About four days ago, late Wednesday night, a couple from Australia taking a cruise on the Carnival Spirit plunged into the ocean after falling approximately 65 feet (20 meters) from a mid-ship deck. The next day, the ship docked at a Sydney port, where Paul Rossington and Kristen Schroder – both from Barraba, a town in New South Wales – were reported missing. A massive rescue effort ensued, but turned up no sign of either missing passenger, and so the search has now been officially called off. A rescue authority said the couple had a good chance of surviving until Friday, partly because the sea was calm and partly because Rossington was a paramedic in good shape who knew survival techniques. But after searching 1,360 square nautical miles (4,670 square kilometers) by both sea and air, the couple’s survival prospects have now been assessed less hopefully.
The circumstances surrounding the fall are still uncertain and a bit mysterious, despite the fact that they were captured by surveillance cameras. To begin, the railings on the ship that the passengers went over are higher than the cruise industry requires, and they are designed this way precisely to prevent accidental falls. Indeed, a spokesperson for Carnival said that it would be “highly unlikely” that someone could, say, trip and fall overboard. Still, Schroder’s family called the incident “an accident” in a statement.
Of course, police are conducting a full investigation. The video of the incident, which shows one person going over the railing slightly before the other, is being enhanced, as it is not clear who went over first. The fact that no life preservers were missing from the ship might indicate that one passenger was trying to save the other, according to police. Regardless of what the video shows, it might not reveal precisely what happened, so investigators are also questioning family and friends, seven of whom were on the cruise ship with the couple.
The outcome of the investigation will likely indicate whether Carnival bears any of the responsibility for the incident. The Carnival spokesperson insisted, as already indicated above, that the ship’s railings had a particularly safe design. However, she was still left to explain how a ship with about 600 surveillance cameras, with several staff members monitoring them in real time, could fail to notice that anyone went missing until the ship was docked the following morning. The spokesperson pointed out that since it was the last night of the cruise, the staff monitoring the cameras were focused on the public areas of the ship, where almost every one of the 2,680 passengers was.
By any reasonable assessment, this has been a bad year so far for Carnival. In February, an engine-room fire left the Carnival Triumph adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for the five days. The conditions on board the ship were reportedly horrendous – toilets were said to overflow into cabins, and some claimed that they had to wait for hours to be fed minimal amounts of food. About a month later, in March, equipment failures caused the Carnival Dream to be docked in St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Less than a month later, the Carnival Triumph again experienced problems when the ship broke away from its repair dock because of high winds, causing the enormous ship to drift around uncontrollably in Alabama’s Mobile River for several hours. And all of these incidents were nowhere near as catastrophic as the Costa Concordia disaster, which resulted in 32 deaths. The tragedy of the Costa Concordia, ultimately owned by Carnival (because Carnival owns Costa Cruises), occurred last year, however, so we suppose it can’t be counted toward Carnival’s record of problems this year. Regardless, the last five months have not been good for Carnival, and they could get worse depending on what conclusions are reached after this most recent incident involving the Carnival Spirit has been fully investigated.