Boots & Sabers

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0743, 25 Jun 23

Who Pays for Misadventure?

It’s a good question.

“Five people have just lost their lives and to start talking about insurance, all the rescue efforts and the cost can seem pretty heartless — but the thing is, at the end of the day, there are costs,” said Arun Upneja, dean of Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration and a researcher on tourism.

“There are many people who are going to say, ‘Why should the society spend money on the rescue effort if (these people) are wealthy enough to be able to … engage in these risky activities?’”


That question is gaining attention as very wealthy travelers in search of singular adventures spend big to scale peaks, sail across oceans and blast off for space.


The U.S. Coast Guard declined Friday to provide a cost estimate for its efforts to locate the Titan, the submersible investigators say imploded not far from the world’s most famous shipwreck. The five people lost included a billionaire British businessman and a father and son from one of Pakistan’s most prominent families. The operator charged passengers $250,000 each to participate in the voyage.


“We cannot attribute a monetary value to Search and Rescue cases, as the Coast Guard does not associate cost with saving a life,” the agency said.


While the Coast Guard’s cost for the mission is likely to run into the millions of dollars, it is generally prohibited by federal law from collecting reimbursement related to any search or rescue service, said Stephen Koerting, a U.S. attorney in Maine who specializes in maritime law.


But that does not resolve the larger issue of whether wealthy travelers or companies should bear responsibility to the public and governments for exposing themselves to such risk.

I rather agree with the Coast Guard’s stance. The vast majority of their rescues are not for wealthy adventurers, but for normal people who find themselves in distress – perhaps due to some negligence, but often due to unfortunate circumstances. All of their work is supported by tax dollars for the general good. I don’t really want our government to get in the habit of rendering vital services based on the ability of the recipient to reimburse. While some might get frustrated with the expensive rescue of wealthy people who take extraordinary risks, the action of forcing reimbursement would likely have the opposite of the desired effect. If the Coast Guard can get paid for rescuing rich people, who is to say that they won’t allocate more resources to that effort than rescuing less affluent people? Does not a public university (another taxpayer funded institution) lavish more access and resources on their wealthy students than on middle class ones?

Whenever money changes hands, an incentive is created. I don’t think we want our Cast Guard to be incentivized to allocate scare resources based on the recipients’ ability to pay instead of their risk of life.


0743, 25 June 2023

1 Comment

  1. Merlin

    There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the distinction between simple misfortune and outright folly. Sometimes it’s just glaringly obvious. Americans are free to do dumb stuff. Describing the event in flowery language sometimes distracts from the idiocy, sometimes not.

    There’s also nothing wrong with asking about the cost of bailing out dumbasses. If the taxpayers are funding your rescue a bit of embarrassment is a small price to pay.

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