Child’s Near Drowning Brings Scrutiny to Cruise Ships’ Lack of Lifeguards
By Avon Alexander, Staff Writer
On June 30 an eight-year-old boy, who had fallen into a cruise ship’s onboard swimming pool, was found in critical condition, causing the ship to turn around and sail back to port.
The boy had been sailing aboard Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, a 4,905-passenger vessel which had left port from New Jersey at about 4:30 PM on the day of the incident. The boy was reportedly found in one of the ship’s pools later that evening, and at about 10:00 PM the company tweeted that it would be returning to port due to a medical emergency.
The victim was airlifted by U.S. Coast guard helicopter to a local hospital, and the 18-member party with which he was traveling was allowed to disembark from the ship in order to accompany him. After dropping off the party the ship reportedly continued on its weeklong itinerary to Bermuda and the Caribbean.
Drownings and near drownings are far too common aboard cruise ships, with several having occurred aboard Royal Caribbean ships over the past several years. In December 2015 another eight-year-old boy was found in the pool of a Royal Caribbean ship – the Liberty of the Seas. After being pulled from the water, the ship's medical personnel reportedly tried to resuscitate the boy for over an hour, but to no avail. The boy died of his injuries.
In January 2015 a four-year-old boy was found in an onboard pool on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. After being rescued the boy spent nearly a week in critical condition, but did ultimately survive the ordeal.
Royal Caribbean is not the only cruise line which has seen young passengers drown or nearly drown. In 2013 Chris Dastou was playing with his children in the pool on a Disney cruise when he felt something brush across his feet. When he tugged on the object he realized that it was a four-year-old child, who had been submerged in the water. After pulling the boy out, the victim - Chase Christopher Lykken - was given CPR. The boy was later reported to have survived the event, but he suffered severe injuries to his brain and will likely need assistance for the rest of his life as a result. Due to this incident, and others like it, Disney Cruise Lines decided to staff its onboard pools with lifeguards, a decision other major cruise lines have not followed.
The pool deck area on most cruise ships serve as a center of entertainment. Commonly the pool area hosts various bars, eating areas, and lounge areas, and can often be a rowdy place where adults go to drink, dance, and socialize. This intersection of adults partying and children playing in and near the water can create a unique hazard for children, and a unique difficulty for parents attempting to supervise their kids.
Due to the most recent incident, many travelers and industry experts are calling for greater accountability on the part of major cruise lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, as it relates to staffing pools areas with lifeguards. The cruise lines contend that it is the parents’ responsibilities to keep an eye on their children, and cite the fact that they post signage near the pools notifying travelers that there is no lifeguard on duty. But recent events show that such a policy is, at its core, insufficient to protect cruise companies’ most vulnerable customers.