Can Jumpers Be Charged for Rescue Costs?

July 17, 2007
The vast majority of Cruise Critic readers agree that drunken passengers who leap off cruise ships and survive should be billed for the cost of their rescue -- but can they be?

Well, even though guests that have gone overboard recently have not been fined, it could happen depending on the circumstances, according to a spokeswoman for Cruise Line International Association, which represents the industry and 24 major lines.

CLIA further tells us that like any entertainment or lodging facility, cruise lines can also charge for property damages and/or ask guests to leave at the next port for improper behavior. This is similar to a stance taken by the airline industry. The Federal Aviation Administration, through a 2000 bill, can fine unruly passengers up to $25,000 per violation -- and one incident can result in multiple violations.

So why aren't unruly passengers being made to pay when they cause ships to stop in the middle of the ocean for rescue operations? First of all, it's important to note that the costs incurred by the cruise line and the U.S. Coast Guard are separate. The Coast Guard foots the big bill for search and rescue (the early July recovery of Carnival Liberty passenger Scott Durrin reportedly cost $21,000) -- and as a policy does not charge for such operations, according to a spokeswoman at the agency. The Coast Guard can only issue fines for hoaxes, not for individuals who find themselves in danger regardless of circumstance.

Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher tells us that thus far the line has made the decision not to charge guests for any other expenses incurred (fuel, missed ports) even though it has the legal right to do so. "The primary reason is because in the instance where the person is not recovered alive or at all, then the family is understandably devastated," he tells us.

"We do not wish to add to their grief; in fact, in those instances, a member of our Carnival Care Team is assigned to that family to assist them ... even when the person is recovered."

--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor