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Cruise Ship Deaths – Annual Statistics, Causes and Real Examples

You may be wondering how many people die on cruise ships annually. It’s inevitable that with so many people taking a cruise, some will die onboard. The majority will die from natural causes but not all are as innocent.

In recent years there have been many incidents of accidents, suicides, and murders.

How Many People Die on Cruise Ships Each Year?

There are many sources which quote 200 as the number of cruise ship deaths each year. The real number is likely to be higher as not all cruise lines and countries share their death statistics. The majority of deaths that occur onboard cruise ships are from natural causes although some die in accidents, murders, suicides, or overdoses. 

In the article, we will look at common cruise ship death causes and some examples which made it to the mainstream media.

Cruise Ship Death Statistics

There are relatively few sources that provide accurate death statistics for cruise lines. Accidents, suicides, and murders are well reported but deaths from natural causes are often missed from the figures. The website records many of the deaths that happen on cruise ships including deaths of crew members.

There are approximately 30 million people who took a cruise in 2019. Assuming that each took a cruise for one week that means that there are around 500 thousand guests at sea at any one time.

200 deaths out of 30,000,000 yearly passengers equate to 1 in 150,000 guests. This means that there are around 3/4 deaths per week.  

Royal Princess

Cruise Ship Deaths – Murders

Although cruise ship murders are incredibly rare, they do happen. Murders are usually committed by a person that the victim knows and the majority of cruise ship murders involve arguments that escalate or a previous history of abuse.

For obvious reasons murders which happen on cruise ships are very rarely pre-planned.

It’s worth noting that guns are not allowed on cruise ships under any circumstances and as a result, most murders are either stabbings or involve pushing the victim into the ocean.

Tamara Loraine Tucker Murdered on Carnival Elation

Tamara Loraine Tucker was allegedly murdered by her ‘long term love’ onboard the Carnival Elation in 2018. The couple was taking a four-night cruise from Florida at the time.

An argument broke out just before midnight in their cabin on the 13th deck. Her partner Eric has admitted that he strangled her and pushed her over the balcony. She fell two decks down to deck 11 and died of blunt force trauma.

Eric was charged with murder in the second degree.

Tamara Loraine Tucker cruise murder
Photo: – source.

Kristy Manzanares Murdered on The Emerald Princess

In 2017 Kristy and Kenneth Manzanares were taking a cruise to Alaska onboard the Emerald Princess. Kristy was a 39-year-old mother of three and was traveling on the cruise with her husband and three teenage daughters.

Kenneth beat Kristy to death and attempted to throw her body overboard. He was caught by another person dragging her body out onto the balcony.  The murder took place in adjoining cabins on deck 9, cabins D726 and D728.

The video above shows news footage from the time of the incident. It was reported that other passengers heard Kristy’s screams and that the teenage girls suspected that their dad would do ‘something like this’.

Almarosa Tenorio Murdered on The Royal Princess

In 2018 Almarosa Terorio was cruising on the Royal Princess with her husband when she fell to her death. The couple was actually cruising in an inside cabin at the time but witnesses report seeing a man strangle her and then throw her overboard. The incident happened on the lido deck.

She fell down from deck 16 onto a lifeboat on deck 7 with such force that it actually broke the glass on the lifeboat. Many passengers report seeing blood and glass. The ship was held while the incident was investigated.

Darla J Mellinger Murdered on The Ryndam – Murder-Suicide

In 2015 Darla J Mellinger was murdered onboard Holland America’s Ryndam by her husband. They were taking a 14 night Caribbean cruise to celebrate the Easter holiday.

It’s reported that her husband John found a text from Darla to another man. He broke some glass in the cabin to make a weapon and stabbed Darla to death. After the murder, he hung himself in the bathroom.

Prior to the cruise, Darla had been to the hospital a stab wound to the chest which the pair had explained was caused by an accident.

Holland America Ryndam
Photo: Miyagawa

Recommended Watching: Cruise Ship Killers

If you’re interested in cruise ship murders I recommend you watch the series Cruise Ship Killers. The show has changed the names of the people involved but the murders are real. It’s a little dramatic, but I enjoyed watching it.

Cruise ship killers is available to watch on Amazon Prime.

If you don’t have Amazon Prime you can use this link to sign up for a 30 day free trial.
(It’s definitely possible to watch all episodes within the 30 days if you want to).

Note: When you watch the show you’ll probably be curious as to who each episode is based on, I have written a guide which covers that here: Cruise Ship Killers – The REAL Deaths Behind The Show (Episode Guide)

Cruise Ship Deaths – Suicides

Sadly there are a number of people who decide to end their lives on cruise ships, mostly by jumping from the ship. It’s not only passengers who do this but also sometimes crew too.

I was actually on board a cruise where a man went overboard. We heard an announcement in our cabin and our next port stop was canceled so that we could search for the missing man. A number of other cruise ships also came from close by to join the search. He was never found and was presumed dead.

What would happen if you fell overboard on a cruise? The following post details step by step the processes that are in place:

Crew Suicides and Coronavirus

In 2020 an increased number of crew members committed suicide during the coronavirus crisis. In may 2020,  5 crew members committed suicide on board cruise ships. Most jumped to their deaths and some hung themselves in cabin bathrooms.

Crew members at the time were unable to leave their cruise ships and were facing months at sea, sometimes quarantined to their cabins, with no real end in sight.

Norwegian Encore Mini Suite Balcony Cabin

Cruise Ship Deaths – Accidental Deaths at Sea

Accidents happen at sea in the same way that they happen on land. Cruise ships are incredibly safe and the safety of passengers and crew is the primary concern for all.

That said many accidents still happen onboard when guests break rules, enter restricted areas, or simply just have bad luck. Accidents don’t just happen at sea but also when guests are on land on excursions.

Common examples of accidental cruise ship deaths include:

  • Trips or Falls
  • Accidents in Port
  • Entering restricted areas
  • Climbing from a balcony to another balcony

Salvatore Anello – Royal Caribbean Accidental Death

One of the highest-profile and most heartbreaking accidental death stories to occur on a cruise in recent years is that of grandfather Salvatore Anello who dropped his 18-month-old granddaughter from a window on to the dock below. The accident happened on the Freedom of the Seas.

“I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window. I just wanted to knock on the glass with her as we did together so many times before. I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings,” he said. – source.

Salvatore pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. In the above video he explains what happened and how he is trying to rebuild his life for his family.

Larent Mercer – Royal Caribbean Accidental Death

In 2019 a 16-year-old boy died when he tried to climb across outdoor balconies after losing his room key. Sadly this isn’t an isolated incident with many other people also meeting the same fate.

Some passengers who have died in this way have done so because they were trying to climb from deck to deck or to show off to friends and fellow guests.

Harmony of The Seas was docked in Labadee, Haiti at the time and the boy fell to his death landing on the pier below.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t EVER try to climb on, or around, cruise ship balconies. Losing your room key isn’t a problem at all, lots of people do it, and if you do you just need to go to reception to get a new card issued to you.

Royal Caribbean Harmony Of The Seas Children
Harmony of The Seas Docked in Labadee

Despite all of the warnings some guests still do not respect the cruise lines rules and they try to do things like jump from the balconies. Guests who do such irresponsible things are usually banned from the cruise line for life, and from other cruise lines too. The video below shows one of these people.

No cruise line wants to have to recover a dead body or clean up the mess!

Cruise Ship Deaths – Swimming Pool Drownings

As with any swimming pool, there is always a risk of drowning. On some cruise lines, you will find lifeguards but this isn’t mandatory and not all cruise lines have them. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have recently added lifeguards but Princess cruises are one cruise line that doesn’t have lifeguards on duty.

There have been multiple drownings on Princess ships.

In 2014 a 29-year-old woman drowned on board the Sapphire Princess. A year later in 2015, an 8-year-old boy was found drowned also onboard Sapphire Princess.  In 2019 a man in his 30s was found drowned on board the Caribbean Princess.

Of course, Princess aren’t the only cruise line where this has happened:

In 2019 a 10-year-old boy drowned on a Genting cruise ship.

In 2015 an 8-year-old boy drowned onboard Liberty of the Seas.

In 2015 a 10-year-old girl drowned on board the Norwegian Gem.

There are many more examples.

Sapphire Princess Calypso Pool Deck 14 Post Refurbishment
Sapphire Princess Calypso Pool

Costa Concordia

In 2012 the Costa Concordia struck an underwater rock and capsized near Tuscany. The cruise ship was only eight years old and the captain on board was Francesco Schettino.

I’ve cruised with Costa since the event and many people still refuse to cruise with the cruise line because of this accident. In reality, it wasn’t the fault of Costa cruise line but that of a severely negligent captain.

Francesco Schettino

Francesco decided to change the route of the cruise ship which caused the accident. The ship sailed closer to land than she normally would and as a result, she overturned. 32 people lost their lives and captain Francesco was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

It’s a maritime tradition that the captain always goes down with his ship. Meaning that the captain should make sure that everybody else is off the ship before they disembark. Francesco didn’t do this and decided instead to save himself. He disobeyed orders to go back to the ship.

Now you go to the bow, you climb up the emergency ladder and coordinate the evacuation. You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers are there and the exact number of each category,” said officials to Francesco Schettino.

“What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue? Captain, this is an order, I am the one in charge now. You have declared abandoning ship,” he said, adding: “There are already bodies.” “How many?” Schettino says, prompting the cutting reply: “That is for you to tell me, what are you doing? Do you want to go home?” – source.

Costa Concordia On Side
Photo: Rvongher

It’s estimated that the disaster cost Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, around $2 billion dollars. To learn more about how the cruise industry overcame this disaster and other disasters similar to it, check out this video below:

Cruise Ship Deaths – Accidental Deaths in Port

As mentioned above some passengers do get injured, or die as a result of their activities when in port or on land. Cruise ship and organized excursions are usually very safe but it’s impossible to remove all risks from every activity.

Ovation of The Seas

One of the largest losses to life in recent years from an accidental death in port is when the Whakaari volcano in New Zealand erupted in 2019. Guests from Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of The Seas were visiting the island at the time.

At the time of the eruption, there were reportedly 47 people on the island and 19 people were killed, most on Royal Caribbean’s excursions. The victims included children as young as five.

Tourists on White Island
Tourists on White Island – Photo: Kimberley Collins

Cruise Ship Deaths – Natural Causes

The majority of people who die on cruise ships do because of natural causes. Common causes are strokes and heart attacks as these strike quickly with little warning. People don’t send to board cruises if they have ongoing serious medical problems that aren’t well managed.

Travel insurance can get very expensive if you have pre-existing medical conditions.

It is incredibly important that you have travel insurance for any cruise. Onboard medical expenses are very expensive and costs can quickly add up if passengers need to be airlifted off the ship. I’ve been on a couple of cruises where the ship has had to make extra called to drop off passengers who were unwell.

Never ever ever ever cruise without travel insurance! Even if you are just cruising to the Caribbean from the USA, you NEED insurance. Compare quotes (for free) here:

Bruce Campbell

In 2019 Bruce Campbell was playing bingo onboard the Carnival Sunshine when he suffered a stroke. He was originally sent to a hospital in Freeport, Bahamas but they didn’t have the medical facilities to treat him.

He was cruising with his wife at the time and they didn’t have the necessary funds to get him back to America. Amazingly an anonymous donor donated the $20,000 needed for Bruce to be flown back to the US for treatment. This highlights the importance of travel insurance mentioned above.

Sadly Bruce later passed away but he was able to donate his organs to save numerous other people’s lives.

The video above talks more about this story.

Peggy Bowman

Peggy Bowman died at the age of 89 on board a Cunard cruise. She took a world cruise annually and died shortly after visiting the port of Honolulu in Hawaii. Peggy had been cruising since the 80s and died of a heart attack on board.

What a way to go!

To learn more about the process of what happens in the situation where somebody dies on a cruise, including how the body is transported home and where it is stored, check out this post:

To Conclude:

Many people die each year on cruises although the exact number isn’t known. The majority die from natural causes or accidents but there are a few who are murdered or commit suicide. Death is inevitable with so many passengers cruising each year.

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.