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

Maritime law also requires that all crimes aboard cruise ships to be reported to the country where the ship is flagged -- Greece, Panama and the Bahamas being the three most common flag states. In the United States, cruise lines have an agreement with the FBI and the Coast Guard to report crimes in U.S. waters or involving U.S. citizens.

Other countries, Bald said, have their own laws regarding crimes aboard cruise ships.

Former cruise ship employee Brian David Bruns, who wrote "Cruise Confidential" based on his experience as a member of the Carnival staff, said there are far fewer accidents on cruise ships than people would believe.

"But boy, it makes a great story," he said.

Bruns said he was working the midnight buffet in 2003 when a passenger went overboard near the Gulf Coast. Rumors, he said, immediately began swirling around the ship as it began circling back toward where the woman was last seen.

Rescue boats were let out, but the woman's body wasn't recovered until it washed up on shore sometime later. Bruns said he believed the woman committed suicide.

Bruns said it's easy to sympathize with the family of the person who went overboard and blame the cruise line, but in reality, "there's only so much defense you can set up to prevent people from going over rails."

Ward agreed. He sees room for improvement from both passengers and the cruise industry, though maybe more for the passengers.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "And I think the industry could do a little bit more, particularly when it's related to safety."

Cruise ships should continue to install more cameras, he said. As far as increasing response time, Ward said ship searches are now immediate. If someone is known to go overboard, rescue procedures are started immediately, though it can take several nautical miles to get a ship completely stopped, and 360-degree turns need to be made gradually so as to not cause the ship to list in the water.

Bartenders, he said, could also be more aware of their customers' intake.

On the flip side, Ward said, passengers "just need to drink sensibly."

"They need to realize that ships are moving objects," he said, "and railings are there for a purpose."

ABC News is a division of the Walt Disney Co., which owns and operates the Florida-based Disney Cruise Line.

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