Too Late: Drowning Captured on CCTV

pool signs

By Wendy Laursen 2016-05-06 19:34:16

None of the swimmers around Mr Oh noticed his head sink below the water of Pacific Dawn’s forward swimming pool last November. The event, however, was captured by the ships closed circuit television.

Mr Oh, 78, was not a strong swimmer but “comfortable” in the water. On the morning of November 9, he proceeded to the forward swimming pool on deck 12. The ship’s CCTV recording showed Mr Oh completing some brief stretching exercises before entering the pool. He slowly climbed down the pool’s aft bathing ladder and entered the water. The pool’s temperature was 30˚C. He swam gently near the ladder and then moved under the port water fountain, allowing the water to flow over his head. He then swam away from the fountain for a longer period towards the center of the pool before returning to the spot directly under the water fountain and, at one stage, appeared to briefly touch the side of the pool with his hand.

There were at least four other passengers in the pool when the recording showed Mr Oh’s head then sink below the water, but there was no pool supervisor in attendance. He sank to the bottom of the pool and was unnoticed for 10 minutes before a fellow passenger dived down and brought him to the surface. Mr Oh could not be revived.

The U.K. Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 require that risk assessments be completed for activities and operations on board U.K. registered ships. However, at the time of the accident, no formal documented risk assessment for swimming pool usage had been completed by P&O Cruises Australia.

Ashore, the U.K. Health and Safety Executive’s guidance details when risk assessments should be carried out and factors to consider when deciding whether constant poolside supervision is necessary. It states that constant poolside supervision by lifeguards provides the best assurance of pool users’ safety, but it does recognize a balance between cost and risk.

The U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) released its report into Mr Oh’s death this week stating that a dedicated swimming pool attendant can provide constant supervision, enabling an emergency response to be initiated at the earliest opportunity and so prevent a passenger drowning. It’s not the first time that MAIB has voiced such a recommendation.

In April, the MAIB released its first Safety Digest for 2016 specifically highlighting the risk of passengers drowning in cruise ship pools. Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, referred to the case of Mr Oh’s death in his opening remarks: “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.”

Since Mr Oh’s death, P&O Cruises Australia has completed a formal documented risk assessment for swimming pool usage and has planned a number of actions aimed at preventing a recurrence, including:
•    updating its guest safety video to include pool safety information;
•    providing flotation devices as an option for weaker swimmers;
•    developing enhanced standard pool safety signs; and
•    developing a pool safety guide for guests

On August 7, 2014, a passenger drowned in a swimming pool on board Princess Cruise Line’s Sapphire Princess. The MAIB investigation concluded that a lack of dedicated pool attendants potentially delayed the emergency response and that risks relating to the use of the swimming pools by unsupervised passengers had not been formally assessed and documented. 

The Pacific Dawn report is available here.