When Cruise Vacations End Tragically, Who's to Blame?

Gary Bald is the senior vice president and chief global security officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises among other brands.

Bald, the former head of the FBI's national security branch, said Royal Caribbean has always had security cameras on its ships, though the company has greatly expanded the number of cameras in the last several years, in some cases by hundreds per ship.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, currently the largest cruise ship on the oceans with room for more than 3,600 passengers, has between 700 and 800 cameras, Bald said. And most are motion activated.

While not all cameras are monitored all the time, the cameras switch on when movement is detected and record the 30 seconds before the movement begins and the 30 seconds after the movement stops.

The length of time those files -- now digital instead of the old analog tapes -- are kept varies, Bald said. Tapes of a passenger going overboard are kept indefinitely, while images from an uneventful cruise may be eventually purged.

Like many other of the larger resort-type ships, Royal Caribbean's ships also carry smaller rescue vessels that can be sent out to search if someone is known to go overboard.

Carnival responded by e-mail to questions about its ships' security, saying personnel receive specialized training in preserving evidence that the FBI supervises.

"Additionally, all security personnel receive ongoing training at regular intervals," the e-mail said. "Recurring training includes updates on any new security procedures, as well as training in specialized areas such as terrorism, bomb detection, crisis and crowd management, first aid, firefighting and fire prevention."

Norwegian Cruise Lines declined to answer specific questions but released a statement, saying in part, "We have a number of safety and security measures in place, including a safety and environmental management system that is used by our ships that details specific procedures to take when an incident occurs."

What Happened to Merrian?

But even with improved security and training, accidents happen.

Ken Carver founded International Cruise Victims, an advocacy and support group for cruise crime and accident victims and their families, after his daughter Merrian Carver disappeared during an August 2004 cruise to Alaska aboard the Celebrity Mercury.

Carver, who at 72 has made ICV his new full-time job, said he got a phone call from Merrian's daughter saying her mother hadn't been returning phone calls. Unbeknown to the family -- Carver said his daughter was somewhat of a free spirit -- Merrian, 40, had booked the cruise and boarded on Aug. 27, as noted by credit card receipts and documents from Celebrity.

But cruise officials couldn't tell Carver whether his daughter had ever disembarked. And, he later learned, a cabin attendant reported to a ship supervisor that Merrian ceased using her room after the cruise's second night.

The supervisor never reported the attendant's findings.

"He was told to forget it and do his job," Carver said.

Merrian Carver was never heard from again. Carver said he's heard rumors over the years that his daughter was romantically involved with the supervisor who declined to report the cabin attendant's concerns, but said that would be "impossible to prove."

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