Cruise Lines Under Scrutiny

June 10, 2013

The laws regarding the reporting of crimes in large part do not apply to cruise lines. The delayed reporting of crimes by the cruise industry has come under scrutiny by lawmakers and watchdogs alike. With Miami and South Florida being major ports of call for the cruise line industry, it is important for criminal defense lawyers and passengers to understand the laws that govern the reporting of crimes at sea. Congress created The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) in 2010 which established security requirements and procedure for reporting crimes aboard cruise vessels. Under the act, cruise lines are required to immediately contact the nearest FBI office as soon as an incident has been reported. They are also responsible for filing a written report which must be kept in a log book to be made available by any law enforcement agency upon request.

The CVSSA required the United States Coast Guard to report annual crime statistics. However, they are only required to report closed criminal investigations. Last year, the Coast Guard reported 15 closed investigations. Of the 15 investigations, 11 involved sexual assault and battery investigations. Crew members working on board vessels were suspects in six of the criminal investigations. The International Cruise Victims Association was created to protect passengers who were victims of crimes. The chairman of the association, Kendall Carver, claims that the number of incidents reported is much lower than the incident that occur aboard cruise ships.

Carver, along with a Canadian professor, used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request criminal reports received by the FBI from cruise ships. The final report indicated that 151 reports of unwanted sexual contact were made by passengers an crew members. Of the reported incidents, 56 involved both passengers and crew members. While the number of crimes reported seems keep in mind that an approximately 17.2 million people traveled on North American based cruise lines last year. While crimes on cruise ships occur, proponents of the industry claim that cruise afford the safest of vacation destinations. Cruise goers are not a fair cross section of the population. The majority of the passengers travel as families and a large percentage are elderly. As such, there a very few incidents of violent crimes aboard cruise vessels.

The most recent event regarding cruise ship safety involved a sexual assault committed against an eleven-year-old girl aboard a Disney cruise ship while in port in Port Canaveral. The Port Canaveral police were not contacted until the following day. The ship had already sailed for the Bahamas. When the ship returned four days later, the crew member accused of the sex crime was sent back to India from the Bahamas and was never investigated for committing a crime. Disney claimed that the family declined to prosecute and that is why the crew member was sent back to India. Regardless of the victim's position, Carver and other watchdogs are still concerned with the lack of reporting of crime aboard cruise vessel. They believe that the industry is largely unmonitored and that a culture of "cover up" exists. The U.S. Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation recently sent letter to three cruise lines requesting reports on crimes such as homicides, theft and sex offenses. To date the cruise lines have not complied.

Cruise Ship Stats Aren't Smooth Sailing, Florida Today.com, June 9, 2013.