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Crew member disappearances and crew members falling overboard unfortunately occur. Crew disappear or are lost overboard for a number of reasons for which the ship owner and cruise line can be held accountable. Having previously represented the cruise ship companies for 19 years, the board certified maritime attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm are in a unique position to help families who have to endure the horror associated with the disappearance or loss of a loved one overboard. With offices in Miami, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts, the lawyers at the law firm of Brais Law Firm are here to help the families and hold cruise lines responsible for their negligence or unseaworthiness of their vessel.

Crew member disappearances can occur many different ways including:

  • Inadequate or defective handrails;
  • Intoxication from being over served alcohol in the ship’s bars and lounges;
  • Failing to warn of rough seas;
  • Violent actions of the ship’s crew members or passengers; and,
  • Failure to issue proper and maintained safety equipment;
  • Failure to perform adequate search & rescue operations.

The board certified maritime attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm are experienced with assessing if a cruise line is liable for crew members falling overboard or disappearing.

Q: Is the Ship Owner or Cruise Line Liable for Crew Members Falling Overboard or Disappearing?

Very Possibly.
Ship owners & cruise lines have been accountable for crew members falling overboard or disappearing in a variety of ways. Below, some of the common ways a cruise line may be held liable are explained.

Inadequate or Defective Handrails

Obviously a crew member could easily fall off a ship if the handrails are of an inadequate height or are defective. Ship owners & cruise lines have the duty to their crew members to provide a ship that is seaworthy. In fact, Congress recently passed the Cruise Safety Act of 2010 which requires all cruise ships calling on U.S. Port to have handrails no less than 42 inches above the cabin deck by January 2012. Therefore, if the ship is outfitted with inadequate or defective handrails, the ship owner or cruise line may be found negligent for a crew member falling overboard or disappearing.


Another cause attributable to passengers falling overboard or disappearing is intoxication. Ship owners & Cruise lines have the duty to not serve their crew members alcohol to the point of intoxication. Should a crew member become intoxicated, the cruise line then has the duty to protect the crew member from his/her (albeit self-imposed) disability. If the ship owner or cruise line fails to carry its duty, it will be liable for the crew member’s disappearance and/or damages associated with the crew member falling overboard.

Failing to Warn of Rough Conditions

Ship owners & cruise lines are obligated to warn their crew members of known dangers or dangers for which it should have known. In the context of disappearances or crew members falling overboard, this duty usually arises when the ship is expected to encounter rough seas. Often times at sea, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Nearly all ocean going ships are equipped with state of the art weather radar and have access to forecasts and conditions for the areas they are sailing. As such, the “deck officers” know when the ship is about to cruise into rough seas where other crew member (who are usually carrying out their assigned duties or are enjoying the ship’s amenities while not on duty) do not. Consequently, ship owners & cruise lines are obligated to warn of approaching storms and the dangers of being near the rails during rough seas or suspending certain duties conducted near the railing. If a ship owner or cruise line fails to warn of such approaching dangers, it may be held liable for crew members who fall overboard during the storm.

Violent Actions of Fellow Crew Members

Disappearance may also be as a result of violent actions of fellow crew members. Ship owners & cruise lines have a duty to protect their employees against physical assaults by other crew members who are known to have violent dispositions or whose mere presence for some particular reason constitutes a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm to the victim. As such, should a crew member be pushed overboard by fellow crew member know to have a violet streak, the cruise line will be held liable.

Violent Actions of Passengers

Ship owners & cruise lines may also be responsible for disappearances caused by the violent actions of its passengers. However, a cruise line will only be liable if it could have anticipated the violent activity of the other passenger and could have prevented the injury.

Failure to Issue Proper and Maintained Safety Equipment

Ship owners & cruise lines must also issue their crew members proper and maintained safety equipment for the duties assigned. For example, harnesses and flotation devices should be issued crew members assigned to wash or paint the ship. If the ship owner or cruise line fails to provide such safety equipment, it may be liable under the Jones Act and/or Unseaworthiness doctrines for crew member disappearances or injuries and deaths sustained as a result of a crew member falling overboard.

Duty to Perform Adequate Rescue Operations

Once a missing crew member is reported, the ship operator or cruise line has a duty to perform a reasonable search and rescue operation. Should the ship operator or cruise line fail to conduct a search and rescue operation or performs such an operation in an inadequate way, it will be liable for the death or further injury of the crew member.

The attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm have the experience to protect your rights, the compassion to serve your needs, and the skill to obtain the compensation you deserve. To reach our lawyers you may click email the firm, call 800-499-0551 from within the U.S., Skype BraisLaw worldwide or click Contact Us to select and complete a form for a free evaluation of your case.