. Passengers can call for help from their cabins.

Cruise Ship Morgues

Every cruise ship is also required to have a dedicated morgue. The morgue is usually a tiny refrigerated stainless steel room. The number of bodies it can hold will depend on the size of the ship but is generally in the 3-10 range. When someone dies onboard a cruise, their body will be stored in the morgue until the vessel reaches land.

Once the ship docks, crew members transfer the body from the morgue into the care of a local funeral company. It is removed from the boat using a discreet staff door rather than the passenger entrance.

A burial at sea can only take place if the next of kin provides death and cremation certificates.

Most large cruise companies also have a member of staff onboard trained specifically to deal with situations involving deceased passengers, including providing compassionate support to grieving survivors.

Food Poisoning on a Cruise

One of the biggest challenges facing cruise crews is keeping massive amounts of food fresh. When you have thousands of people onboard, the food supplies are extensive, and storage can be tricky.

There are many isolated cases of foodborne illnesses on cruise ships. But large outbreaks often make headlines.

One massive outbreak occurred in 2014 on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas vessel. Nearly 600 passengers and 50 crew members fell ill, forcing the ship to return early and sparking a CDC investigation.

In 2017, about 200 passengers on another Royal Caribbean cruise suffered illness. The incident was linked to a bottomless brunch. Another incident sparked an investigation after 150 people fell ill on a Hawaii cruise.

Common Cruise Ship Foodborne Illnesses

According to the CDC, gastrointestinal illnesses such as Norovirus are most common on cruise ships. Norovirus is highly contagious and often contracted through contaminated food or water. It can cause symptoms including pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

CDC stats say that nearly 130,000 cruise passengers contracted gastrointestinal illnesses between 2008 and 2014. However, given the number of cruises during that period, the incidence rate is still very low.

COVID Highlighted Cruise Ship Sickness Outbreaks

When you have a lot of people living in close quarters, it is only natural that infectious diseases will spread quickly. That can certainly be the case on cruises.

This was particularly apparent during the pandemic, when COVID-19 spread through several cruise ships.

In 2020, more than 50 cruise ships had confirmed coronavirus cases onboard. The first ship to have a major outbreak was the Diamond Princess, run by Princess Cruises. More than 710 people (about 20% of all ship personnel) tested positive onboard the ship, resulting in 14 deaths.

Many ships docked when they became aware of viral outbreaks in the early months of COVID, but passengers were trapped onboard in quarantine due to complicated cross-country quarantining rules and fears over further outbreaks.

These dangers are not restricted to COVID cases. Any infectious virus can spread quickly through a cruise ship due to the high volume of people in the same areas.

Cruise Ship Fires and Explosions

Most cruise ships are powered by diesel-electric setups, with massive generators driving complicated electrical systems. As with all complex systems, things can go wrong.

Problems arise from a lack of maintenance, human error, poor or unexpected conditions, and sometimes even sudden circumstances that cannot be predicted.

The stats show that over 100 fires and explosions have occurred on cruise ships over the last ten years, including two recent funnel blazes on Carnival Cruises in 2022 and 2024.

Many fires and explosions on cruise ships originate from the onboard machinery, including compressors, generators, heat exchangers, pumps, boilers, and switchboards.

In most instances, fires are brought under control. However, even relatively small fires on cruise ships with linked ventilation and close quarters can be extremely dangerous for passengers and crew members. An onboard fire can also incapacitate a ship, leaving it stranded at sea and requiring a rescue mission.

Cruise Ship Crimes

Most people are on cruises to have a good time. However, luxury cruises are not immune to crimes committed by both passengers and crew members.

Some of those crimes involve petty theft from ship staterooms, while others are more serious.

Off-Boat Accidents

Not all cruise deaths and injuries happen on the boat. One of the key selling points of a cruise is that it allows you to visit a variety of different destinations on the same vacation. When the ship docks, most passengers prefer to disembark and see the sights.

People often participate in activities in and around the dock, like zip-lining, diving, snorkeling, and more. But these activities can be dangerous, and many people suffer injuries while on off-boat excursions.

Cruise Zip-Lining Accident Death

Igal Tyzman, 24, and his wife Frenkel, 27, took a cruise on the Royal Caribbean ship Allure of the Seas in 2018 for their honeymoon.

They booked a zip-lining excursion through Royal Caribbean over a forested area of the Honduran island of Roatan. But what was meant to be the activity of a lifetime ended in catastrophe.

Frenkel became stuck halfway down the line, and her husband slammed into her in mid-air. They were both taken to hospital, and Igal died due to the severity of his injuries.

Ten years earlier, another cruise ship passenger was killed in a Roatan zip-lining accident when a faulty zip-line cable snapped, sending her plunging 65 feet to the ground.

Snorkeling Excursion Death

A Royal Caribbean cruise passenger died in a shark attack while on a snorkeling expedition in the Bahamas.

The passenger cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, departing from Florida’s Port Canaveral in 2022, and booked an independent snorkeling activity.

But she was attacked by a shark while in the water and died after being rushed to a local hospital.

Deadly Diving Accident at Honduras Pier

Edmund Rucker, 52, died after suffering severe injuries while diving off a pier on the island of Roatan in 2023.

He was cruising on Allure of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship that docked at Roatan on the Honduran coast. The victim was pulled out of the water by fellow passengers, but it took over an hour for medical help to arrive due to strikes in the area.

Mr. Rucker’s family filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean for encouraging passengers to venture out for activities on Roatan when they were aware of the health and public safety strikes.

Did You Know…?

It’s not only humans that can be harmed by cruise ships. Spare a thought for marine life, too.

Cruise ships produce 150,000 gallons of sewage per week, while one study concluded that they produce 3,500x more sulfur dioxide than land vehicles.

Cruises Targeted by Pirates

The peg-legged plunderers seen searching for treasure in movies might be a thing of the past, but modern-day pirates have replaced them.

Today’s pirates use nimble speedboats to attack large vessels, launching from motherships to target isolated ships in the middle of the ocean.

In most cases, pirates are armed with guns and storm ships to steal cargo. This often involves stealing oil drums or looting storage containers. When pirates raid cruise ships, they might try to hold the vessel, passengers, and crew hostage while seeking a ransom.

It should be noted that pirate attacks on cruise ships are very rare. There have only been six confirmed reports of attempted pirate attacks on cruises since 2005. It is far more common for pirates to target cargo ships.

Evading Pirates

In many recorded instances, the targeted ships escaped without pirates boarding by using evasive maneuvers. Pirates use short-range boats, allowing larger vessels to outrun them in some cases. Many ships also use long-range detection equipment to provide early warnings.

In one instance, the cruise ship Sea Princess ordered a dusk-til-dawn blackout for ten days to keep a low profile due to pirate reports. The passengers were left without lights or entertainment after dark to avoid being located and targeted by pirates.

When the MSC Melody was attacked by pirates in 2009, passengers helped ward off the invaders by throwing deck furniture at them as they tried to gain access to the ship.

Lawsuits Over Cruise Ship Accidents

Countless lawsuits have been filed against cruise companies in recent years following accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Many of the events detailed on this page have resulted in lawsuits. For example, the families of those suffering fatal injuries in off-boat accident in Honduras filed wrongful death lawsuits. Passengers whose ships sank or ran aground also filed legal action, as did passengers impacted by COVID.

Other successful lawsuits have been filed regarding trips, slips, and falls related to slippery floors, doorway obstructions, and other hazards present without warning signs.

In one case, a man received a jury award of $21.5 million after he claimed to have suffered injuries on a world cruise with Holland America in 2011. However, a judge later overruled the verdict based on new evidence.

To win a case regarding deaths or injuries on a cruise ship, you must prove that the company was negligent. To do so, you need an experienced cruise ship accident lawyer on your side.

Top-Rated Cruise Ship Injury Lawyers

When a cruise ship accident is caused by negligence, a top-rated personal injury attorney will help victims recover the compensation they deserve.

Bisnar Chase offers superior representation. Whether your case is decided through a settlement or a jury trial, our team will maximize the damages that you can recover.

We can secure compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, as well as seeking punitive damages against cruise companies as punishment for their negligence.

Our firm has a 99% success rate and has won more than $850 million for our clients. Contact us for a free consultation with an expert. We also offer a no-win, no-fee promise. You pay nothing out of pocket and owe us nothing if we do not win for you. Call (800) 561-4887 or message us through our website.

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