The Alabama man who fell off a Carnival cruise ship and miraculously survived nearly 20 hours in the water says he fought off what he thought was a shark and was forced to eat floating bamboo while desperately hoping to be rescued.
James Michael Grimes told ABC News on Friday that he went into survival mode after he plunged from the Carnival Valor ship and into the shark-infested waters of the Gulf of Mexico the night of Nov. 23.
“My worst fear is drowning, and that’s something I didn’t want to face,” he said, adding that he knew he just had to “swim and survive.”
During his nearly 20-hour ordeal, Grimes recalled being approached by a massive creature that he initially mistook for a shark.
“I was swimming in one direction, and I looked around, and I seen it out of the corner of my eye,” Grime said. “It came up on me really quick, and I went under.
“It wasn’t a shark, I don’t believe. It had more like a flat mouth and came up and bumped one of my legs, and I kicked it with the other leg. It scared me, not knowing what it was. All I could see was a fin.”
At one point, Grime said a stick came floating by that looked like bamboo.
“So I started eating on it and it actually, I won’t say it tasted good, but it gave some type of flavor in my mouth other than salt water,” he said.
Grimes says he tried not to lose hope as the hours wore on.
“When it started getting back towards nighttime again, the water started getting colder, [and] at that time I thought, you know, how much longer am I going to have to be out here?” he said.
“I was hoping… they will start looking for me… they will find me eventually.
“I wanted to see my family, and I was dead set on making it out of there. I was never accepting that this is it, this is going to be the end of my life. I’m 28 years old. I’m too young. This is not going to be it.”
Grimes, who was on a five-day Thanksgiving cruise with 18 family members, was reported missing by his sister about 12 hours after he left the ship’s bar to use the restroom and did not return.
His disappearance prompted the Cozumel, Mexico-bound vessel to reroute to New Orleans, and the US Coast Guard to launch a frantic search.
Grimes was eventually spotted by a cargo ship, and dramatic video showed him being rescued from the sea by the Coast Guard about 20 miles south of Louisiana’s Southwest Pass.
When Grimes first noticed the cargo ship, he did everything he could to attract its attention.
“I had taken off my socks and everything waving them around my head trying to do something where they would see me,” he said.
His rescuers believe he was moments away from perishing in the water given the hypothermia, shock and dehydration he was suffering from.
“The fall didn’t kill me, sea creatures didn’t eat me — I felt like I was meant to get out of there,” Grimes said.
He doesn’t recall how he fell overboard, insisting the last thing he remembers was winning an air-guitar contest in one of the ship’s lounges.
Grimes denied being drunk but couldn’t recall how many drinks he had in the lead-up.
“The next thing I know … I regained consciousness. I was in the water with no boat in sight,” he said.
It still isn’t clear how Grimes ended up overboard, but the US Coast Guard appeared to suggest he may have breached the cruise ship’s safety barriers.
“Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas that are regulated by US Coast Guard standards that prevent a guest from falling off,” the agency said in a statement.
“Guests should never ever climb up on the rails. The only way to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers.”