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FBI Says Carnival Cruise “Suspicious Death” Likely Medically Related

medical related death on cruise
FBI investigated death of a passenger aboard the Carnival Sunshine during a cruise from Charleston (Carnival Cruise Line)

Published Mar 7, 2023 6:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Officials are now reporting that a woman passenger who died on a Carnival cruise ship likely died from a “medical condition” days after the media widely reported it as a “suspicious death,” that was being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. The death is the latest in a series of incidents that drew widespread media attention and are prompting Carnival Cruise Line to institute a new “Respectful and Considerate Code of Conduct,” in advance of its spring break cruises.

FBI Evidence Response Team members board the Carnival Sunshine (102,8503 gross tons) when the vessel returned to Charleston, South Carolina. They were there after having been notified that a 44-year-old woman had been found unresponsive during the first day of a cruise that departed from Charleston on February 27. According to the FBI statement, the medical staff and other crew members of the Carnival Sunshine were made aware of the passenger being found unresponsive on the morning of February 28 and immediately attempted life-saving measures. Despite their efforts, the passenger was pronounced deceased on the ship.

Out of respect for the family, the cruise line declined to offer additional details. However, it was reported that the woman’s body was removed from the ship when it reached Nassau in the Bahamas and that her husband had also disembarked from the cruise. The Bahamian police were reportedly reviewing the circumstances and planning an autopsy.

The FBI said it believed it was an isolated incident with no other reports of threats to passengers during the cruise. However, the bureau routinely investigates certain crimes on the high seas, as well as suspicious deaths of U.S. persons. The team responded to process the passenger’s room once the ship returned to Charleston on March 4 and to review the circumstances of the death.

Carnival Cruise Line issued a brief update on March 7, stating, “It appears that this was indeed a medical situation that sadly resulted in the death.” The cruise line said it was cooperating and would defer to the FBI on any specific details. They also asserted that the initial emergency medical response was appropriate.

No statics exist on the number of passenger deaths each year at sea but like any large city, medical situations occur. The Carnival Sunshine accommodates over 3,000 passengers when it is full and has a crew of over 1,000.

The death comes just weeks after Carnival announced stricter policies designed to ensure “the best environment” aboard its cruise ships. After widely reported incidents including passengers jumping overboard and brawls videotaped for social media, Carnival reports it has added more security workers aboard its ships.  

All passengers boarding a Carnival ship will be asked to acknowledge the cruise line’s “Code of Conduct” during the pier check-in process and the cruise line has made changes to its passenger contracts including instituting fines of up to $500 for offenses as well as possibly being disembarked at the next port and like the airlines barred from future trips. The cruise line had previously set policies preventing bringing aboard hard liquor or beer during embarkation, but passengers are also now being reminded that under federal law marijuana and other illegal drugs are not permitted onboard. They are also being advised that they must use earphones when listening to music or using their personal devices such as phones and tablets. Items like large radios and music speakers will be confiscated and only returned at the end of the cruise.

One of the most visible changes Carnival reported involves increased random screening of passengers’ luggage during embarkation. The cruise line said it would be using drug-sniffing dogs and may also have them for random inspections at some ports during the cruise.

The cruise line highlights that the ships are shared spaces. Especially with high occupancy expected during spring break and again in the summer, the goal is to provide an environment for all passengers’ enjoyment.