Overboard Case Raises Questions About Onboard Surveillance

May 16, 2008

This week's tragic story about a Norwegian Cruise Line passenger who fell from her balcony -- and whose last moments were captured on surveillance footage later reviewed by the F.B.I. and other authorities -- has prompted us to take a closer look at onboard security systems. Cruise Critic members and fellow cruise travelers are also weighing in with their positions on the use of hidden cameras.

Most modern cruise ships have cameras continuously fixed on certain areas for security reasons, notes Teijo Niemela, publisher of Cruise Business Review, an industry business publication; lifeboat stations are one such example. Another biggie is the casino -- Las Vegas they're not, but gambling establishments at sea still need to be outfitted with the same mega-security as those based on land. In fact, Niemela recalls some of the only footage from Crown Princess' severe list at sea two years ago coming from that ship's casino.

Officers on the bridge and staff members in the engine control room are among those with access to all of the cameras, according to Niemela.

For the most part, however, cruise lines were hesitant to share specifics with us about their surveillance systems -- and for good reason. It would defeat the purpose of having security measures in place if the public knew exactly where the cameras were and how they worked. Carnival Cruise Lines spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz tells us via e-mail that "divulging details of our video surveillance doesn't serve the best interests [of cruisers] from a safety and security standpoint."

A Holland America Line spokesman confirms that cameras are used in public hallways, deck areas, pool areas and in some public areas, and are viewed by the security staff and as required would be provided to authorities. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for NCL was able to tell us that cameras onboard are operated by a 24/7 team, but could not reveal exact locations -- pointing out, however, that there are of course none in any of the staterooms.

So how exactly did the surveillance cameras onboard Norwegian Dawn catch 46-year-old Mindy Jordan's tumble overboard? "It's hard to say what kind of footage they'd have," Niemela tells us, "but one possibility is that they could have been filming the lifeboat area or the promenade deck. I suspect if you have a camera filming the promenade deck for example, they could have seen somebody falling down there." Remember, that's not to say that there's a camera catching your every sneeze or smooch on a balcony -- just that the technology exists to see enough to ascertain information in an investigation or emergency.

So what are fellow cruise travelers saying about the prevalence of surveillance cameras on today's vessels and how they are used?

"Security cameras are there for our protection," Cruise Critic member Spikesgirl posts on the Cruise Critic boards. "I have no problems with them in the public areas and corridors of the ships. I don't feel that it's a violation of my privacy as long as the cabin is camera free."

Member kat89447 agrees: "I have worked in casinos, bars and manufacturing plants and have yet to do anything but embrace them. They save your butt as well as others ... As long as they are not inside the staterooms or restrooms and certain spa areas I have no problem. On a side note, I bet the [boyfriend] of the poor woman on the Dawn is pretty grateful about the cameras. Could have been a longer journey to sort out the truth if they didn't have some footage."

"With all the recent problems (people falling/jumping off ship, fight, fires, etc.)," posts Blue46, "I see this as a way to really know what is going on. It protects not only the cruise line, but travelers as well."

We want to know what you think about surveillance cameras onboard. Vote in our poll -- and be sure to post your opinions.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor

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