Recent events involving peril on the open water have made it blatantly clear that there are no guarantees in life, regardless of financial status or public opinion. The most recent event has taken the life of Miami Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez, who was killed this month in a boating accident off of Miami Beach. Yet, this wasn’t the first time a professional athlete has been thrust into the headlines due to a boating accident. In 2009, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith, and former University of South Florida football players Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler went out on a fishing trip near Clearwater, Florida. Unfortunately, improper anchoring and rough seas resulted in Schuyler being the lone survivor.
With incidents involving small boats resulting in loss of life, it can seem like the bigger the vessel the better the chances of returning to shore safely. Yet, even large ferries can result in loss of life due to operator error. In April 2014, a South Korean ferry carrying 476 people capsized after the captain took too sharp of a turn. The accident resulted in 304 passenger deaths, including 250 high school students that were traveling on the ferry. While this may seem like a fluke accident that only occurs with smaller boats, that doesn’t mean that large cruise ships are without their incidents.
Although Titanic has taught the world that no matter how big the ship is it’s imperative to have enough life vests and boats to accommodate each passenger, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been other shocking incidents aboard some of the biggest cruise ships in the world. From mysterious disappearances to horrifying deaths, check out our list of the 15 most shocking incidents on a cruise ship.
15. Death Of Leon Klinghoffer
Although the incident involving the death of Leon Klinghoffer was way back in 1985, there has been renewed attention on this tragic event due to the opera, The Death of Klinghoffer. Klinghoffer was on board the Italian cruise liner, Achille Lauro, with eleven of his friends, including his wife. After having suffered two strokes, Leon was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from celebrating his wife’s 59th birthday. The party atmosphere quickly turned into a trip of horror as four onboard terrorists launched an early attack, while taking over the cruise liner. They demanded the release of prisoners that were being held in Israel, and threatened to kill hostages if their demands weren’t met. Negotiators were able to take back the ship, but not before there was a single casualty: Leon Klinghoffer. The opera, based on the events on the Achille Lauro, released in 1991 in Belgium to mixed reviews. While some agreed that his story deserved to be told, others felt it glorified the terrorists and was disrespectful to Leon’s memory.
14. The Cursed Norwegian Dream
The SuperStar Gemini was a cruise ship that was built in 1992 but then lengthened and renamed the Norwegian Dream in 1998. In 2012, the ship was transferred back to Star Cruise and renamed again back to SuperStar Gemini. The 14-year span that the ship held the Norwegian Dream name was filled with back to back incidents that caused some to believe the ship was cursed. One of the most memorable incidents happened in August 1999, when the Norwegian Dream collided with the Ever Decent, a container ship en route to Dover, England. The ship was again involved in a collision in 2007 when it hit a barge leaving the port in Uruguay. There was even a death involved with the ship in November 2005, when a passenger partook in a snorkeling excursion while anchored. John Dresp, brother, and sister-in-law, were snorkeling when he went under the water and vanished. It was reported that the strong currents, lack of supervision, and poor safety conditions caused Dresp’s death.
13. Crew Member Hangs Himself
In June 2009, Gregory Gonzalez Navarro was working as a crewmember aboard the Carnival Victory cruise ship from Carnival Cruise Lines. Employed by Carnival Cruise for ten years as a chief mechanic, there were some interesting details surrounding the relationships within his employment. Although many crewmembers distinguished Navarro as being upbeat and personable, Navarro’s wife stated that there were some harassment claims from his supervisor over the years. Navarro’s wife began to worry when she didn’t hear back from him while on duty. While the ship was docked at the Tour Gilberto Concepción de Gracia of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Navarro’s body was found hanging on an outside deck. This apparent suicide seemed strange since his wife made claims that he had been looking forward to a trip he was planning in the near future, and he never had any suicidal tendencies in the past. Also, most suicides that happen on a cruise ship are done in their private rooms or by jumping overboard. However, this hanging incident was in full view on the outside deck, which some have thought was more like a message rather than a suicide.
12. Disney Wonder 2016
In April 2016, the Disney Wonder cruise ship set sail on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise from Miami, Florida. The ship has the capacity to hold around 2,400 passengers and a little over 900 crew members. After hearing about a disturbing number of passengers and crew members becoming sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an officer to board the ship. An official report was filed, stating that over 3 percent of passengers and .5 percent of crew members were affected by the outbreak of acute gastroenteritis. Crew members who were not affected by it were forced to work longer hours in trying to sanitize and maintain the outbreak, and the passengers that were exhibiting symptoms were no longer able to serve themselves from buffets. The only thing worse than being on a cruise ship filled with diarrhea-riddled passengers is a cruise ship filled with diarrhea-riddled and vomiting kids.
11. P&O Pacific Eden
It may have been a coincidence, but there was an incident of gastroenteritis on the P&O cruise ship, The Pacific Eden, after coming into contact with another ship with numerous cases of gastroenteritis. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship, The Explorer of the Seas, was forced to dock at the same harbor as The Pacific Eden after its passengers came down with horrible bouts of sickness. The Pacific Eden embarked on a 14-day cruise from New Zealand, and made a stop in Sydney Harbour to pick up additional passengers. Yet, it wasn’t just the sick passengers that brought on headlines to put this cruise ship in the spotlight. Many of the passengers blamed the spread of illness to the dilapidated and unsanitary conditions of the ship. One passenger stated that the $7000 P&O ticket price should have resulted in a luxury cruise experience, but in reality it was more like a cheap motel environment.
10. Vision Of The Seas And Ruby Princess
In March 2013, two different cruise ships suffered from diarrhea and vomiting caused by the Norovirus. Both the Vision of the Seas cruise ship from Royal Caribbean and the Ruby Princess from Princess Cruises reported passengers and crew members that were sick. Both ships traveled to the Caribbean, and their combined total number of sick passengers reached up to around 400. What makes this instance a standout among cruise ship incidents is the fact that the cruise companies didn’t seem too worried about passing along any viral symptoms to potential new victims. In fact, the Ruby Princess departed on yet another cruise just one day after returning to port. Although the ship was supposedly behind schedule in departing in order to thoroughly sanitize, it’s difficult to believe that they were able to completely cleanse the entire ship in such a short amount of time. To make matters worse, passengers booked for the next trip only received a letter letting them know about the previous outbreak while boarding.
9. High School Student Dies On Disney Cruise
Austin Ray was a Missouri teenager who was born with a rare genetic metabolic condition, and was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney failure. He was a beloved high school student at Herculaneum High, and was an active member of various sports teams. He took on the nickname, Austin “Stingray” Ray, and was even an honor roll student at the age of 17-years-old. In May 2016, Ray and his family embarked on a cruise vacation on the Disney Wonder cruise ship departing from Vancouver, British Columbia. The cruise was on its way to Alaska when Ray’s parents stated he began having difficulty breathing in the night. After Ray stopped breathing, he was moved to the medical office but after continued efforts to revive him, he passed away. Although his death was ruled as due to natural causes, it was a heart wrenching incident that was devastating to all those who knew him and the entire Ray family.
8. Explorer Of The Seas 2014
The Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Explorer of the Seas, embarked on a 10-day trip from Cape Liberty, New Jersey. The ship was forced to return two days early because of an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness. More than 600 passengers became violently ill with reported bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. The cruise line consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in collaboration with the ship’s medical team, they decided to bring the entirety of the passengers back to port. The cruise line released a statement about the incident saying, “New reports of illness have decreased day-over-day, and many guests are again up and about. Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting.” Although there was no clear diagnosis of what the illness was at the first onset, the symptoms were consistent with norovirus. In an attempt to diminish the public relations damage from the incident, the company made sure to mention that the ship would be undergoing a “thorough barrier sanitization program.”
7. Man Falls To His Death In Bahamas
In January 2012, a man fell from the upper level of the Carnival Cruise Line ship, the Fantasy. The cruise ship was in port in Nassau, Bahamas, and was forced to miss a port of call. It returned to port in Charleston after the death. The news of the death was released before the identity of the man was discovered, and it was later released that the victim was Corporal Walter Eldrede Bouknight. The man was 26-years-old, and there were some reports that claim that he had exhibited suicidal behavior. However, there were conflicting statements surrounding the event, where it could have been that he was trying to make the jump between the levels and fell in a resulted accidental death. The rest of the passengers were refunded taxes and fees due to the missed port of call, and new passengers that boarded the vessel were informed of the passenger’s death. While it didn’t deter any of the passengers from continuing on with their planned cruise, it undoubtedly made them think twice about horse-playing between the varied levels of the ship.
6. Merrian Carver Cover-Up
In 2004, a 40-year-old mother, Merrian Carver, secretly booked herself on a luxury cruise without letting any of her family members know. Carver booked passage on the Celebrity Cruise ship, Mercury, for an Alaskan cruise lasting 7 days. Yet, a cabin attendant on the cruise reported that Carver’s bed hadn’t been used since the second day of the cruise. Once the ship returned to port, the cruise ship packed away all of Carver’s possessions and never informed the family or the police about her disappearance. Carver’s family ultimately tracked down her last known location, but were confronted with a plethora of alarming details surrounding her disappearance. It took the cruise ship three days to discover whether or not Carver had ever stepped food on the ship, which was an entire 26 days after her disappearance. The surveillance camera videos that could have helped solve the case were wiped before anyone pertaining to the case could view them, and there was no attempt to track down Carver’s whereabouts once it was discovered that she was missing.
5. Suicide Or Bump Death
In November 2015, Bernardo Elbaz and his husband, Eric, were aboard the cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas. The ship was just northeast of Mayaguana, Bahamas, near the Turks and Caicos islands. Photos and videos were released from other passengers showing the moment Bernardo fell to his death. However, details surrounding the actual events leading up to his death have been heavily scrutinized. Michael Winkleman, the attorney for the family, has stated that the incident was caused by anti-gay slurs that were uttered from crewmembers of the ship. He claims that there was a confrontation between Bernardo and the ship’s management, and that a crewmember was actually to blame for bumping Bernardo off the ledge. However, witnesses and crewmembers have declared that Bernardo actually jumped on his own accord, while others state it was part of a domestic dispute between him and his husband. In the meantime, the photos and videos of the event depict a hauntingly disturbing view of this horrific cruise ship death.
4. Honeymoon Death
In July 2005, Jennifer Hagel and George Smith were married in a lavish ceremony in Rhode Island before embarking on their honeymoon cruise on the Royal Caribbean ship, Brilliance of the Seas. The newlyweds reportedly had a great time while cruising off the coast of Turkey, but everything changed after one particular night of drinking. Although neither were known for drinking to excess, Hagel woke up alone after having passed out in the hallway of the ship. Her new husband was nowhere to be found, and Hagel was criticized for saying that he may have possibly fallen overboard while inebriated on the balcony. Hagel settled with the cruise-ship company for a highly publicized $1.1 million settlement, which also did not sit well with critics. Shortly after the incident, the mystery surrounding his death caused many to question whether or not Hagel was somehow involved. However, the public’s attention span is short, and they quickly moved on to the next salacious news headline.
3. Carnival Triumph “Poop Cruise”
In February 2013, Carnival’s Triumph cruise ship underwent an engine fire that caused a complete breakdown of services while the ship was out on the water and filled with passengers. The fire had knocked out all power on the ship, which left the ship adrift for four nightmarish days. During this time, the stories from the passengers were more like a cruise ship from hell than a paradise vacation. There was no air conditioning, hardly any lights, no water, no food, and no working toilets. The toilets had backed up, raw sewage was sloshing around on the deck, and the ship had to be ultimately towed to Mobile, Alabama. The horror stories from guests and the photos that emerged regarding the nightmare stay on the water, caused many to refer to the Triumph as the “Poop Cruise.” After the event, a number of lawsuits were filed for passengers claiming they were “mentally injured.”
2. Missing Disney Cruise Worker
In March 2011, Rebecca Coriam was working as a crewmember aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Her family reportedly became worried after failing to hear from her, and then a Disney official called to let them know that she was missing. The details surrounding her disappearance have called a number of factors into question, including a surveillance video the night of her disappearance where she appeared to be having a distressful conversation. One crewmember made a report saying that Coriam went overboard due to the rough seas and the crew deck that has a low retaining wall. Some have speculated that she was involved in a love triangle dilemma, others have said she may have committed suicide, and others believe that she truly did go overboard. Many have criticized the way the company handled the disappearance, and they wound up settling out of court with the family for an undisclosed amount in 2015. Coriam’s body has never been found, and the investigation continues in her disappearance.
1. Costa Concordia Shipwreck
On January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia was a luxury cruise ship that was enroute to the Mediterranean Sea. The ship was holding 4,252 people when it took off from Lazio, Italy, before straying from the planned route at the Isola del Giglio. When the ship drew closer to the island, the hull struck an underwater rock formation that ripped a 70 meter gash into the ship. The boulder hit with such force that it remained embedded into the steel of the hull, and caused the ship to capsize. The evacuation took six hours, and 32 people ultimately died. The captain, Captain Schettino, was charged with manslaughter for his role in the shipwreck, including the abandonment of incapacitated passengers. During a ceremony to commemorate the first anniversary of the shipwreck, a bronze plaque was unveiled with the names of the victims engraved at the Giglio’s jetty. The relatives of the deceased were able to throw flowers into the waters, and see their loved ones names engraved on the plaque.