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Three Passengers Fall Off Carnival Cruise Ships In Three Weeks

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Two cruise shipsLast night a 50-year-old Alabama woman disappeared from a Carnival cruise ship, making her the second person in two days—and the third in three weeks—to fall off ships operated by Carnival Cruise Lines.

Michelle Vilborg fell overboard the Carnival Holiday around 10:30 p.m. Monday while the ship was sailing about 75 miles south/southwest of Pensacola, Florida.

A crew member heard the splash and ordered a head count of all passengers and staff.

After it was determined that the woman was indeed missing, authorities were alerted and they immediately began searching for her. So far she has not been found.

A day earlier, 46-year-old Larry Miller fell off the Carnival Inspiration as it sailed into the harbor at Tampa, Florida. Miller was reportedly climbing or leaning over a railing to get a better view when he fell overboard. Luckily the Coast Guard was able to rescue Miller, who was found clinging to a buoy.

Three weeks ago, on May 24, Bruce O’Krepki of from Hammond, Louisiana, fell off the Carnival Fantasy in waters near Tampa, Florida. The 18-year-old was on a high school graduation cruise with his classmates when he disappeared. Despite an extensive search, he was never found.

The Carnival LibertyThough passengers and crew members do occasionally fall off cruise ships, the number is tiny compared to the total number of people who take cruises. Numbers are hard to come by since there is no central repository for such data, but experts estimate that about 116 people have fallen off ships in the last nine years, out of approximately 100 million who took cruises. Of those who went overboard about 20 were rescued, and the rest were never found.

There have been 12 incidents of people falling overboard so far in 2009, according to cruise expert Ross Klein. Alcohol is presumed to be the most common cause, though suicide and foul play may also be factors.

At least six of the 12 incidents this year have involved Carnival ships, but Carnival denies that its ships are somehow more dangerous that others. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said that since its ships’ railings are 44 inches high, a person could not simply fall during the normal course of activity.

Carnival ship in CuracaoThough he did not comment on the Vilborg case, which is still under investigation, Gulliksen said that both O’Krepki and Miller clearly went overboard “as a result of their own actions,” and neither alcohol nor foul play were involved.

Gulliksen added that all of Carnival’s 22 cruise ships have signage onboard advising guests to stay out of restricted areas, plus 10 to 15 uniformed security personnel (depending on the size of the vessel) who patrol all areas of the ship 24 hours a day.

Carnival also has the cruise industry’s first “Care Team,” a group of employees specially trained to respond and support family members in the instance of an overboard or any other emergency situation that might occur.

In his appearance this morning on The Early Show on CBS, Peter talked about other measures that are being taken in the industry and in Congress to make ships safer and more accountable.

Legislation pending in Congress will require cruise lines to track all crimes and accidents that happen onboard. At the moment many cruise companies (including Carnival) voluntarily offer such information, but it is not required. In general, when incidents occur in international waters, cruise lines are only legally required to report them where the ship is registered.

Many cruise lines are also installing an extensive network of security cameras to capture anything and everything that goes on around the ship. In fact a new 5,400-passenger ship, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of Seas, will have 2,000 cameras, including infrared ones that track movement on the sides of the ship.

Watch Peter’s Early Show clip:

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related links: USA Today, United Press Int’l, CNN, ABC News
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