Woman's 'Suspicious Death' on Cruise Ship Sparks FBI Investigation

The FBI is investigating the death of a woman aboard a cruise ship traveling from the Bahamas to Charleston, South Carolina.

Agents with the Evidence Response Team boarded the vessel when it made port in the United States on March 4 to process the woman's room, according to the local FBI Columbia field office.

It said in a statement to Newsweek that crew members on the Carnival Sunshine were alerted to the unresponsive woman during its February 27 voyage, but despite attempting to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

"This incident was isolated and there was no threat to any other passengers before or after the passenger was found deceased," Kevin Wheeler, spokesperson for the Columbia field office, said.

Carnival Sunshine cruise liner FBI
The Carnival Sunshine cruise ship passes by midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building in New York City on September 16, 2017, and, inset, an FBI agent seen from behind on February 16, 2023. Gary Hershorn/Scott Olson/Getty Images

He added that the FBI "investigates certain crimes on the high seas, as well as suspicious deaths of U.S. persons."

The Carnival Sunshine was launched in 1996 and was once the world's largest passenger vessel. It has been home-ported in Charleston since May 2019.

The cruise liner departed Charleston in the late afternoon on Saturday, before returning to the Bahamas on Tuesday, according to ship tracker CruiseMapper. It is due to return to Charleston on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the owner, Carnival, told Newsweek that the deceased woman and her husband were disembarked in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, where authorities were investigating the incident and conducting an autopsy.

CruiseMapper tracking shows the ship departed from Charleston on February 27, at around 4 p.m. ET, and arrived in Nassau on March 1.

"We are fully cooperating [with the authorities]," the Carnival spokesperson said. "This is a matter for authorities in the Bahamas and Charleston and we have no further comments."

Between 2000 and 2019, there were 623 reported deaths on cruise liners, 89 percent of which were passengers, according to a 2020 study in the International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health. Some 61 percent of passenger deaths were of U.S. citizens.

It found that the most common reasons for passenger deaths were falls—either overboard or onto another deck—as well as cardiac arrests and suicides. Meanwhile, suicide, murder and falls were the leading causes of crew deaths.

The study found that the largest proportion of deaths in the time period, 29 percent, occurred on Carnival cruise liners.

The FBI has jurisdiction to investigate potential crimes and suspicious deaths when the ship is U.S. owned, as the Carnival Sunshine is, and pertains to an American citizen, it has previously stated. It is also permitted to investigate if the ship is in U.S. waters, or if it was departing or arriving in an American port.

As the Carnival Sunshine carries a Bahamanian flag, the FBI is required to cooperate with the local authorities on the case.

Wheeler said the investigation remains ongoing and that "no other details can be provided at this time."

Update 03/06/23, 10 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from the FBI Columbia field office and a Carnival spokesperson.