Newspapers in India are reporting that a young man working as a crew member on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship disappeared at sea. "Disappearances" at sea have been a regular occurrence on Royal Caribbean cruise ships over the past several years. The Times of India ("Did 'Missing' Ship Staffer End Life?") and the Hindustan Times ("Chef Commits Suicide in U.S., Mom Cries Foul") report that 27 year old Sandip Surwade went missing from Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship on February 18th in waters near Aruba. The Indian newspapers report that Mr. Surwade left India for work on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship in June of last year. On February 20th of this year, a representative from the local hiring agency in India came to Mr. Surwade's home in Bara Bungalow, Thane (north of Mumbai) and told his family that he was "missing." The hiring agency gave the family a telephone number and e-mail address of Dr. Fabio Acevedo, a supervisor in the medical crew department of the cruise line. Later, the cruise line told the family that their son committed suicide by jumping off the cruise ship around 9:00 p.m. on February 18th. The cruise line claims that Mr. Surwade left a letter which mentions the name of a female crew member with whom Mr. Surwade was allegedly involved, notwithstanding that he was reportedly engaged to be married in April. The letter purportedly states that his supervisors were troubling him and the woman due to their relationship. His family doubts the authenticity of the letter which, according to the newspaper articles, was written in chaste Hindi, a language with which he not particularly familiar. The family tells the newspapers that Royal Caribbean and the local agent for the cruise line has "stonewalled" them. The cruise line, however, states that there are closed circuit video tapes documenting the overboard and an eye witness who allegedly confirms that Mr. Surwade jumped from the ship. What is one to make of this mess? The family suspects foul play. If another crew member saw him jump, why did the cruise line first tell the family that their son was "missing" and then mention "suicide" later? Why did it take the cruise line 2 days to tell the family? Adding to the confusion is that the first public account of this incident is in a newspaper in Aruba, indicating that it was a passenger who committed suicide. Another newspaper in Aruba indicates that the cruise ship first reported the incident around 11:00 p.m. on February 18th which, if true, would be 2 hours after the overboard. Helicopters and a coast guard cutter from Aruba searched for 4 hours before ending the search with intentions of searching again at day light. An online website, "Cruise Bruise," speculates wildly that Mr. Surwade's disappearance may have been a drug-related murder. As we reported, Royal Caribbean crew members were smuggling large quantities of cocaine from South America aboard this cruise ship and there was a drug bust on the Grandeur of the Seas ship a few days later when the ship reached Montego Bay. However, there is no indication that Mr. Sandip was involved in drug smuggling or a victim of violence by drug smugglers, and at this point there is no connection between his disappearance and the drug bust as suggested by others. Nonetheless, we are suspicious of most anything this cruise line says. It suffers from a lack of transparency and the most unexplained disappearances and deaths of any cruise line. Did this crew member really commit suicide, which is the cruise line's favorite excuse? Consider how cruise lines use the "suicide defense" as a public relations tool – "Suicide" – One of the Cruise Lines' Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea. Also consider in the last year: January 6. 2011: Another Passenger Overboard From A Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship November 30, 2010: Death of a Young Jamaican Cook on the Mega Ship Oasis of the Seas May 24, 2010: Another Overboard From A Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship? – Oasis of the Seas May 5, 2010: Crew Member Overboard from Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas March 22, 2010: "Man Overboard" Reported on Radiance of the Seas January 4, 2010: Asleep At the Wheel: What Does the Delayed Reporting of Neha Chhikara's Disappearance from the Monarch of the Seas Reveal About Royal Caribbean's Shipboard Security? January 1, 2010: Wife of Royal Caribbean Crew Member on Monarch of the Seas Goes OverBoard Determining the cause of cruise ship overboards and mysterious deaths is the role of experts – the F.B.I., sometimes the U.S. Coast Guard, or other law enforcement authorities – not the cruise lines' PR departments. But this case raises a more profound question. Who investigates the circumstances of a crew member from India who goes overboard into waters around Aruba from a cruise ship flagged in the Bahamas and operated by a cruise line incorporated in Liberia? This is a no man's land, where there are no clear answers – only self-serving statements by a cruise line with a reputation of being less than honest. Photo credits: Photographs 24ORA.com Overboard drawing CruelKev2's blog regarding overboard cruise passengers
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