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In January, a 4-year-old boy named Ascanio wandered away from his family, Italian vacationers on a seven-day cruise, about an hour after Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas departed from Fort Everglades, Florida. A passenger spotted the child underwater in a pool aboard the ship. Ascanio had been underwater approximately six minutes before another passenger jumped in and pulled him out.
Bystanders tried to resuscitate the boy until ship medical staff arrived and took over. The child's pulse was restored in the ship infirmary. After the ship returned to port, he was taken to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Ascanio has not fully recovered, but his parents say he has made leaps and bounds since his near-drowning. "His recovery is a real miracle," his mother said.
A similar incident took place in May 2013 aboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship: A passenger pulled 4-year-old Chase Lykken out of a swimming pool after the child nearly drowned. "I just sat there on the pool deck and prayed to God to please give me my son back," said his father, Chris Lykken of Minnesota.
Chase suffered major brain damage. Today he is undergoing continuing therapy, and his parents are hopeful that his condition will keep improving.
But other children have not survived. In October 2013, 6-year-old Qwentyn Hunter of Winter Garden, Florida, drowned in the main pool aboard the Carnival Victory during a four-day Caribbean cruise. "To be in perfect health, nothing wrong and then all of a sudden he's lying there, and there's nothing I can do — nothing," said Qwentyn's father, Caselle Hunter.
More than 1.5 million children are aboard cruises every year, according to Cruise Lines International Association. While some cruise ships have over 1,000 employees aboard, there are no lifeguards aboard three of the biggest cruise lines — Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Lines. The Rossen Reports team found two cases of children who drowned and four who nearly drowned in cruise ship pools in the past two years. (After Chase Lykken's near-drowning, Disney Cruise Line put lifeguards on all their cruise ships in late 2013.)
"It's all about money for them. Because there's such a small amount of space on the ships, [whenever] they can either have a crew member or a passenger on board, they always choose the passengers, because the passengers are spending money," said maritime attorney Mike Winkleman, who is representing Ascanio's family.
"I think ultimately it boils down to one question," Winkleman said. "How many kids have to die before the cruise lines do the right thing? "
The cruise lines all referred Rossen Reports to Cruise Lines International Association, who told NBC News that safety is a priority: "As with the majority of land-based hotels and resorts, many cruise lines provide clear and conspicuous signs that a lifeguard is not present."
But Qwentyn's parents, Caselle and Tashara Hunter, say a sign isn't enough. "If they don't have lifeguards, call and get your money back, because they're not looking out for us; they're looking out for their pockets, and it's not fair," Tashara said.
(A reminder: It's important to keep a close eye on your kids at all times when around any pool; drowning incidents can happen in the blink of an eye.)
Full statement to NBC News from Cruise Lines International Association:
"Cruise lines manage pools with the safety of passengers and crewmembers in mind at all times. As with the majority of land-based hotels and resorts, many cruise lines provide clear and conspicuous signs that a lifeguard is not present. With guidance from public health and safety authorities, CLIA's member cruise lines continue to assess the need for further action beyond current practices, including evaluating the level of supervision of pools onboard."