Cruise ship passenger spent 20 hours fighting off jellyfish after going overboard

·3-min read
James Grimes had no idea how he ended up in the water after being on a cruise ship off the Gulf of Mexico - ABC News/Good Morning America
James Grimes had no idea how he ended up in the water after being on a cruise ship off the Gulf of Mexico - ABC News/Good Morning America

A cruise ship passenger survived 20 hours in shark-infested waters, fighting off jellyfish and eating bamboo after falling overboard.

James Grimes, 28, from Alabama, US, was travelling with 18 members of his family on the Carnival Valor on a cruise off the Gulf of Mexico.

Having enjoyed a few drinks – including one celebrating winning an onboard air guitar competition - Mr Grimes went missing after going to the lavatory.

That was the last thing Mr Grimes, who insisted he was not drunk, remembered before regaining consciousness in the water.

His survival was aided by the water temperature, which was around 21C (70F) as he swam through two smacks of jellyfish.

“When it started going and getting back towards night-time again. The water started getting colder. At that time, I thought, ‘you know, how much longer am I gonna have?’” Mr Grimes said.

“I wasn’t going to give up at any point in time just say, ‘this is it, this is the end’. It never came to that. I was determined to swim until my arms and legs could not hold my body up anymore.”

Then Mr Grimes encountered a large fish.

“It came up on me really quick. And I went under, and I could see it.

“And it wasn’t a shark, I don’t believe. But it had more (of) like a flat mouth, and it came up and bumped one of my legs, and I kicked it with the other leg. It scared me, not knowing what it was. All I could see was a fin.”

Fighting fatigue and confusion Mr Grimes encountered a large stick, which appeared to be bamboo.

“It gave some type of flavour in my mouth other than saltwater,” he added. “I was trying to stay as positive as I could from the moment I came to, and regained consciousness, I can just remember right then thinking, ‘wow, it’s a miracle that I’m not already dead’,” he recalled.

Mr Grimes said he did not doubt that he would be rescued:  “It wasn’t a matter of if I get saved or if they find me, it was just a matter of when, and I just got to keep swimming until they do.”

On board the cruise ship, Mr Grimes’s sister reported him missing at noon on the day after he went overboard.

The ship retraced its route to join the massive search and rescue effort covering 200 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

At about 8.25pm, the crew of a bulk carrier spotted Mr Grimes around 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana.

A US Coast Guard helicopter flew to the scene and hoisted Mr Grimes, who was suffering from hypothermia, shock and dehydration out of the ocean.

Mr Grimes told his rescuer: “You’re like a guardian angel coming down for me.” Mr Grimes’s survival was “just one of those Thanksgiving miracles”, said Lieutenant Seth Gross of the US Coast Guard.

“The fact that he was able to keep himself afloat and above the surface of the water for such an extended period of time, it’s just something you can’t take for granted and certainly something that’ll stick with me forever.”

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Line said its ships are all fitted with safety barriers to prevent a passenger from going overboard.

“The only way to go overboard according to the cruise line is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers.”

Meanwhile, undaunted by his ordeal, Mr Grimes is looking forward to another trip on the ocean.

“I’ll definitely be open to going on another cruise because I really didn’t get to go on this one.”