An interesting article appears in the New Zealand Herald Online publication, reporting statistics that support a conclusion that sexual assaults on cruise ships are occurring at a rate equal to 50 percent higher than sexual assaults occurring on land in Canada. The article cites to data that has been accumulated by researchers regarding incidents that occur on cruise ships. The cruise ship companies obviously deny that these statistics are alarming, pointing out the enormous amount of passengers that take cruises each year versus the amount of reported sexual assaults.
I have testified at Congress regarding crimes that occur onboard cruise ships, including sexual assaults, and have addressed questions regarding cruise ship security and safety, as well as reporting requirements when a crime does happen onboard a cruise ship. Members of the committee were very alarmed at the fact that cruise ship companies did not face mandatory reporting requirements, and simply followed a voluntary reporting policy regarding crimes that happened onboard cruise ships. This led to the ultimate question by one of the Congressmen during a hearing in which I testified at, which was how do we really know the true number of crimes happening onboard the cruise ships if there are no mandatory reporting requirements and we have to rely on the industry itself to police themselves? This was an excellent question. It was posed to representatives of the United States Coast Guard and the F.B.I., asking them if they could be sure that they had reliable statistics regarding the number of crimes onboard cruise ships. A well know phrase, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, was used by one of the Congressmen during the hearings to question whether that was a concern within in the cruise ship industry, which was that what happens on a cruise ship stays on the cruise ship. There has been many cases over the years filed against cruise ship companies alleging that a cruise ship company has engaged in a deliberate attempt to cover up a criminal incident that occurred aboard their cruise ship and failed to report the incident. There are accounts by past employees of the cruise ship company that there were deliberate attempts to discourage passengers from reporting incidents, and deliberate attempts to cover up incidents such as sexual assaults.
The Congressional Hearings I testified at led to further hearings which eventually led to the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010. There are now requirements placed on the cruise ship company industry regarding reporting crimes and keeping appropriate statistics.
Having handled maritime cases for almost 30 years, the point is that regardless of the number of passengers a cruise ship company carries each year, crimes such as sexual assaults should rarely, if ever occur. The cruise ship is a very restricted area, and the opportunity to have appropriate security and surveillance implemented in order to discourage crimes, including sexual assaults, is present, unlike a big metropolitan city which the cruise ship company likes to compare itself to. The cruise ship companies often times cite statistics of crimes that occur in large metropolitan cities to argue that there is much less crime on a cruise ship than in a typical city. This is terrible comparison. It is much more difficult to prevent crimes in a city, than it is on a cruise ship. I believe one of the major reasons crimes have occurred over the years onboard cruise ships is the lack of appropriate security onboard the ship, and the lack of surveillance cameras. The cruise ship industry has been careful not to have a strong presence of a police force onboard the ship and surveillance cameras because it distracts from the image they have worked so hard to create, such as the “fun ship” of Carnival Cruise Lines. While it is true a cruise ship is a wonderful way to take a vacation, the reality is there has been a number of reported serious incidents that have occurred aboard cruise ships, including sexual assaults, as well as potential homicides. Our firm represented the parents of George Smith who disappeared during his honeymoon cruise. Foul play was suspected from the beginning based on the fact that there had been loud noises heard in George Smith’s cabin the night he went missing, and blood was found inside his cabin. Despite the suspicions of foul play that the authorities have regarding the disappearance of George Smith, including the F.B.I., this case is another one of the unsolved mysteries that we hear about involving the disappearance of an individual under suspicious circumstances. The failure to solve this mystery can be attributable to the lack of an appropriate investigation and preservation of evidence. This is the opinion of many experts, who believe that the cruise ship company did not promptly report the incident, and did not appropriately make sure that all of the evidence was preserved. By the time the F.B.I. got involved in an active investigation, many experts feel it was too late to solve what appeared to be a likely crime.
Our firm advocates being careful when you do take a cruise. We do not advocate not taking a cruise. To the contrary, we recommend cruises as a great way to take a vacation. However, we always caution people, especially with children, to be aware when they are onboard a cruise ship that crimes do occur, and to keep a close eye on their children during a cruise. We advise them not to get a false sense of security while they are onboard the cruise ship. Also, drinking should be done responsibly. Many instances of crimes and accidents onboard cruise ships have been linked to the excessive consumption of alcohol. There are thousands of passengers and crewmembers onboard these vessels. It’s like driving home late at night. It may not be you, it may be the other person. Therefore, if you go on a cruise you must be aware and careful, and not believe that something of a serious nature cannot occur onboard a cruise ship.
Our firm continues to act as safety advocates for both passengers and crewmembers who are harmed at sea.