What Happens When There is a Death on a Cruise Ship?

Daniel Ganninger
February 16, 2023
Cruise ship

A cruise is usually a fun getaway, but sometimes on a long voyage, there is a death at sea. Because of this possibility, most modern cruise ships have a morgue on board the ship.

Death at sea is not a common occurrence. Out of approximately 21.7 million people that travel on cruises each year, only about 200 people die. Some of these deaths are from accidents or intoxication, while many occur because of a medical condition.

The cruise ships are prepared for this type of problem, and it begins with an announcement. When “Operation Bright Star” is announced, it means there is a medical emergency, and “Operation Rising Star” means there has been a passenger death.

After a person has passed away, the body is placed in a body bag, which the ship is required to carry, and put in the morgue. Most morgues have enough space for one to three bodies, with the larger ships having the capacity for six to ten bodies.

The body is usually off-loaded away from the passenger area at the next port of call. A death certificate is issued, and the body is then transported back to the person’s home country. The family of the deceased is responsible for the cost of transporting the deceased person unless they happen to have travel insurance.

Sometimes the deceased are allowed to stay on board to return to their home country if the port allows it or if the port of call won’t issue a death certificate. But the ship’s morgue can’t hold a body for more than a week. This becomes a problem if the cruise is one of those that lasts a few weeks to a month.

Sources: The Telegraph, Medical Bag