Maritime industry law veteran speaks out about autistic man going overboard

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This week a young man from Georgia with autism went overboard on a Carnival cruise, raising questions once again about the safety conditions on these ships and the need for more preventative actions from cruise lines.

John “Jack” Hickey of the Hickey Law Firm in Miami is a veteran in the maritime industry.  For the first 17 years of his career, he represented cruise lines and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on maritime law.

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Of this week’s tragic incident, Mr. Hickey says:

“This sad story underscores the fact that the cruise lines have to do something about preventing man overboard incidents.  The fact is that anyone who is impaired by alcohol or otherwise, anyone who is a child or extremely young, anyone who is older, anyone who slips just the right way, or anyone who for whatever reason does not fully appreciate danger has a significant risk of death if they go over that rail.”

“The reasons that falling overboard is so dangerous includes that (a) when you hit the water from such a height as the top decks of most cruise ships, the water is like concrete.  The impact alone probably is enough to kill you. (b) The impact from a fall from such a height can knock you unconscious or cause serious internal injuries which would make you less able to tread water or swim. And (c) a person in the water without a large object around them like a boat is extremely hard to spot from any deck of the ship even in daylight and nearly impossible at night. If the bridge is not notified right away of the man overboard and the ship does not alter course right away the ship may never locate the area where the overboard took place much less the person who went overboard,” says Hickey.

Hickey points out that, “Some of the options available to the cruise line include:

– Installing different railing which prevents falling over and prevents people from sitting on top of the railing;

– Providing a double railing system where passengers are not allowed to the edge;

– Installing a man overboard alarm system so that when someone goes overboard the bridge is notified immediately and the bridge stops and changes course;

– Monitoring the railing at all times and physically keep people off of and away from the railing.”