Friday, December 26, 2008

Passenger Missing from Norwegian Pearl

Updated Dec 29 5pm EST
The Mexican navy continue to search the area of water off the coast of Cancun for a 36-year-old woman passenger presumed to have gone overboard from Norwegian Pearl sometime during the evening of December 25.

The ship had departed from Cozumel earlier in the day. The woman was last seen on the ship approximately 8pm. At approximately 4am her husband reported her missing to NCL staff. A shipwide search was conducted, and the Coast Guard was contacted at approximately 6am once it was determined the woman was not aboard the ship. Norwegian Pearl began their search of the water immediately.

Because of the distance, the first US Coast Guard aircraft could not arrive on the scene and begin searching for more than three hours.

The initial area being searched was about 15 miles off the coast of Cancun, but that area constantly widens as the effects of winds and tide are tracked. As of Saturday afternoon, the USCG said more than 2500 square miles have already been searched. The USCG withdrew their aircraft from the search Saturday afternoon although they continued to assist the Mexican navy, which continued their sea search, by helping to coordinate the activities with weather and current informaation. Norwegian Pearl did not assist in the search apparently due to its distance from the area by the time the woman was discovered missing. Norwegian Pearl returned to its homeport of Miami as scheduled early Saturday morning, and FBI agents boarded to do an investigation.

Sunday morning, the Coast Guard said that NCL's infrared surveillance tape does show what appears to be something going overboard from the ship shortly after 8pm on Thursday evening.

At this point, information has not been released about the circumstances when the woman was last seen aboard the ship or exactly why her husband was not with her. From what is known, the time line seems very normal.

Couples often split up on cruise ships to do activities on their own, and while one may return to the cabin and find it unusual their traveling companion is not there, they don't usually immediately report them missing, assuming they are elsewhere on the ship enjoying themselves.

When they do report them missing, the procedure required by the Coast Guard before they will take action, is that the cruise line must have thoroughly searched the vessel first. Cruise lines report that passengers are frequently reported missing to them (sometimes several per cruise), and in the vast majority of instances (almost all) the person is located on board.

Because of the distances involved, once the Coast Guard commits to a search of the sea, there is also usually quite a time lag before they can get planes to the area and even longer before a ship can get there. In this case, the first USCG plane took almost two hours to get to the area, and then it had to refuel before beginning its search.

Even though the search of the water is as thorough as it can be, the sad fact is that it is quite difficult to even survive a fall from a passenger deck of a cruise ship into the water. The fall is usually at least three for four stories and often more than eight or ten.

Additional information about the incident will appear in Monday's edition of CND.