What Happens if There Is a Death on a Cruise Ship?

By Michael Ferguson

When a person dies on a cruise ship, it can be a stressful experience for those aboard the vessel. Cruise lines have protocols in place for dealing with deaths, but the process can vary depending on the circumstances.

Generally, the cruise line will contact local law enforcement and have them investigate the death. If the death appears to be suspicious, a full autopsy and investigation may be conducted by both local law enforcement and the cruise line.

If the death appears to be from natural causes, a doctor or coroner will likely complete an examination of the body. This examination may include taking blood samples, determining cause of death and any other tests that may be necessary. The remains of the individual will typically be transported off of the ship by local authorities.

Family and friends of those who have died on a cruise ship may find themselves in an emotionally difficult situation. Cruise lines offer counseling services to help passengers deal with their grief while they are still aboard the vessel. If a passenger chooses to disembark from their cruise early due to a death in their family, they will usually receive a full refund from their cruise line.

In certain situations, such as when an individual dies due to negligence or misconduct on behalf of staff or crew members aboard the vessel, legal action may need to be taken against those responsible. In these cases it is important that family members consult with an attorney as soon as possible after their loved one’s death.


What happens if there is a death on a cruise ship depends largely on whether or not it is from natural causes or due to negligence or misconduct. In most cases, local law enforcement will investigate and take custody of the body while family members are provided counseling services and refunds for any unused portion of their trip. In cases where negligence or misconduct is involved, legal action may need to be taken against those responsible.