Messed Up Things That Actually Happened On Cruise Ships

In theory, cruise ships are supposed to offer sun, fun, and enough drinking to give you a coronary-inducing bill. Most of the time, they're a great way to spend your hard-earned vacation days, but sometimes, seriously messed up things happen on board. Some won't just ruin your trip, they'll ruin your chances of sleeping for the next year. At least.

Lots of cocaine smuggling

There's nothing wrong with trying to make a quick buck, and if you can combine that with a vacation, more power to you. But please, keep it legal. In 2016, three Canadians hailing from Quebec set off on a two-month luxury cruise, spending more than you did buying your last car. They had plenty of cash to spend on Instagram photos, and we know where it came from. When the cruise ship hit port in Australia, Border Protection was waiting with sniffer dogs at the ready. They'd been tracking the ship for a while, and found 209.4 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $22 million (via ABC News). That's enough to keep sailing for a long time.

It was the biggest pile of drugs Australian authorities had ever gotten off a cruise ship, which suggests it's happened before. One Canadian pleaded guilty, and the other two went to trial in August 2017 (via The Star). They could be facing life in a jail without many Instagram opportunities at all.

Sometimes, it's employees who are running the little side business. In 2017, CTV News Vancouver reported on three Princess Cruise employees arrested for smuggling cocaine into Canada, and told a tale deserving a Netflix series. They'd been party animals back in Central America and were recruited by the Colombian cartels to run drugs for them. Dear Netflix, you can have that idea for free.

Man kills woman for laughing

In 2017, CBS News reported on a bizarre death that happened on an Alaskan cruise. Kenneth and Kristy Manzanares were on an anniversary cruise when her body was found in a blood-covered cabin, alongside her equally blood-covered husband. When authorities asked what had happened. Kenneth's response was simply, "She would not stop laughing at me."

According to friends and family, there were absolutely no signs of anything wrong in the outwardly happy marriage, even in hindsight. They checked all the boxes: three kids, high school sweethearts, married for 20 years, and loved by friends, family, and neighbors alike. One neighbor even called them the "perfect American family." Juneau Empire reported on his August 2017 indictment for first-degree murder, and even though they've declined to release more details, that's grisly enough, isn't it?

Illegal dumping

Cruises are a great idea, until you start thinking about things like where all that food is stored, where the sewage goes, and the potential for illness. The environmental impact is another thing happy cruisers probably don't think twice about, but in 2016, Princess Cruise Lines was hit with a massive $40 million fine after one of its ships was busted venting oily waste directly into the ocean.

It had been happening since 2005, and to give you an idea of the sheer scale of this environmental atrocity, The Guardian said a single incident discharges around 4,227 gallons of mucky waste products.

The extent the line went to in order to cover their tracks is equal parts infuriating and brilliant. After fooling all the monitoring systems into thinking everything on board was totally cool, crews would use something they called a "magic pipe" to dump the pollution. According to the LA Times, the problem was discovered on one ship by a new-hire engineer who quit and reported the violations. Further investigation showed four Princess ships were guilty of similar offenses. Princess apologized, but not to the wildlife that was hurt most.

Captain abandons ship

If something unthinkable happens, it's the captain's responsibility to make sure all his passengers are off the ship safely, right? It's that whole "going down with the ship" thing. (The captain of the Titanic did it right, even though you've heard differently.) Captain Yiannis Avranas was apparently not in class the day they covered that responsibility in captaining school.

Way back in the good old days of 1991, The Baltimore Sun reported on what should have been a pretty straightforward sinking of the Greek luxury liner Oceanos. The ship sank off South Africa, and all passengers and crew were ultimately rescued. Among the first off were Captain Avranas and some of his fellow officers, leaving everyone else to spend the night on the storm-drenched, sinking ship.

One passenger said, "We were so angry with the ship's captain we wanted to stone him," and honestly, that's pretty understandable. While the captain later told the New York Times he had simply been coordinating the rescue from the safety of a helicopter, no one left behind was buying that. He'd tried to go back, he said, but everyone told him not to. Still on the ship and largely responsible for coordinating the rescue of hundreds of people were the cabin crew, a group of cooks, and Robin Boltman, who stepped up into command. He was the ship's comedian.

The SS Eastland capsizes

After hundreds of people died on the Titanic, the maritime community overhauled requirements for things like lifeboats. The Smithsonian says it was called the LaFollette Seaman's Act. Unfortunately, all that extra safety equipment was responsible for causing one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.

It happened on the SS Eastland, a Great Lakes cruise ship originally designed to carry 500 people and six lifeboats. After the change in legislation, that was raised to 11 lifeboats, 37 life rafts, and life jackets for each one of the 2,570 passengers that could be on board. If you were paying even the slightest bit of attention in physics class, you can probably guess how top-heavy the extra weight made the ship ... and what happened next.

On July 24, 1915, she was supposed to set sail with all that extra equipment and around 3,000 passengers. The Eastland was loaded with working-class families hoping to enjoy a rare afternoon of free time, young singles hoping to mingle, and a ton of kids. They started boarding at 7 a.m., and at 7:23 the Eastland rolled over. The Chicago Herald reported, "The surface of the river was black with struggling, crying, frightened, drowning humanity." Even though thousands joined in the rescue efforts, 844 people died, and most victims were under 25 years old. The last to be identified was 7-year-old Willie Novotny. He lay unclaimed for such a long time because his parents and 9-year-old sister had died alongside him.

Jose Sandoval Opazo

On December 27, 2016, passengers aboard the Carnival Ecstasy (pictured) saw what had to be a surreal sight. According to News Corp Australia, Matt Davis and his family were heading to dinner when they saw the closed doors of one of the ship's elevators suddenly drenched with a cascade of blood. Davis started filming, and caught the entire thing on his phone. You can find video, but we don't recommend it.

A 66-year-old electrician named Jose Sandoval Opazo had been doing some routine elevator maintenance when the elevator started to move and crushed him against the shaft walls. The Sun Sentinel reported one passenger, Shota Tanaka, was on another elevator when it stopped amid sounds of crunching metal. The doors opened partway, and blood started pouring over the entrance. There were no indications it was deliberate, and since the ship was in international waters at the time, the (U.S.) Occupational Safety and Health Administration declined to investigate. That's just more wrong, coming on the heels of all kinds of tragic.

The 'cruise liner from hell'

Would you go on a trip aboard something nicknamed the "cruise liner from hell"? That's what the Independent called the Achille Lauro after a hijacking and brutal murder.

The Achille Lauro already had a list of awful accidents under her belt — including fires, explosions, collisions, and more fires — when hundreds of happy, holidaying passengers boarded her en route to Israel's port Ashdod. (This was 1985, so it hadn't gone viral.) The ship was hijacked by four terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front, and Time pointed out that the family at the center of it all was the Klinghoffers. They were Americans on a cruise celebrating Marilyn Klinghoffer's 59th birthday with her and her wheelchair-bound husband, Leon. Leon was the man the terrorists chose to make an example of, shooting him then throwing his body and wheelchair overboard.

The ordeal continued. The killing polarized the rest of the world, even Palestinian sympathizers, against the terrorists. There's a whole bunch of stories told about what happened, why it happened, and what they really wanted, but we know no country would allow the ship to dock, and negotiations to free the passengers were eventually successful. Marilyn Klinghoffer would die from cancer the next year, and the Achille Lauro sank off the Somali coast after yet another fire, which was basically just a matter of time.

Amy Lynn Bradley's disappearance

Amy Lynn Bradley went missing off Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas (pictured) on March 24, 1998, and the mystery surrounding her disappearance — and what might have happened after — is still unsolved. According to her family (via Oxygen), they realized she was missing at 6 a.m. The previous night had been spent partying with the ship's band, and her father said he knew she returned to the cabin and was there around 5:30. They went on to say she'd been getting an odd amount of attention from the ship's crew, and the crew's refusal to keep the ship at sea until she was found made the family think she was targeted for sex slavery.

No one really knows what happened on board the ship, but some evidence has turned up that suggests Bradley's parents may have been right. In 1999, a Navy man came forward saying he'd seen a woman in a brothel who had claimed to be Amy Bradley. She'd asked him for help, saying she wasn't allowed to leave. And in 2005, a group fighting for the victims of sex traffickers found what appeared to be a grainy picture of Bradley, posing on a bed in her underwear.

CNN reported the Bradley family was completely stonewalled in its inquiries into Amy's disappearance. The family and the FBI were continuing to offer reward money for information on her whereabouts as late as early 2017.

Larry and Christy Hammer

You'd like to think a cruise line would be held accountable if something terrible happened to you or your loved ones, especially if it was definitely their fault. The Hammer family found out the hard way the law says they might not have to.

Larry and Christy Hammer were on vacation in the Peruvian Amazon in 2016. A power strip they were given by a crew member short-circuited and started a fire that spread through their cabin, which was decidedly not fire-resistant. There was no fire-fighting equipment nearby, no fire alarm sounded, only half the emergency rescue team helped out, and they didn't have the proper training anyway. Christy was still alive when they pulled her out of the cabin, and the delay in the rescue likely had something to do with her death.

Sounds like it couldn't be more straightforward, and you'd think the Hammers' children would be getting some major payout. But Fox News says they're getting a whole lotta nothing because the Hammers were retirees. According to the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920, cruise lines only have to pay families if the dead were responsible for earning money and supporting the family. That means children and retirees don't count, and that's just wrong. The only thing they were offered was a refund for the cost of the trip, but the Hammers' daughters sent the check back. Hopefully, they spit on it first.

Lack of lifeguards

Cruise ship law is weird, and it lets cruise lines get away with a lot of things other companies couldn't. You know, things like having pools and hot tubs but not employing lifeguards. You'd think it would be common sense that pools would have lifeguards, especially when booze is flowing nearby, but they don't, and it's come with a tragic price.

Cruise Law News gives a run-down of some of the kids who have died in cruise ship pools, including a 10-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy who drowned in Norweigan Cruise Lines pools. An 8-year-old boy nearly drowned in a Royal Caribbean pool and later died in a New York hospital (via Inside Edition), and after the drowning death of 6-year-old Quentyn Hunter, his family started the hardcore push to force cruise ships to have on-duty lifeguards. Their fight dragged on for a shocking four years, according to Fox 13, and it wasn't until 2013 the Miami Herald reported Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Disney all announced they'd hire lifeguards for their pools. Well, it only took the heartbreaking deaths of children to get them to pony up for an extra couple crew. Those are tragedies that didn't need to happen at all.