Cruise giants Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Carnival Australia have no plans to follow Disney and Princess Cruises (Asia only) in employing lifeguards to monitor onboard pools.

Not for the first time, there is a spirited discussion taking place in the cruise community about lifeguards. The latest debate follows a June 30 incident aboard RCI’s Anthem of the Seas. Eight-year-old Prince Adepoju from Maryland in the US was taken to the Staten Island University Hospital in a critical condition after nearly drowning in one of the ship’s pools. He later died.

Anthem of the Seas had launched from Bayonne, New Jersey, earlier on June 30, heading for the Caribbean. The ship was off the coast of Queens, New York, when Prince Adepoju was found. According to reports he was unresponsive and was treated by the ship’s medical team. The ship then altered course and headed back to Bayonne. The boy was airlifted to Staten Island University Hospital, an NYPD spokesman said.

A Carnival Australia spokesman told Cruise Passenger: “The safety and wellbeing of our guests are always our first priority. We constantly review onboard operations to further enhance passenger safety and comfort across all areas including the operation of onboard swimming pools with safety advice for guests and crew vigilance integral to this approach. With Princess Cruises’ expansion into China, a decision was made to have swimming pool monitors in Asia where widespread proficiency in swimming is far less likely than in other regions.”

An RCI representative said: “Royal Caribbean does not have lifeguards by our pools. Signs are always posted that warn passengers to swim at their own risk, similar to what is found at many hotels. We have provided our fleet with children’s lifejackets available at the pool area as an added safety precaution. We still strongly recommend that children not be in the pool area unsupervised.”

The P&O guide to pool safety states: “On P&O Cruises any child using the pools must be supervised by a parent/ guardian at all times”.

In March 2013 a four-year-old boy was found in a critical condition in a pool aboard Disney’s Disney Fantasy. Disney has since employed lifeguards on its ships.

In January, 2015, a four-year-old nearly drowned aboard RCI’s Oasis of the Seas. The boy had wandered from his mother and was trapped in a wave pool for about six minutes before being noticed by a passenger.

The topic of lifeguards monitoring ship pools elicits strong responses from cruisers.

Those in favour believe cruise ships that attract families with children owe it to passengers to have lifeguards on duty. They say it’s not always possible to get a poolside seat, and that it only takes a moment of distraction for a child to disappear on a hectic pool deck. Those against say parents are responsible for their children, and that having lifeguards may create a false sense of security and encourage adults to zone out. They point out that hotel and resort pools generally don’t employ lifeguards.
Cruise Passenger asked readers to comment on the issue and received more than 120 responses on Facebook. The vast majority backed the cruise lines.

“The ships have plenty of supervised activities for kids when the parents want time out,” wrote Sandi Samain-Daley. “On our recent cruise I was amazed that, despite signs everywhere stating that parents need to supervise their kids in the pools, so many of them just let their kids run wild and left them to their own devices in the pools. Parents need to either book their kids into kids club or look after their children properly.”

Paul Thomas wrote: “Lifeguards are not baby sitters or child minders. They are there as trained first responders.”
“The boy’s parents could have been sitting beside the pool, accidents like this can happen quite suddenly and it only takes a few moments to turn into a disaster,” wrote Diane Lewis.

Carole Dupree Bensley wrote: “I agree that parents should be watching but I also see the need for lifeguards.”
In 2014 the president of the United States Lifesaving Association,

B. Chris Brewster, argued in favour of lifeguards on cruise ships: “Cruise ships are essentially floating amusement parks, and they should be providing reasonable protections with respect to the attractions they offer.”

Maurice Lynch, chairman of the New South Wales branch of the Maritime Law Association, said ships were governed by the laws of the country in which the ship is registered. Anthem of the Seas is registered in The Bahamas, and – as with many other countries and territories – there are no national regulations to force cruise lines to fence pools or man them with lifeguards.

Two months ago – following the drowning last May of a 10-year-old US girl aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Gem – Miami maritime attorney Michael Winkleman filed a lawsuit against the cruise line on behalf of the child’s mother.

Princess Cruises is currently advertising for “Pool Supervisor (Lifeguard)” positions on Asian cruises. The employee is charged with “monitoring the pool areas” and “keeping pool areas clean”, and “efficiently and calmly reacts to incidents where any individual may be in need of minor first aid or lifesaving actions (prior to the medical team’s attendance)”.