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Alcohol is a common factor in man-overboard incidents, a cruise industry expert says: 'It's a problem waiting to happen'

Cruise ship.
The NELK Boys were told to disembark the ship after just 20 hours.
  • A man who spent hours treading water after going overboard a cruise was rescued in a rare success story. 
  • A cruise industry expert told Insider that alcohol is a common factor in man-overboard incidents.
  • "Alcohol is a major source of revenue for cruises," Ross Klein said. "It's not gonna disappear."

The likelihood of going overboard on a commercial cruise ship is exceedingly rare — industry data suggests the chances of stumbling into open water are less than 1 in a million.

Statistics, however, didn't stop 28-year-old James Grimes from having to tread water for hours after going overboard on the Carnival Valor late last month.

Grimes' thrilling survival story, in which he recounted eating bamboo and fighting off jellyfish in the shark-infested waters of the Gulf of Mexico, was the rare maritime rescue with a happy ending.

Days after the coast guard rescued Grimes following his harrowing time in the open water, he told "Good Morning America" that he doesn't remember much about the circumstances leading up to his tumble. He acknowledged having a few drinks the night he went overboard but said he wasn't drunk. Grimes did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Carnival told Insider last week that the "only way" to go overboard is to "purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers."

Whether or not it was a contributing factor in Grimes's ordeal, alcohol is a common element in many overboard incidents, said Ross Klein, an international cruise industry expert and social work professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

"Frequently, they involve intoxication one way or another," said Klein, who also runs a website on cruise accidents and incidents. "A common thread would be that the person who has gone overboard is inebriated."

Many mainstream cruise lines offer all-you-can-drink alcohol packages that encourage passengers to over-imbibe, Klein said. After a night of heavy drinking, a person may be more inclined to engage in risky and reckless behavior, such as climbing on or over the boat's safety railings. Drunkenness may also increase the likelihood of an ill-timed fall.

"It's a problem waiting to happen," Klein said.

But the sheer prevalence of alcohol aboard most ships is unlikely to change anytime soon, according to the researcher.

"Alcohol is a major source of revenue for cruises," he said. "It's not gonna disappear. The problem is whether the serving is responsible and how often people are served more than they should be."

Brian Salerno, senior vice president of global maritime policy at Cruise Lines International Association, told Insider that bartenders on cruises are trained to pay close attention to passenger behavior.

"Someone tending bar on land is typically trained to cut someone off if they appear to be overindulging," he said. "That happens on ships, too."

Given the nebulous nature of many overboard incidents — Klein has recorded 11 suspected incidents in 2022 so far, but said there may be more that go unreported — the industry doesn't have hard data on how often alcohol is a factor in such episodes.

Alcohol is also a common factor in other onboard incidents and crimes, Klein said. It's present in more than 50% of sexual assaults reported on cruise ships, according to Klein, and is also present in many instances of physical assaults.

"It's just human behavior that occurs on ships is really similar to what happens on land," Salerno added.

While the chances of going overboard are slim, Klein said passengers should still educate themselves on the inherent risks involved in taking a cruise.

"The problem is passengers don't realize both the degree to which this is a source of income but also the risk they're at as a result of overconsumption," he said.

Read the original article on Insider

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