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An interesting article appears in the Daily Gleaner, out of New Brunswick, Canada, reporting that sexual assaults occur on cruise ships at a rate which is fifty percent greater than sexual assaults occurring on Canadian land.

The article quotes Ross Klein, who is a professor at Memorial University. Ross Klein has a website where he lists many disturbing statistics regarding sexual assaults and disappearances that occur on cruise ships. According to the article, Ross Klein said that more than fifteen percent of the sexual assaults involve minors under the age of 18.

What is the source of Ross Klein’s data? The article says Professor Klein has obtained his information from FBI reports and court cases. The question becomes whether this is complete and accurate data. I previously testified at Congressional hearings addressing safety aboard cruise ships, including the lack of reporting requirements imposed on the cruise lines when there is a disappearance or a sexual assault committed onboard one of their foreign flagged cruise ships. Because they fly foreign flags, and the cruise ship companies are incorporated in foreign countries, they have successfully been able to escape application of many Unites States laws over the years, and have avoided more stringent regulations by the United States government. This was one of the topics of discussion at the Congressional hearings I testified at. The Congressional hearings eventually led to the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010. This law imposes reporting requirements now on the cruise ship companies.

However, one of the questions that were asked at the hearing I testified at was whether there were any reliable statistics regarding how many sexual assaults or disappearances had occurred on the cruise ships based on the fact that there were no legal requirements imposed on the cruise lines for reporting such incidents. At the hearing, a representative from the United States Coast Guard and the FBI did admit to one of the Congressmen that the statistics that were available at that time could not be relied on as being completely accurate due to the fact that no one knew for sure whether the cruise lines were reporting each and every such incident that had occurred on their ships. Basically, the Congressman established that you could not rely on the data offered by the United States Coast Guard or the FBI regarding the number of such incidents since the cruise lines did not have a legal obligation to report them. The cruise lines argued that they could voluntarily police themselves and voluntarily report such incidents.

It has been my experience over the years handling sexual assault cases and disappearances that it is critical to have legal requirements imposed on the cruise lines to report such incidents promptly and also to have laws regarding preservation of evidence after such occurrences do occur. One of the main cases that was focused on at the hearing was the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. Our firm represented the parents of George Smith. There were many issues that arose regarding whether the cruise line promptly reported the disappearance to the appropriate authorities, and whether the failure to promptly report the incident to the proper authorities and properly preserve evidence led to the inability to solve the mystery of what happened to George Smith. The case has still not been solved by the FBI, and many experts have testified that the failure to promptly conduct an appropriate investigation and properly preserve evidence is the reason why this likely crime was never solved.

The problem of sexual assaults occurring on minors onboard the cruise ships is indeed a serious concern. We have handled sexual assault cases involving minors, and the common theme is that the parents never suspected the danger of a sexual assault aboard a cruise ship to be present. The cruise lines went years without publicizing any of the dangers regarding disappearances or sexual assaults. There was much focus at the Congressional hearings about allegations that the cruise lines would cover up these incidents, sweep them under the carpet, in order to avoid adverse publicity about their pleasure cruises. The lack of public awareness results in people letting their guards down when they walk onboard a cruise ship not expecting there to be any dangers of any types of criminal activity onboard a cruise ship.

Statistical data regarding criminal activity onboard ships, including sexual assaults and disappearances, has increased over the recent years and thankfully has brought an increased public awareness about such incidents. We believe this is a direct result of the George Smith, and the Congressional hearings that followed. Organizations such as the International Cruise Victims Association, have led to the passage of increased safety legislation regarding the cruise ship industry. The public is becoming more aware of the fact that criminal activity does occur onboard cruise ships, including sexual assaults and disappearances. There needs to be increased awareness so that passengers will be more careful and aware. Parents must be aware that their minor children must be closely supervised when onboard a cruise ship because sexual assaults do occur. There are two thousand plus passengers on some of these ships, and a similar number of crewmembers from all over the world. The ability to conduct significant background checks on all of the crewmembers working aboard these ships is very limited. The security onboard the ship is not, in my opinion, as visible as it should be in order to deter criminal activity. The cruise line does not like to create a presence of increased police onboard a cruise ship because it takes away from the image the cruise ship industry has worked so hard to create. As a result, a significant deterrence mechanism is lost by failure to have a police presence onboard the ship.

In addition, the sale of alcohol onboard cruise ships, making it a floating dram shop, creates additional dangers to the safety of the passengers onboard a cruise ship.

Professor Klein’s data is helpful in calling the attention of the public to the fact that serious incidents do occur onboard cruise ships and passengers must become aware of it, and act accordingly based on that. No one is saying not to take a cruise because of these potential dangers. A cruise is a wonderful way to take a vacation. My firm continues to be safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers who have been harmed at sea. We believe there should be an increased awareness of the number of incidents that do happen onboard the cruise ships so that the public will know to be more cautious while cruising. We also believe the cruise lines should be held accountable. We believe there should be increased security. We believe there should be laws requiring the prompt reporting of incidents onboard the cruise ships involving criminal activity, as well as laws dictating the appropriate preservation of evidence so that the proper legal authorities can appropriately gather the evidence, solve the crime, and prosecute the responsible individuals.

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