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FBI called in after death of Carnival Sunshine cruise passenger who sailed from Charleston

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A Carnival cruise ship leaves the Charleston port on March 4, 2023. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The FBI is investigating the death of a passenger who was touring on the Carnival cruise ship Sunshine, conducting a search of her room when the vessel returned to the port of Charleston on March 4.

FBI spokesman Kevin Wheeler said the agency is not releasing the name of the woman who died during the Sunshine's Feb. 27 voyage to Nassau, Bahamas.

The death is considered suspicious.

According to an FBI news release, medical staff and other crew members immediately attempted life-saving measures after learning the female passenger was unresponsive.

The FBI investigates certain crimes on the high seas, as well as suspicious deaths of Americans. As such, FBI Evidence Response Team members responded to process the passenger’s room once the ship returned to the Charleston port.

The woman and her husband had disembarked in Nassau. Bahamian authorities are investigating the circumstances and conducted an autopsy.

"We are fully cooperating," Matt Lupolis, senior manager of public relations for Carnival Cruise Line said March 6. "This is a matter for authorities in The Bahamas and Charleston and we have no further comments."

The total number of passengers who have died globally on cruise ships is difficult to determine because ships are owned by different countries that have different reporting practices.

But a report published in November 2020 in the International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health put the number of deaths at 623 deaths between 2000 and 2019.

The leading causes of death were falls, cardiac events and suicide.

According to the website CruiseMapper, the Sunshine was built in 1996 and carries 3,000 to 3,755 passengers and 1,040 crew members. The Feb. 27 cruise was a five-day round-trip cruise to the Bahamas from Charleston.

The Sunshine is the third Carnival ship to call Charleston its home port since the cruise line started offering year-round voyages from the Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston in 2010.

Previously, Carnival based its Fantasy and Ecstasy cruise ships here.

In 2022, the State Ports Authority announced it would not extend its contract with Carnival after the current pact expires at the end of 2024. The SPA's decision came after years of unsuccessful attempts to build a new cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in the face of opposition from environmentalists and historic preservation groups.

The SPA has instead decided to sell the 64-acre Union Pier site to private developers, and the maritime agency recently submitted a zoning plan for the site with the city of Charleston.

The SPA will keep its 1970s-era cruise terminal on the Union Pier site to host short-term port-of-call visits from cruise ships.

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