Cruise Ship Pool Deaths Spark Concern


By MarEx 2016-04-01 19:47:00

The U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its first Safety Digest for 2016 highlighting the risk of passengers drowning in cruise ship pools.

Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, states: “A recent article in a U.K. newspaper reported on the comments made by a Coroner during the inquest of a seven year old child who had drowned in a hotel swimming pool while on holiday overseas. The Coroner had said that she would write to travel agents asking them to review the provision of lifeguards (there had been none at the pool where the child died.) Case 11 describes an accident in which a passenger drowned in the pool of a cruise vessel. In that accident, there was also no lifeguard poolside – in fact no attempt had been made by the ship’s operator to assess the risk to its passengers when using the pool. 

“The MAIB has recently investigated a number of similar accidents which have occurred on cruise vessels. In every case, the ships’ operators have rejected suggestions that lifeguards be stationed poolside citing that the provision of additional warning signage about the potential risks of drowning is a proportionate response. The mix of holiday makers, swimming pools, food and alcohol provides an obvious pre-cursor for an accident, while the logistics and cost of providing a lifeguard to sit poolside on a cruise liner seem trivial compared to the benefits of preventing someone from drowning. However, in the interest of preventing the further loss of life, I sincerely hope the operators’ assessment proves to be the correct one.”

Case 11: the drowning of a passenger on board the cruise ship Sapphire Princess in the East China Sea on August 7, 2014.

A cruise ship was at sea when a number of passengers in one of the ship’s swimming pools began screaming. A passenger at the poolside heard the screaming and immediately noticed another passenger, floating face-down in the pool, with bubbles coming from her mouth.
Assisted by another passenger, he recovered the casualty to a tiled area at one end of the pool. 

Some of the ship’s catering staff, who were working in the vicinity, quickly arrived and assisted with rescue efforts. Attempts were then made to drain water from the casualty’s lungs. The rescuers noted that the casualty was not breathing.

One of the crew made a call from a deck telephone to summon the onboard emergency services. The ship had a multinational crew and, owing to language difficulties, the person receiving the emergency call could not understand the caller. Another crew member then took over the call, and the information was passed to the ship’s emergency medical team. In the meantime, fellow passengers began to administer CPR.

Following receipt of the emergency call, a medical response team, including the ship’s senior doctor, proceeded to the scene. They arrived on site within a few minutes of the emergency call and noted that five or six passengers and four or five crew members were in the vicinity of the casualty, but no CPR was being carried out. The doctor and a nurse began CPR while the other nurse fetched the ship’s automated external defibrillator; the pads were applied to the victim’s chest but the device indicated ‘no shock advised’. CPR was then resumed with supplementary oxygen administered.

Despite comprehensive attempts, including administration of adrenaline, it was not possible to revive the casualty. With obvious evidence of irreversible signs of death, the casualty was pronounced dead.

The casualty had last been noticed sitting in the vicinity of the pool approximately 30 minutes before the alarm was raised. There was no evidence as to how long she had been in the water.
The ship diverted to an appropriate port where the body was transferred to the police, who examined it and subsequently issued a death certificate indicating drowning as the cause of death.

The pool was approximately five meters long by 2.5 meters wide, with a depth of two meters at its deepest point and 1.6 meters at its shallowest point. There was a large tiled area at one end, which is where the recovery took place. Forward of this was an area with food outlets and a bar. The pool was enclosed by a low wall with seating and sun loungers on the adjacent deck area.

No documented risk assessment relating to hazards involved in the use of swimming pools was available to the ship’s crew. There were no designated attendants present or CCTV coverage of the pool areas. A parental advisory notice warned passengers with children that there were no lifeguards on duty and that use of the pool was at their own risk. Health and safety notices to this effect were displayed adjacent to the pool.

MAIB describes the lessons learnt from the incident:

1. The lack of a documented risk assessment might not have prevented this accident from occurring. However, it is essential that both ship’s crew and passengers are fully aware of all hazards associated with the use of swimming pools, and that effective control measures are in place to counter unacceptable risks.

2. The delay in initially recognising the incident and then reporting it might, in other circumstances, have compromised the effectiveness of the emergency response. In this case, once notified, the response by the ship’s emergency medical team was rapid and professional.

3. There was a delay in administering first aid medical treatment. When CPR did commence, it was only briefly carried out and then only by fellow passengers. The crew members in the vicinity of the pool had not received instruction from the company in medical first aid. The staffing of pool areas with personnel who are suitably trained would allow a more appropriate response to medical emergencies. Section A-VI/1, paragraph 1.6 of the STCW Code requires each such person to be able to: ‘take immediate action upon encountering an accident or other medical emergency before seeking further medical assistance on board…’

The Safety Digest analyses accidents involving vessels from the merchant, fishing and recreational sectors. It is available here.

The accident investigation report into the drowning is available here.