Cruise lines are slow to implement a Man Overboard Detection System for passengers
More than 200 people have fallen overboard
10:00 PM, Nov 21, 2013
9:35 AM, Nov 22, 2013
West Palm Beach, Fla. - When someone falls overboard from a cruise ship, every second can count. But in many cases, the ship doesn't turn around until it's too late and the passenger is never found.
There's technology that could help protect passengers on board, but the Contact 5 Investigators discovered you'll have trouble finding it on any ship coming in and out of US ports.
Last November, Jason Rappe took his first vacation getaway with his wife. It was a trip to the Caribbean that set sail out of Ft. Lauderdale. But he didn't return.
"We don't know what happened and we probably never will," said Jason's brother Eric Rappe.
"One day, he's just gone and people don't know that this happens, people don't realize that hundreds of people, hundreds of people disappear off of these cruise ships," said Rappe.
According to a monitoring group, since 2000 more than 200 passengers and crew members have gone overboard.
In Jason's case, surveillance video from Holland America's Eurodam captured the last few moments he was spotted on deck.
"He was at the bar with my sister in law, went out on the deck we believe to have a cigarette and never came back," said Eric Rappe.
The surveillance video later shows what appears to be Rappe going over the railing in the distance.
"Having the video does nothing at all until after the people are deceased, until after they're gone and it's too late," said Eric Rappe.
Maritime attorney Jim Walker has represented a dozen families who have had loved ones lost at sea.
"This happens more often than the cruise lines want you to know," said Walker. "Most people who go overboard, it just turns into a mystery."
As of now, many ships rely on video surveillance cameras and an operator watching those cameras to see if anyone has fallen overboard. That and passengers reporting it to crew members.
"Quite often it's an hour, two hours, three, four hours and then the opportunity to save a life is lost," said Walker.
Walker hoped a law passed in 2010 that called for cruise lines to use improved technology would save lives.
"Unfortunately, our Congress is slow to enact legislation and even slower at making sure the legislation is being enforced," said Walker.
Three years later and most ships still don't have an overboard detection system.
"They could've pulled him out of the water alive and instead we would be celebrating Thanksgiving with a smile instead of remembering it as the anniversary of my brother's disappearance." Said Eric Rappe.
None of the cruise corporations NewsChannel 5 contacted would talk to the Contact 5 Investigators on camera. The Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement, "..the industry continues to evaluate, test and conduct trials…" to figure out which one works best at sea.
But former Coast Guard Engineer Dave Leone said, the technology has been around for years. He developed it.
"This is instant, the moment it senses mass coming down it sets off the alarm instantly," said Leone.
Leone said each one of the overboard sensors he developed in 2010 is equipped with two lasers and sets off an alarm when someone falls into the water.
"I'm baffled by it," said Leone.
Next week mark's one year since Jason's disappearance.
"We're trying to create transparency," said Eric Rappe.
Eric Rappe has spent the week traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with dozens of lawmakers. He's hoping to revise the cruise laws. He's pushing for tougher wording and more protection for passengers.
Rappe said the language in the 2010 bill is too vague. It states cruise lines should install systems "to the extent that such technology is available" and that the "vessel shall integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard." That's part of what Rappe wants to change.