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During a Thanksgiving cruise to Mexico, Sherry Boleen got up early to watch the sunrise with her family. When she arrived at her siblings’ cabin on Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Valor around 6 a.m., her stepsister reported that their brother, James Michael Grimes, had never returned to the room.
After searching the ship for him without success, she notified the cruise line, which launched an hours-long search that resulted in the US Coast Guard rescuing 29-year-old Grimes from the water later that day around 8:30 p.m. after he had gone overboard.
James Michael Grimes was stranded at sea for about 20 hours.
While the incident ended with his safe return to shore, it raised concerns about cruise ship overboard detection systems, a new technology that aims to reduce response time and alert the crew as soon as someone falls overboard.
“During the search, another mariner saw Mr. Grimes in the ocean and contacted the USCG, and the rescue was carried out,” he explained. “We remain grateful for all of your efforts in bringing Mr. Grimes to safety.”
What are overboard detection systems on cruise ships?
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 requires passenger ships operating in the United States to implement security measures “To the extent that such technology is available, incorporate technology that can be used to capture images of passengers or detect passengers who have fallen overboard.
According to Brian Salerno, senior vice president of global maritime policy at Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s leading trade group, cruise lines were given an option because there were no available products that could reliably detect passengers going overboard when the law was passed.
“The issue was fine-tuning the technology so that you didn’t get false alarms every time a seagull flew by the ship,” he explained. “It’s just human nature; if you have alarms going off all the time, they lose importance.”
Several companies have worked to develop more dependable technology in the years since, and CLIA and its member lines collaborated with the International Organization for Standardization to develop a standard for them.
According to Salerno, the standard was finalised around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, which slowed the process, but some ships have adopted the detection systems.
The Carnival Valor, according to Boleen, had camera footage from the bar where her brother was last seen, but it did not have cameras everywhere because it was an older ship.
According to Lupoli, cameras “may not have 100% visibility” in certain areas of ships. “We do know that he left a bar on Deck 3 and that his clothes and wallet were later discovered on Deck 6,” he explained.
In addition to security cameras, all ships have “safety barriers that are regulated by US Coast Guard standards and prevent a guest from falling off,” according to Lupoli.
What is the operation of overboard detection systems?
MARSS’ MOBtronic system is one of those responsible for the cruise system’s development.
According to CEO Johannes Pinl, the product, which uses thermal cameras and micro radars to detect when someone has gone overboard and can alert crew members, is installed on “quite a few” vessels, including one cruise line’s entire fleet, though he could not name specific lines.
He stated that he anticipates the system receiving ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification in the first half of 2023.
According to Salerno, certification will give cruise lines more confidence in investing in overboard detection technology. MOBtronic, on the other hand, starts around $200,000, according to Pinl. Depending on the size and design of the ship, four to twelve sensor stations are typically mounted on its exterior.