It was four years ago this month when a retired couple from Westminster disappeared off a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The family may never know what happened, but they are using that tragedy to try and change the law and make cruising safer.
The cruise was a Mother’s Day gift for his parents Hue Pham and Hue Tran of Westminster.
Son Michael Pham said “Mom and Dad deserve that. They worked very hard since we came her 30 years ago, retired and lived happily in Southern California.”
Then, Son Michael Pham got a call from his sister who was on the cruise with their parents.
“They told me They can’t find mom and dad and ship is in the middle of ocean…that’s the very beginning of our nightmare.” Son Michael Pham told us.
His parents were on a 7-day cruise from Puerto Rico on Carnival’s Destiny ship in May of 2005 when they disappeared. He says as the ship headed to Aruba—all that was found on deck was…
“Both my parents sandals my mom’s purse, and the book she was reading” said Son Michael Pham.
After a Coast Guard search and an FBI investigation, the authorities determined there was “ no evidence of…foul play” and closed the investigation. The cause of death “at sea” …“unknown”.
Reporter Ana Garcia asks, “Have you ever been told officially what happened to your family?”
Michael Pham: there was absolutely no effort by the cruise line whatsoever
Carnival cruises it has “provided its full support and cooperation to US authorities in their investigation”
Kendal carver knows Son Michael’s pain his daughter disappeared off a cruise ship. “We’re not looking for a piece of luggage, we’re looking for our daughter.”
Kendall Carver says his daughter Merrian of Cambridge Massachusetts went on a 7-day Celebrity cruise to Alaska on board the Mercury in August of 2004 and she disappeared. Carver claims Celebrity never notified the family she was missing. In fact it was the Boston Police that figured it out Merrian disappeared at sea after the family filed a missing persons report weeks after the cruise ended..
Kendall Carver says, “We later found out they took her items and gave them away to charity.”
Carver sued Royal Caribbean and settled for an undisclosed amount. Royal Caribbean contends it did not know Merrian was missing until the family notified them. The company says they then notified the FBI. They say they have since changed their policy to require all passengers to “swipe their computerized ID cards to confirm all guests have disembarked.”
“I can’t change them…Son Michael Pham’s family can’t change them but maybe if we got together as a group maybe we would have a chance of taking on this industry.” Explained Kendall Carver.
Carver’s family tragedy outraged some on Capitol Hill including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Carver was called to testify at Washington hearings.
Kendall Carver testifying in DC, “For us to figure out what happened on that cruise ship I had to hire an international detective agency.”
Son Michael Pham also testified about his tragedy…he and Carver have now become activists through the International Cruise Victims Association. And they have a friend in California Congresswoman Doris Matsui.
“Everybody believes that the cruise ship is the safest place to be. It’s not.” Says Congresswoman Doris Matsui.
Congresswoman Matsui and Senator Kerry are pushing Congress to pass the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act; a bill supporters say would make vacations at sea a lot safer
“Just a peephole would be very helpful” says Congresswoman Doris Matsui.
So I took a cruise from LA on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas.
On the Monarch of seas ship Reporter Ana Garcia says “The cruise ship safety bill in Washington would require all cabins to have peepholes and safety latches. My cabin doesn’t have either of them.”
That was last October. My cabin did have a deadbolt, but no additional latches. The cruise bill also proposes raising guardrail height on ships to “54 inches” or 4 and half feet to reduce the number of people falling overboard. We measured the Monarch’s railing, it was a about foot shorter than that.
Ana says, “42 inches” About the same as Carnival’s which are 44 inches according to the company. The bill would also require new technology to detect when a passenger falls overboard.
Vicki Freed senior VP of Royal Caribbean says, “people should feel very safe aboard our ship” Vicki Freed says, “All of our new ships are being built with peepholes” Royal Caribbean told us since our investigation, they have installed peepholes on “all guest staterooms” and the installation of peepholes on the Monarch was completed in February. Royal Caribbean says its “ships meet or exceed safety and security requirements. “ Guest staterooms have deadbolts locks which cannot be overridden by an electronic key card.
Carnival Cruises says, “all passenger stateroom doors throughout Carnival’s 22-ship feet have peepholes”
Congresswoman Matsui says, “Senator Kerry and I are absolutely committed to this.” Son Michael Pham, “every mother’s day now is different for us because it’s not mother’s day anymore. On mother’s day we get together and it’s a memory day for our mom and dad.” Kendall carver visibly upset says, “It’s taken a long time to get to this point.
Ana asks Kendall, “Have you even had a funeral?”
Kendall says, “No.”
Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises say they follow the safety standards required by an international treaty know as “Safety of Life at Sea” or SOLAS which sets standards for things like guardrail heights and number of lifeboats. It was established after the Titanic disaster. The proposed bill we just outlined would go beyond those guidelines for ships sailing in the US.