WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – It's been a dangerous and at times deadly year on cruise ships with at least four children drowning or nearly drowning in the pools of these massive ships.
The parents of a Central Florida boy who drowned in the fall of 2013 onboard a Carnival cruise ship are now sharing their story in hopes of creating a change within the cruise line industry.
Six-year-old Qwentyn Hunter and his family were on the last day of their five-day cruise aboard the Carnival Victory. But as vacationers packed the deck for a final party, the festivities were shattered.
"The DJ is screaming 'somebody get that kid,'" said father Caselle Hunter, describing his son's drowning.
Qwentyn had gone under in the crowded midship pool.
"Everything was happening fast, but slow at the same moment," Caselle said.
A passenger pulled Qwentyn to the surface and started CPR just as his mother, Tashara Hunter, was coming to the deck to get her family for dinner.
Tashara explained , "I started screaming, 'Is that my baby is that my baby?'"
She said she saw the crowd and then saw her child's lifeless body. Despite efforts by passengers and later by cruise ship staff Qwentyn could not be revived.
"It was the worst nightmare reality I ever experienced in my life," said Tashara.
Months later not only had they lost their son, but the Hunters learned they had little recourse. The wrongful death statute in maritime law also known as the "Death on the High Seas Act" only allows family's to sue for financial losses not for pain and suffering like you could if the same death happened on land.
"Children are not wage-earners and because of this archaic law pertaining to cruise ships there's no financial incentive for cruise lines to do the right thing," said Jim Walker, whose law firm deals exclusively with legal issues on cruise ships.
Walker called it the cruise industry's dirty little secret.
"The cruise lines love that law that doesn't permit any recovery so they're completely isolated and when you isolate a large corporation from all legal and financial consequence basically what you're saying to them is it's OK if children die in your pool because it doesn't really affect your bottom line. That's a terrible situation. That needs to change," said Walker.
But the Hunters say it's not about the money. Carnival and most other cruise lines do not have lifeguards. In fact, signs are commonly posted stating the pool is not supervised.
Disney is now the only cruise line to provide lifeguards; a change that took place this spring only after a near drowning aboard their fantasy ship.
Carnival sent our sister station WKMG a statement saying it posts, "signage to alert passengers that a lifeguard is not on duty and parental supervision is required for children under 13."
But Walker contends there's another troubling issue. He says no cruise employees, other than medical personnel are trained in CPR.
"If you're going to assign someone to a pool deck to hand out the towels and take drink orders, you've got to train them on basic CPR because CPR can save a life," said Walker, who also says he believes the cruise line industry could pass the cost of employing lifeguards on to the passengers. "If you charge each one a dime you're going to have enough money for a lifeguard. How about a dime for each person? Isn't a child worth a dime?"
Walker believes it is going to take some type of legislation really to force the cruise lines to take added safety precautions. The Hunters are now hoping to push legislation that would require lifeguards.
"One thing for sure my son's death will not be in vain," said Tashara.
Congress tried to amend the "Death on the High Seas Act" in 2006 to allow families of minors to sue for damages, but the cruise line industry lobbied against it and won.
As for legislating lifeguards on cruise ships, no one has ever taken on the fight. The Hunters hope by telling their son's story, someone will now take action.