Cruise ship passenger spent 20 hours battling jellyfish after falling overboard

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, battling jellyfish and eating bamboo after falling overboard.

James Grimes, 28, of Alabama, USA, was traveling with 18 of his family members on the Carnival Valor cruising off the Gulf of Mexico.

After having a few drinks, including one to celebrate winning an air guitar competition on board, Mr. Grimes disappeared after going to the bathroom.

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

His survival was aided by the water temperature, which was around 70°F (21°C) as he swam across two jellyfish slaps.

“When it started coming and going again towards the night. The water started getting colder. In that moment, I was like, ‘You know, how much more time do I have?’” Grimes said.

“I wasn’t going to give up at any point, just say: ‘it’s over, this is the end’. It never came to that. I was determined to swim until my arms and legs could no longer hold my body.

Then Mr. Grimes met a big fish.

“It came to me very quickly. And I went under, and I could see it.

“And it wasn’t a shark, I don’t think. But he had more (than) a flat mouth, and he got up and bumped one of my legs, and I kicked him with the other leg. He scared me, not knowing what he was. All I could see was a fin.

Battling exhaustion and confusion, Mr. Grimes encountered a large stick, which appeared to be bamboo.

“It gave me a different taste in my mouth than salt water,” she added. “I was trying to stay as positive as possible from the moment I recovered, and I regained consciousness, I just remember thinking at the time, ‘wow, it’s a miracle he’s not dead already,'” she recalled.

Mr Grimes said he had no doubts he would be rescued: ‘It wasn’t a question of being rescued or if they find me, it was just a question of when, and I just have to keep swimming until they do. “

Aboard the cruise ship, Mr. Grimes’ sister reported him missing at noon the day after he fell overboard.

The vessel retraced her course to join the massive search and rescue effort covering 200 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

At about 8:25 pm, the crew of a bulk carrier spotted Mr. Grimes approximately 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana.

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

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

“The fact that I was able to keep afloat and above the surface of the water for such a long period of time, that’s just something you can’t take for granted and definitely something that will stay with me forever.”

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

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

Meanwhile, undaunted by his ordeal, Mr. Grimes can’t wait to take another ocean trip.

“I will definitely be available to take another cruise as I really didn’t get to go on this one.”

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