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A Man Fell From a Cruise Ship. And Survived.


The Carnival Valor had been at sea for less than a day when calls got here over the loudspeaker asking a certain passenger to please report back to customer support.

The person, a 28-year-old American citizen, had been reported missing by his family that morning.

It was Thanksgiving, and the Valor, a 3,756-passenger cruise ship that had left Latest Orleans the day before, was heading toward Cozumel, Mexico.

Crew members soon began searching passengers’ cabins, said Shant’a Miller White, who was traveling together with her husband and family. One worker entered her cousin’s cabin and said, “We just must be certain the whole lot is OK.”

“We didn’t know what was happening,” Ms. White, 48, recalled. Then, at dinner, got here one other announcement: The ship needed to vary course to execute a search and rescue operation.

Ms. White pictured the unknown passenger alone within the water and felt sick to her stomach.

“Did they fall to the underside? Did the sharks get them?” Ms. White recalled pondering. She began to wish.

The passenger, in response to the Coast Guard, turned out to be James Grimes, 28, who had been traveling together with his parents and siblings on the five-day cruise. His family had last seen him the night before, around 11 p.m.

But by 10:45 on Thanksgiving morning, when there was no sign of him, the family notified the crew, the Coast Guard said.

At 8:10 p.m., greater than nine hours after his family reported him missing, a passing tanker spotted the person near the mouth of the Mississippi River and alerted the Coast Guard.

Rescuers found Mr. Grimes struggling within the water, waving frantically and attempting to keep his head above the surface.

When the crew of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter lifted him out, he was in shock, had mild hypothermia and was extremely dehydrated, said Lt. Seth Gross, who managed the search and rescue operation for the Coast Guard. But he was alive and in stable condition.

Mr. Grimes, whose family described him as an exceptional swimmer, had treaded in 65- to 70-degree water for hours, withstanding rain, 20-knot winds and three- to five-foot waves within the Gulf of Mexico, where bull sharks and blacktip sharks are common, Coast Guard officials said.

“This case is definitely extraordinary,” Lieutenant Gross said. “The survival instinct, the need to survive is just crazy.”

Falling from a ship into an enormous sea could also be a cruise passenger’s worst nightmare. While the probabilities of going overboard are exceedingly distant, in response to statistics from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the consequence is generally tragic.

In 2019, 25 people fell overboard, and only nine of them were rescued, in response to CLIA.

In February, a lady aboard the Carnival Valor jumped off the tenth deck of the ship while fleeing security officers who were attempting to detain her after she had scuffled with them. Her body was never found.

In December 2016, a 22-year-old man fell off the twelfth deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after an evening of heavy drinking. His parents sued the cruise line in federal court in Florida, but a jury decided in favor of Royal Caribbean.

Alcohol is a consider at the very least 11 percent of falls from cruise ships, which frequently offer all-inclusive drink packages that encourage drinking onboard, said Ross Klein, a professor of social work at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who researches cruise safety.

“Cruises are viewed as idyllic, secure and secure, and in fact those views are reinforced by promoting and public statements,” he said. But the general public should concentrate on the risks of happening a cruise, which include being pushed overboard, going overboard and being tempted to leap overboard, he said.

By law, railings must be 42 inches tall, Professor Klein said. There have been efforts to make the railings taller by about one other foot, he said, after Congress began considering laws to tighten security on ships in 2005. But in 2010, when Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, the railing height requirements were set at the present standard, he said.

The railing height is designed to maintain passengers secure along ship promenades, said Brian Salerno, the senior vp for Maritime policy at CLIA.

“The overwhelming majority of cases are either reckless behavior or some type of intentional act,” Mr. Salerno said. “People don’t just inadvertently fall over the side of a ship.”

Professor Klein said cruise ships could limit the risks of passengers falling overboard in the event that they limited alcohol consumption, increased railing heights and installed technology that senses when a heavy object has fallen from the ship.

The 2010 law directed cruise ships to start developing and installing such technology, Mr. Salerno said.

It took years to create a video-surveillance system that may be sensitive enough to detect an individual falling overboard and alarm a ship’s crew but that wouldn’t be triggered by other objects, like a sea gull flying by, he said. Some ships have already begun installing such systems, Mr. Salerno said.

Bartenders on cruises are also trained to observe for excessive drinking, said Robert Kritzman, a partner at Clyde & Co., a world law firm in Miami, who advises cruise corporations.

“The final policy is similar as anywhere else: Once any individual becomes excessively intoxicated, you stop serving,” he said.

Carnival Corp. said the “only technique to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the security barriers.”

“Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas which might be regulated by U.S. Coast Guard standards that prevent a guest from falling off,” the corporate said in an announcement that thanked the Coast Guard and the mariner who found Mr. Grimes. “Guests should never ever climb up on the rails.”

A spokesman didn’t reply to follow up questions on the incident or Carnival’s safety protocols.

Cruise ships have clear protocols for what to do when an individual goes overboard, Mr. Kritzman said.

Once the crew members learn that an individual has gone overboard, they immediately inform the Coast Guard, stop the ship and switch around to assist find the missing passenger. Often, smaller, fast boats are deployed from the ship to look for the person, Mr. Kritzman said.

The circumstances across the recent fall from the Carnival Valor, including the precise time that Mr. Grimes went overboard, remain unknown. The Coast Guard said it was investigating the incident.

Lieutenant Gross said that after the Coast Guard learned in regards to the missing passenger, it launched a 45-foot patrol boat, a helicopter and a tracker plane to look for him. The Coast Guard arrange a search area of greater than 7,000 square nautical miles, roughly the dimensions of Massachusetts, he said, and immediately alerted any mariners across the Gulf of Mexico to search for the person.

The Crinis, a bulk carrier, spotted Mr. Grimes about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, a channel on the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Lt. Gross said he called the person’s mother and stepfather to inform them he had been found.

When he told them their son was stable and being treated at a hospital in Latest Orleans, he heard them cheer and cry.

Ms. White, who lives in Hampton, Va., and runs an anti-bullying organization, said she was flooded with relief when the ship announced that Mr. Grimes had been found alive.

“That was nothing but God that he survived,” she said.

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