In times of crisis, the cruise industry bands together as if its members were blood relatives rather than fierce competitors. There's a good reason for that: if they pointed a finger when things went awry, cruise lines know they'd likely sink together.
That's why straight answers are hard to come by this week, after the drowning death of a 6-year-old boy in a pool aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Victory.
On the industry's larger ships there can be 2,000-plus ship employees onboard, but not one will be assigned to keep an eagle eye out for problems at a pool. The industry does not employ lifeguards, and it is quick to point out that neither do the vast majority of land-based resorts.
Instead, the lines depend on a self-policing policy: Typically, children under 13 must be supervised by an adult in the pool areas. There are signs posted, alerting parents to the fact there are no lifeguards.
In the case of Carnival Victory, the drowning happened as the ship was returning to Miami at the close of a four-day Caribbean cruise. The victim's family was poolside; his brother was in the pool. But this child's difficulty in the water went unseen until it was too late.
“We do not have lifeguards on duty at our pools. As with many land-based hotels and resorts with swimming pools, cruise ships provide conspicuous signage to alert passengers that a lifeguard is not on duty. Parental supervision is required for children under 13. In this case, there was a parent present at the time of the incident,” Carnival public relations representative Joyce Oliva said.
“Carnival extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family during this very difficult time. The company’s CareTeam is providing assistance and support,” she added.
Cruise Lines International Association, the marketing and regulatory arm of the industry, had little to say. This is the group that created the Cruise Passenger's Bill of Rights earlier this year.
David Peikin, its director of public affairs, repeated Carnival's statement about “conspicuous signage” that alerts passengers to the absence of lifeguards.
“In the event of an incident, oceangoing cruise ships have experienced physicians and nurses that are able to provide emergency medical treatment and care for passengers as needed,” he said in an email, skirting around the fact that this passenger died.
Peikin declined to answer the question: why are there no lifeguards? And competing lines have little to say, either.
Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate communications for Royal Caribbean International Limited, the parent company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, extended the company's heartfelt condolences to the family of the boy who died aboard Carnival Victory.
“Royal Caribbean does not have lifeguards by our pools, and [has] signs to notify guests of this fact. We strongly recommend that children not be in the pool area unsupervised,” she said.
Whether Carnival Cruise Lines will be held liable in the death of this Central Florida youngster remains to be seen. But the tragedy, so far, does not appear to indicate there will be any change in the no-lifeguard policy.