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Cruise lines debate safety of parasailing after accident deaths

Recently, four major cruise lines decided to suspend all of their parasailing activities after a cruise passenger was killed and another was seriously injured while parasailing in St. Thomas. The woman's death has caused industry executives and government officials to take a closer look at parasailing and cruise ship safety.

The most recent boating accident marked the third fatality in recent months on cruise ships, taking the life of a mother and seriously injured her daughter. In June, two California newlyweds were celebrating their honeymoon on a cruise through the Bahamas when they were involved in a similar accident. The wife was killed, and her husband was seriously injured. The first accident occurred when a man died while parasailing near Florida's Longboat Key.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there have been 10 parasailing deaths in the U.S. since 2002. The fatal accidents occur because of towline separation, equipment failure, or high winds. In addition, injuries such as sprained ankles and pulled muscles have increased by about 15 percent in the last decade.

Critics believe that the high parasailing accident rate is due to the lack of oversight of the industry. Although the Coast Guard requires licenses for commercial parasail boat drivers and conducts boat inspections, there are no standards for training, procedures, or equipment such as parachutes and harnesses. States in which parasailing is common have attempted to establish laws regulating the industry, with little to no success.

In recent years, the number of parasailing operators has declined, primarily due to rising insurance costs. However, there are still more than 200 operators in the U.S. and 1,300 worldwide, many of which operate irresponsibly and create a high risk of injury or death in their patrons.

Source: USA Today, "Parasailing death roils sport's troubled waters," Laura Bly, Nov. 21, 2011

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