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On Sarah Tessier Powell and cruise ship security

by Amanda Spriggs

My heart sank as I read the various reports on October 9, 2012 outlining the case of an American woman who has gone missing from her cruise ship while visiting the maritimes.

As you may be aware, Sarah Tessier Powell was last seen on September 30 on her Holland American cruise ship, the MS Veendam. At this time police have said they don't suspect foul play, but suspect she may have left the ship in one of the three ports following her last sighting, Charlottetown, Sydney and Halifax.

Various media reports also note that police think she left the ship without being checked by security, and are not sure in what port she might have left the vessel.

Sadly, none of the information provided in the stories regarding Sarah have led me to believe that she will be recovered alive though, of course, I hope I will be proven wrong.

As someone with inside working knowledge of the cruise line industry and how security works, however, I'm fairly certain I'm right. The fact that Sarah is missing at all from her ship, regardless of what police may or may not choose to believe at this point in time, does not bode well for her. 

The primary hole in media reports is police suggesting she may have left the vessel without security's knowledge. While I can conclude that this scenario is possible, it's certainly not probable. Since 9/11 security precautions within the cruise ship industry is extremely tight. Every person on a ship, from the lowliest of crew members to the most affluent of passengers, are accounted for on a manifest. When a passenger or crew member leaves the ship they are only able to do so through security check points where a person's crew card (for crew) or key card (for guests) is swiped. Without a key card or crew card, which serve as a passport and identification for those on the ship, a person would not be allowed to leave the ship, regardless of reason. This ensures that the exact number of souls onboard are accounted for, as well as shows who precisely who is or is not onboard. The likelihood that a 70 year old tourist would have been able to evade security and slip off the ship in one of three ports is extremely unlikely leading me to the more logical conclusion that Sarah, like the majority of missing people from cruise ships, ended up overboard and is most likely deceased.

While I'll continue to cross my fingers and hope for the best in Sarah's case, the lack of information regarding her whereabouts leads me to believe she has gone overboard. If she has, personal experience, training and facts concerning missing persons on cruise ships suggest the search should turn from land to sea, though sadly chances of a positive outcome look slim to none.

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