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Man Overboard and Everything Else Over the Side

During my first year at sea aboard Oriana, we had one or two missing person routines, most ended happily with the person being found.

However, on one very sad occasion, we were mustered to search the Goanese crew quarters for a young Goanese steward who had failed to show up for duty and his fellow workmates had been unable to locate. I was on search duty with a deck officer, l cannot remember which one, either by name or by rank. We were tasked to visit the crew cabin where this young guy was billeted on G deck. I was pretty unfamiliar with this area of the ship, only having once been down there on crew cabin inspections.

Oriana G deck Forward Crew Cabins

The cabin in question was two beath as most of them were. We had to search the cabin for any clues as to where the guy might be.

The Goanese crew on P&O Ships were mostly Christian. Following the Portuguese Conquest of Goa in 1510 and the subsequent rule by Portugal, Goa's indigenous population underwent a large-scale conversion to Roman Catholicism. This was started by the female population that married Portuguese men and gradually spread through the country

The Hindu population is mostly descended from immigrants from other states of India.

The Country of Goa compared to India

(Goa the red spot)

In many of the Goan crew cabins would be a small shrine as was the case in the cabin we visited that morning. The news was not good, we found a note in the cabin written by this tormented young guy. I cannot remember all the text but one line that stuck in me was "Tonight, l am going over the wall”

When we stumbled upon the note, several hours had already passed since this melancholic young individual had taken his own life. This incident left an enduring mark on my consciousness for many years to come.

Incidents of man overboard from cruise ships are relatively rare these days. On average about 21 incidents a year, This may sound a lot but when you consider that prior to COVID. 28 million passengers a year enjoy cruising, so less than 1 in a million is lost overboard. Of this number around 25% who have fallen overboard have been found and survived.

It is pretty hard to fall off a modern cruise ship, with lots of safety measures in place including CCTV all around the ship. One would imagine that children might be suspectable, but this is not the case, men are statistically more likely than women to fall over the side. This of course could be due to the

This of course could be due to the fact that men traditionally work at sea.

Alcohol and recklessness often contribute to these accidents. The balcony railings are designed with considerable height, making accidental falls highly improbable. However, instances have arisen when passengers attempted to climb from one balcony to another, leading to incidents. In these cases, the influence of alcohol might have exacerbated the situation.

There are a few examples where unexplained accidents have happened such as a lady who fell off the Pacific Dawn in 2018. She had reportedly gone onto her balcony to be sick due to the bad weather that the ship was experiencing when she fell overboard.

P&O Pacific Dawn Now sails as Ambassador Ambience

Originally constructed for Princess Cruises, the Pacific Dawn embarked on her maiden voyage in 1991 under the name Regal Princess. Subsequently, she underwent a transition to P&O Australia and received the new moniker, Pacific Dawn. In 2020, a noteworthy transformation occurred as Pacific Dawn was acquired by Ocean Builders Central and rechristened Satoshi, a nod to the presumed founder of Bitcoin.

Initially, a visionary endeavor was envisioned wherein the ship would find its anchorage off the Gulf of Panama, adjacent to the coastline, and serve as a floating community accommodating around 2,020 residents. Regrettably, these plans dissolved, leading to speculations that the ship might meet its end at the scrapyard.

However, fate took an unexpected turn, and the ship's journey took an alternative course. Re-emerging from the ashes of uncertainty, she has now resurfaced with a renewed identity as the Ambience, proudly sailing under the banner of the Ambassador Cruise line.


Typically, the emergency announcement employed to alert the ship's crew of the situation at hand. Comprehensive training equips all crew members with the necessary actions to take upon hearing such notifications.

Cruise ship personnel frequently engage in man-overboard drills, often employing dummy figures to replicate a human form. Prior communication to passengers is usually provided by the Ship’s Bridge before conducting such drills, as witnessing a simulated figure descend in front of their balcony could scare the S**T out of you.

On hearing the announcement markers are deposited on the waves to mark the spot, it can take up to a mile turn the ship around and come to a stop.

A maneuver often employed is the "Williamson Turn" a recognized maneuverthe used to reverse the course of a ship and return to a point to recover a person who has fallen overboard. It's a technique used in search and rescue operations to retrace the ship's path to locate the person in the water

The Williamson Turn

Recently on Azamara Quest, l had an interesting conversation with Kamilla – Queen of Housekeeping, not the other Camilla with a C. As head of housekeeping, we got to discussing how procedures had changed since my time at sea in the 1970s to the cruise industry today.

Kamilla Marta

Head Housekeeper

Azamara Onward

Kamilla was deeply shocked when I informed her about the ship's practice of disposing of nearly all its waste overboard. In the present era of ocean travel, discarding anything over the ship's side is strictly prohibited, though the discharge of food waste, grey and black water waste into the sea is not illegal. Human sewage undergoes treatment in dedicated plants and is then released into the sea as black water. For instance, a large cruise ship accommodating over six thousand passengers and 2000 crew members could discharge approximately 210,000 gallons of human sewage into the ocean during a week-long voyage. This sewage encompasses waste from both the ship's toilets and healthcare facilities.

In the 1970s, the number of passengers taking cruises was comparably modest, and while plastic use was lower, bottles and cans often ended up on the seabed. Aluminium cans, taking around 200 years to fully decompose, and glass bottles, among the most enduring marine debris with a decomposition rate of approximately 1 million years, contributed to the growing concern.

Strides have been made to curb plastic waste. In 2019, Carnival Corporation and its Princess subsidiary faced a criminal penalty of $20 million for environmental transgressions, including the improper disposal of plastic waste into the ocean.

Piss Pots in the Ocean

Extract Taken from

Skinned Out - My time at sea and jumping ship in New Zealand

by Philip Saul

I went on to tell Kamilla the story about the disappearing crockery onboard “Oriana” at the time I was catering assistant purser, one of my jobs was to check that the giant dishwashers were reaching the correct temperature to sterilize the crockery and cutlery. It was always a nightmare, especially when the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) was due aboard for a health inspection.

Inspections aside it was noticed that a large number of dinner plates were disappearing, and new stock was constantly being broken out of the stores. Although this often happened in very rough weather when breakages were high, no such weather had been encountered.

SS Oriana - Blue shows Galley Port Holes and Yellow shows the Gunport door where galley waste was thrown in the sea at night.

It was discovered that one of the dishwashers was playing up and the output of plates through the other machine had to be increased it keep up the supply of clean sterile plates. I had been tasked with keeping an eye on the operation, only to discover that the plateman, not the best job at any time was actually throwing dirty plates through the open porthole into the ocean to reduce the pile up of washing up.

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The picture of Oriana is mine, taken as she was sailing from Southampton on 20 May 1978. It has been used here without my permission.

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John Martin
John Martin
27 ago 2023

Ref 'Direct Overboard......'. Nearly all the ships I sailed in late 60's early 70's had direct overboard discharges of both black and grey water. London Lightermen would put a complaint in if the ship was light and a toilet flush landed a turd onto the deck of their barge. KGV provided toilets ashore..but these were abysmal affairs because they weren't maintained well. One time in Halifax, NS, grey water scuppers froze over and waste water would back up. Not much fun cooking in the galley wearing wellies as such water swilled around the deck as the galley boy was set to bailing it into old oil drums! On 'Ocean Pearl' the Purser's cabin was along the alleyway from the …

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Tim Dick
Tim Dick
26 ago 2023

On my four line voyages on Oriana (1), Canberra (2), and Orsova (1) in the 1960s, I can recall two MOBs. One went O/B at night and was not discovered until the cabin steward failed to find the passenger and an exhaustive search of the ship was done. The other was recovered in the manner you describe. Line voyage passengers were very different than cruise pax. Often, they were leaving their known world behind permanently for another largely unknown continent. Different times... Thanks for your always interesting column...

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Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
26 ago 2023
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Also on line voyages quite a number of oldere passengers would pass away and were buried at sea.

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