Broward County

Near-drowning on Royal Caribbean cruise raises concerns about lack of lifeguards

FILE--Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas arrives in Port Everglades in 2009.
FILE--Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas arrives in Port Everglades in 2009.

Nearly seven months after a 6-year-old boy nearly lost his life after being found at the bottom of a pool on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, another young child is fighting for survival after a similar incident Saturday — this time in a wave pool aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.

The 4-year-old boy, who was in critical condition Sunday at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, wandered away from his family, vacationing from Italy. The ship had just left Port Everglades on Saturday afternoon when he “was swept away” by the wave pool and under water for nearly six minutes before another passenger spotted him, according to Mike Jachles, spokesman for Broward Fire-Rescue.

“The mother frantically searched for her child but was unable to see him enter a wave pool,” Jachles wrote in a news release issued Sunday. “This appears to have been an accident.”

The Broward Sheriff’s Office identified the child as Ascanio Azzia.

And while it was likely an accident, Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker said Sunday that drowning incidents aboard ships are not uncommon and that they could be avoided if ships employed lifeguards.

“This is a floating city, and yet it doesn’t have a single lifeguard,” he said. “It’s irresponsible.”

Royal Caribbean representative Cynthia Martinez said in an email that while the company does not hire lifeguards, it does have warning signs stationed at its pools.

“Signs are always posted that warn passengers to swim at their own risk, similar to what you’d see at many hotels,” she said.

Oasis of the Seas, which sails weekly from Port Everglades, has 16 decks and a capacity of 5,400 guests.

The ship, which was headed out on a seven-night cruise to Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Cozumel, Mexico, had been at sea only about an hour when “the 4-year-old wandered away from his mother on the 15th deck of the ship,” Jachles said.

The ship has four main pool areas on deck 15, including a children’s water park that has a wading pool, an infant and toddler pool, and the wave pool, according to Royal Caribbean International.

While the mother searched for her child, a passenger on the deck alerted a man in the pool to the boy. The man got the child out of the water and handed him over to people on the deck, who began CPR. The ship’s medical staff then took over.

“The ship’s infirmary is very well equipped to handle a critical situation,” Jachles said.

Martinez added in her statement: “The guest was initially treated by the ship’s medical team but required additional medical attention. Therefore, the ship altered its course and sailed back toward Port Everglades.”

Jachles said crews were waiting at the port for the child. Meanwhile, the medical staff was able to restore the child’s pulse and blood pressure.

When the boy arrived, he was taken to Chris Evert, the children’s hospital at Broward Medical Health Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Carthy Thomas.

Saturday’s near-drowning is one of several recent similar cases on cruises.

In May, a 6-year-old British boy suffered a brain injury after he was found at the bottom of a pool on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Sea. The cruise was on a seven-night western European voyage and had to return to port so the child could be met by a rescue helicopter.

And in February 2014, tragedy struck on the Norwegian Breakaway, a ship in the NCL fleet, when two small children were found in a swimming pool. A 4-year-old boy died, and his 6-year-old brother was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition.

In March 2013, a 4-year-old nearly drowned in a pool aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Fantasy ship. After that incident, Disney hired lifeguards for its cruise line pools.

Walker said that with so many distractions on ships, a cruise company should take some responsibility in protecting cruise passengers, particularly children.

“It takes both the parents and the cruise lines working together to make sure cruises are safe,” he said, adding that cost should not be a factor in the decision to employ lifeguards. “I think some of the decision-makers are looking at the bottom line, and that is not in everyone’s best interest.”