Do Cruise Ships Have Morgues?

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While it may seem morbid to think about, you may wonder if cruise ships have morgues. What happens if someone dies while aboard a ship? Where could a body possibly be kept? Even though it probably (or hopefully!) won’t cross your mind when you’re gearing up for your next vacation, it is a question of curiosity for some.

The answer to this question is, yes, cruise ships do have morgues. Since cruise ships are like portable, miniature cities, having a morgue along with various other services makes perfect sense. While no one likes to think about someone dying while cruising the open seas, death is a natural process that can occur at any time. Therefore, cruise ships are prepared for this possibility.

The Reality

While we may picture the young, adoring family taking their first magical cruise, the truth is that many cruisers are mature in age. Additionally, with the number of people traveling each year in the tens of millions, it is not uncommon for a small number of people to die while at sea. Thankfully, those who do pass away usually do so of natural causes, most commonly a heart attack.

While cruise ship deaths are tracked by federal governments, they may not publicize the statistics. However, if you are concerned about crime on cruise ships, these stats are published and nominal.

Why Do Cruise Ships Have Morgues?

When sailing, there are several considerations when someone dies, including the policies governing different ports along with the ship’s itinerary. These determine whether a body can be repatriated during the next port, whether it needs to be removed, or whether it should remain on the cruise ship until its final destination.

Cruise Ship Morgue
Cruise Ship Morgue

If the body needs to remain on the ship until it reaches its final port, it is placed in the morgue on the cruise ship. The body can be stored this way for about one week. Federal regulations dictate that cruise lines must carry body bags on the ship during each voyage.

Where Is the Morgue Located?

The morgue is usually found on the lowest ship deck, away from guests. It is a refrigerated room made of stainless steel with individual compartments. Generally, the bigger the ship, the more shelves are found in the morgue. Morgues tend to be small and can typically hold three to six bodies. Ships are also required to maintain the morgue. 

What Are the Protocols Surrounding a Death?

When someone dies at sea, a trained crisis team will help the deceased’s companions make decisions regarding the logistics of returning the person’s body to the home country so it can be buried. The cost generally falls on the deceased’s family members. Therefore, it is essential to purchase travel insurance that covers repatriation.

When a guest dies on a ship, a person from the Guest Care Team is assigned immediately to assist the deceased person’s friends and family. They have received special training in dealing with grieving individuals; however, these people are not grief counselors.

Passengers on Cruise Ships
Passengers on Cruise Ship

Their job is to assist with details of repatriating the deceased passenger and contacting a funeral home. They help families work with the local authorities, deal with insurance, and make travel arrangements. The Guest Care Team also gives free phone and internet while onboard, allowing loved ones to make arrangements.

They can drive the travel companions to a nearby hotel if they want to disembark and remain with them until they return home. A post-cruise follow-up is also scheduled.

How Does the Deceased Get Home?

The most significant concern regarding death at sea is returning the body home. Where the body remains, as mentioned, depends on several factors. With each factor, the family must work with the cruise line to ensure the body arrives home.

Factors include where the ship was at the time of death, the port being visited, and the ship’s Flag State (where the cruise ship is registered). Cruise Lines International Association states that the ship’s location and the visiting port contain requirements regarding off-loading a dead body. It may also preclude the cruise line from its ability to offload a dead body. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention additionally requires each ship that calls or does a homeport while at a United States port to report any deaths immediately.

Cruise Investigation

Remains are frequently kept in the morgue until the ship reaches the United States. Then, a death certificate is formally issued by a local medical examiner’s office. Additionally, port authorities on any port the ship visits have the right to require examination of a dead body and off-loading the body. 

If the body is far from a homeport or has no homeport, it must be repatriated from some location. For example, if someone passes away in the South Pacific, the body tends to remain in the morgue until it returns to a major port, as few islands can handle repatriation. Authorities in third-world infrastructures can refuse to allow the remains off a ship. Alternatives can easily be found when needed.

The body tends to be removed when the cruise ship visits the first large port. From there, it goes to a medical examiner and is then repatriated. However, each country contains its own specific regulations regarding accepting bodies, naming a cause of death, and repatriation of remains.

Read Also: Do Cruise Ships Have Jails – Here’s the Truth

Consular offices are handy in this instance. They, along with local authorities, can help the family make a plan for the remains. They can also be a provisional conservator for the estate if no one else is available.


If you are curious if cruise ships have morgues, the answer is yes. Each vessel is required to carry body bags in addition to maintaining a morgue. While it is morbid to consider someone dying on a cruise ship, the crew is well-prepared to deal with such an event. They will also aid the family or friends of the deceased cruise passenger in returning the body home.

Morgues are usually kept on the lower level, away from guests, and can accommodate three to six bodies at once. A cruise ship and its crew are always prepared for any type of instance that can occur and always strive to take care of it in a professional, dignified manner.

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