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Cruise Crimes

It’s not all fun, food and foolin’ around on cruise ships

Dr. Einor Garely, Special to eTN  Aug 20, 2008

Cruises are marketed as the perfect place for a holiday. Pampering and self-indulgence have been perfected, and whims and wishes are satisfied with minimum effort. In 2007, over 12 million Americans decided to travel on cruise ships; unfortunately most were clueless about their vulnerability to crime on the open seas.

Danger on the High Seas
From April through August 2007, the cruise line industry reported 207 suspected crimes, including 41 sexual assaults (of which 19 were alleged rapes). According to the law firm of Lipcon, Marguiles, & Alsina PA, there is criminal jurisdiction over sexual assaults and rapes on vessels; however, from a criminal law enforcement point of view, very little happens, leaving only civil actions for money damages as a means to obtain justice. The law firm determined that out of 174 complaints of sexual assault or rape on a major cruise line's vessels during a 4-year period, not one person had neither been prosecuted nor convicted.

Protect the Crime Scene
If we have learned nothing else from watching television shows like “Law and Order” and “CSI: Miami,” we should know that after any crime, including sexual assault and rape, it is important to preserve the crime scene until law enforcement arrives. Crime scene investigators, wearing both gloves and booties are responsible for collecting names, addresses and telephone numbers of every possible witness and crewmember, and immediately taking their statements and photographs.

The victim should not be allowed to eat, drink, shower, bathe, brush their teeth or even use the toilet before a rape exam is completed by a physician. Blood samples from the victim should also be taken immediately, with a complete set of photos showing bruises, tears, and other injuries. Simultaneously, FBI notification is imperative and their instructions for processing the crime should be followed.

Crimes Onboard
Cruise ship crimes run the gamut from sexual assault of passengers by crewmembers to rapes by teenage group counselors. Women passengers have had “ruffies” in their drinks; underage “children” allowed into discos have been served alcoholic beverages and raped, while ship’s nurses have been raped and assaulted by officers and medical staff.

Who Knew
Representative Carolyn Malloy (D-NY) finds that, “…cruise ship crime too often goes overlooked, and consumers don’t have access to information that could help keep them safe on vacation.”

Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) has determined that, “At this time, there is no oversight or accountability of safety and security of cruise ship passengers.”

Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) has asked for “increased transparency of reported crimes and increased oversight to cruise security standards… (so) that the public is aware of the potential for a crime to happen in the high seas.”

Currently, cruise operators are required to work closely with local, state, federal and international authorities including law enforcement at all ports of call (including US Coast Guard, US Customs, Border Protection, FBI and Interpol) and every ship has a security officer on board to protect both passengers and crew. However, Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT.) is frustrated by the current state of cruise line legislation. “This industry may be highly regulated by the State, Federal and international governments, but because all are involved, no one takes ownership.”

George Smith IV’s Death Brings About Change
During an investigation into the death of George Smith IV, who was lost at sea on his honeymoon onboard a Mediterranean cruise, Shays’ office documented passenger stories that detailed missing family members who were never notified of the incident. To make matters worse, the cruise line personnel took the person’s possessions, put them in a lost and found department and then sold them. They also heard first hand accounts of sexual assaults, robberies and the absence of reports to law enforcement.

Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistics Act (CLASS Act)
In cooperation with Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Congressman Christopher Shays is seeking to improve the process of reporting cruise ship crimes. Finding the industry basically “self-regulated” his office has worked with families of victims to develop a bill that will improve reporting of crimes involving Americans on board cruise ships, ensure these ships have capacity to investigate a criminal activity and make the information available to the public and potential cruse passengers.

Bree Smith, a member of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, commenting on the Shays proposal determined that it is an important initial step in finally holding the cruise line operators accountable for the safety and security of their passengers.

The Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistics Act requires:
-Cruise ship owners calling at a US port must report any crime, man overboard or missing person incident that happens onboard involving an American citizen to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) no later than four hours after the master of the cruise ship learns of the incident.

-Cruise organizations must submit a quarterly report of each crime, missing person or man overboard case which occurs on its vessel to the DHS, making the information available on the Internet

-DHS is to inspect each cruise ship that docks in the US to ensure that the ship has adequate equipment and trained personnel to investigate crimes

-The cruise company must refer potential cruise ticket buyers to the Internet site with crime statistics and provide the name of each country the ship is visiting and the location of the US embassy and consulate in each country

-Cruise ship owners are liable for up to $250,000 if they fail to report a crime, man overboard or missing person in accordance with the law, have inadequate equipment and trained personnel or do not provide a ticket buyer with the required information before completing the transaction.

-The Department of Homeland Security can deny entry of any cruise ship to an American port if the ship does not comply with the law or fails to pay the penalty.

Setting a Standard
Royal Caribbean has said it plans to refit cabin doors with peepholes (similar to hotel room requirements). They are also placing additional security guards on each ship, adding two experienced female investigators to its security team to oversee sexual assault investigations and contracted with private investigators with specialized training to respond to critical incidents onboard. This organization will also provide passengers with 24-hour telephone access to a sexual assault hot line. Under discussion is the development of an industry “blacklist database,” so that cruise lines do not hire problem employees from other organizations.

When Shays’ legislation is finally passed (it is already three years into the process) cruise consumers will be in a better position to make informed decisions. Once the risks are acknowledged precautions for “staying safe” can be implemented.

It’s not all fun, food and foolin’ around on cruise ships
George Smith IV disappeared while on his honeymoon cruise (Image via

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