Man Overboard ... Who Should Pay?

Editor's note: Content was up to date at time of publication.

Over the period of one month in 2007 three different inebriated cruise travelers went overboard and were rescued. In another instance, a "jumper" was pulled from the sea by the Coast Guard. The story repeats itself for sure -- man and/or woman gets drunk, jumps overboard and lives -- but this time, the plot thickened with some extra disturbing details. The Carnival Liberty passenger, after hours of imbibing, climbed into a lifeboat and actually "took an axe to the cables that connected the boat to the ship," according to news reports. His rescue reportedly cost $21,000.

After all of our news coverage we have to admit we were pretty fatigued with the whole "drunkard overboard" thing. Our questions focused specifically on cases when a passenger went overboard because of recklessness and did not address the more tragic situations in which suicide is rumored.

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Here's a sampling:

Who should pay for the costly rescue operation? Who's ultimately responsible for his behavior?
The almost unanimous answer was: the jumper. "It is absurd to think that anyone other than the drunk -- the cruise line or the other passengers (via raised fares) -- should pay for the stupidity of drunken misjudgments," says Ebjmorr. "If a drunk or someone high on a drug hit my car, I think the courts and the insurance company would have no problem or hesitation in assigning the financial blame. I cannot imagine that it is even debatable.

"We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to act as adults if we are old enough to step up to a bar."

On the other hand, a few of you didn't think the cruise lines should get off scot-free. "Should the cruise line be held accountable in any way? Yes," says J. King. "It's an unfortunate fact that cruise ships garner a great deal of money from the sale of alcoholic beverages so are hesitant to curb anyone's drinking. I have never, in my 20-plus years of cruising, seen a passenger denied alcohol -- even if he or she was obviously intoxicated. Cruise lines need to do a better job of policing themselves before they absolve themselves of any culpability in incidents such as mentioned in your article."

How was Scott Durrin allowed to get so drunk -- and so out of control?
Here's where things were not as cut and dry. Many of you wrote in with suggestions on how cruise lines could curtail dangerous drinking -- such as flagging cruise cards that have been used to purchase excessive amounts of alcohol. On the flip side, Jane voices an opinion shared by many others that "the bartenders on the ship should keep an eye out for obvious drunks but it is not their job to baby-sit the passengers."

Are reckless travelers ever penalized for their actions?
In a recent daily poll, 91 percent of readers said that the jumper should foot the bill. Interestingly, while we haven't heard of any cruise passengers being charged for the cost of their rescue, airlines most definitely have the right to fine out-of-control travelers. The Federal Aviation Administration can propose up to $25,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases under a 2000 bill -- and one in-flight incident can encompass many violations.

What's the real cost to the industry?
One point raised -- which we think is a major concern -- is that the recent success rate of overboard rescues could potentially encourage other "drunken daredevils" to try the same feat. (We do realize the irony: The fact that lives were saved might cause people to try something that could kill them.) "It seems to be an attention-getting thing, 'Gee I'll be on TV or in the papers!'" Dezi writes in.

Member IKE agrees: "I personally feel an example should be made of these people who choose to jump overboard for the heck of it. I feel there should be a stiff penalty. It is a different and sad story if the person commits suicide. It is, however, becoming more and more common for these people to get drunk and then jump overboard for laughs or kicks. It is a huge expense to the cruise line and inconvenience to the passengers. The people involved think it is a joke. It is not. It is a serious situation. They could be killed."

Carla writes, "It is extremely difficult to 'just fall overboard' and for those who use cruise ships to commit suicide, my heart goes out to them and their families. However, most of the 'accidental falls' are caused by inebriated passengers or passengers who want to see if they can survive the fall. These passengers should be punished to the full extent of the law ... I say -- punish those responsible before it gets out of hand."

We've compiled a roundup of responses on these topics -- and other insightful comments -- below.

Fine the Jumper
"We were on the Carnival Liberty when the drunken individual jumped over. As a passenger it is a horrific experience until you finally find out your family members are alright ... I really think that there has to be some punishment for these individuals that over-drink and decide to jump off. I have a 17-year-old son and I was worried the entire cruise! These inconsiderate individuals are getting away with ruining other peoples hard earned vacations." --Minin

"I've been on 10 cruises and my 9-year-old daughter has been on four of those cruises and not once have I ever felt unsafe. It is not the ship or the cruise lines' fault as to why people fall over, most of the time it is that of the person who falls over. I strongly believe that the person who goes over for whatever reason should be responsible for the cost and expense of the rescue." --Joe S.

"I think the gentlemen who caused the disruption should bear the cost of the entire operation. You wanna play you gotta pay! Simple as that." --Joe D.

"Everyone of legal age must be held responsible for his or her on actions ... the only way for an individual to actually fall off a ship is when that individual is doing something reckless. That recklessness comes with a cost, and the cost rests with the individual." --Randy D.

"Suicides are very tragic. It must be terrible for the family and friends to come to terms with these deaths. [But] I think the other 'jumping incidents' are outrageous! I feel strongly that the jumper should bear the ultimate responsibility and therefore cost of his behavior. It needs to be made clear that the consequence of such outrageous behavior is for the passenger to pay the cost of the Coast Guard, lost fuel, etc., and perhaps once this has been publicized people might think twice? This inappropriate behavior will not stop me and my husband from cruising, but I know how angry I would be if I knew our time in a port was shortened, or our cruise curtailed, because of having to rescue an irresponsible traveler." --Dorothy

"My opinion on the 'jumpers' of late is that they should be held entirely responsible for their behavior, including paying the cost of their rescue as well as any cost the disruption of the cruise cost the cruise line. This fact should be heavily advertised so that a future jumper would know that there would be major financial repercussions. When you have a group of 2,500 or more people in any one place there is bound to be one loose nut...." --Jane

"Cruisers need to be responsible for their behavior. If they get drunk and fall or jump overboard, they should be held responsible for all costs involved. I do not think that the ship should be responsible for how much you drink. The exception, of course, would be if the ship served alcohol to a minor." --Logan

"Thanks for your recent article. I have spent most of my life in some way connected to ships and the sea so I have an extreme prejudice against those who choose to disregard the safety and comfort of their fellow shipmates. I was once aboard Holland America's old Rotterdam and witnessed with almost disbelief several children throwing lighted matches about a public room. Any action which endangers or inconveniences civil passengers should not be tolerated and treated the same way as they would on an aircraft." --Jobokar

"I think the person who got drunk and jumped should have to pay every penny of the costs. The bartender? Why? Maybe he should be held accountable if he was serving children but this was a grown man, in age if not mentality! I cannot believe anyone would even consider blaming the poor bartender!" --Honeybear

"Remember the case where McDonald's was sued for serving hot coffee? Really, society: Grow up and be responsible." --Arlene

On the Other Hand....
"The customer who decides to be irresponsible in over-intoxicating oneself and then does something highly foolish should be the one held accountable and should have to pay all costs and penalties involved. However, if the customer became highly intoxicated in one pub or lounge and the staff recognized this and did not alert superiors than they should share in some limited costs ... The cruise line has a responsibility to all passengers; not just those with extra cash to burn on alcohol." --D Fritz

"The perpetrator should be heavily fined with an amount that reflects the actual cost of the rescue. Cruise lines, however, must also take more control over passenger safety. On most cruises we have been on there have always been the 'drunks.' I have never seen cruise staff intervene. Watching passengers arrive late back to ship from Carlos 'n Charlie's and then fall into the water between the ship and dock was one of my favorites. I don't mind the partier who can handle their booze but an obnoxious drunk is not safe on a cruise ship. I wonder what the drunks will try next?" --John B.

Prevention Starts at the Bar
"Maybe the bar servers need to be more observant when passengers who order another drink have had too much already ... Why can't [a passenger's] onboard account have a flag on it if they have had their max for the day? I know the cruise lines like to sell drinks but I think they have to draw a line when someone has had too much." --Serena

"I am not sure what the cruise lines could do that would be 100 percent effective. If the cards were somehow shut down if more than two to three drinks were purchased within a stated time period, all someone who still wanted to drink would have to do is get someone else to buy him/her a drink. I do think there should be increased luggage checks to make sure that no extra liquor is brought onboard even though this will hurt the couples who want to sip a glass of wine on their balconies at sunset. (Once again, it's sad that the behavior of the few impacts the ones who do things properly.)" --vickiw0318

"Alcohol (and/or drugs) used by individuals will dull their senses and we cannot find cruise ships responsible for their actions. We can suggest that bartenders and other ship employees pay particular attention to these individuals and please do not over-serve them alcohol! It is the responsibility of those in charge at bars to recognize certain actions. Don't push the alcohol to make profit for the cruise industry." --Frances

"Cruise lines need to monitor the alcohol consumption of the guests. Either by room number when they order or security guards." --Richard

"What I think may happen in the future is that insurance companies or a regulatory body may impose strict guidelines on the serving of alcohol to passengers. I am unaware of any guidelines that may already be in place. For instance, if a bar waiter or bartender sees that a passenger is drunk the serving of alcohol should be stopped. Of course, one cannot stop passengers from drinking the alcohol that they have been able to 'sneak' onboard." --Suntan

"While traveling to the Panama Canal in April on Brilliance of the Seas, there was one gentleman who really liked to drink alcohol. He apparently started in the morning and pretty much drank all day. We were watching the karaoke competition around 9:30 p.m., in walks Mr. X, followed by several officers and crew. They escorted him away and I later found out that they used their computer system to block him from buying alcohol for the rest of the night. I was acquainted with Mr. X during this cruise and he was a really nice guy and did not become belligerent or obnoxious when drinking, but for his own safety I'm glad the crew took action." --Stephanie

"The time has come for the cruise lines to review their policies on alcohol sales. As sad as it is, some external limits are needed to protect individuals and others from themselves. Drinking has become all too glamorous in our society. Alcohol, like many other substances and things in our lives, is needed to be treated responsibly. When it is not external limits need be enforced for everyone's well being." --Horace

And Finally, Some Seriously Tough Love
"I think that people who act like idiots on cruises and fall overboard because of their own stupidity should be 'blacklisted' from cruising on any cruise line." --Karen

"Imposing a fine/charge to the individual for the expense of rescue should be made mandatory and enforced. Unless of course you want each and every bartender to have every person submit to a Breathalyzer test before serving them...." --Joyce

"Cruise lines should put a clause in the standard agreement that all cruisers sign that any inappropriate behavior resulting in excessive cost to the cruise line or a country's rescue agency will be passed on to the passenger. Period!" -- K!M

"1. He should be punished by two years in jail. 2. He should be fined the $21,000 (cost of saving). 3. He should be banned from ever cruising on Carnival again. 4. He should pay $50,000 to Carnival for causing trouble to the crew who are there trying to make everyone happy ... but instead are trying to deal with an idiot like this." --Jerry R.

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