Updated statistics on cruise ship safety have been published and they show a sad tale of how the industry is taking care of its passengers and taking appropriate safety precautions. The numbers are sobering reminders that cruises are enormous floating cities, but without many of the protections, both practical and legal, that one would expect from an actual city.
Statistics may be Unreliable
Any statistics regarding cruise injuries or incidents are inherently incomplete because there is no law that requires every incident on a cruise ship be reported. Thus, there is no one database, nor any single government agency, that keeps and compiles these totals.
The only statistics that must be reported are crimes or incidents that happen on ships that sail to and from U.S. ports. Even then, the only reports required to be made are for criminal events, such as assaults, people going overboard, or fights. They do not include incidents or injuries that arise from negligence, such as falls, food poisoning, the spread of disease on the ship, or medical malpractice.
Assaults are Common
In 2016, the major cruise lines reported 92 potentially criminal incidents to the FBI. Of those, 62 were related to an alleged sexual assault. Incredibly, according to the report, a third of those sexual assault incidents involved minors.
Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean had the largest number of criminal incidents for the first three months of the year, with 10 and 11 respectively. That is to be expected considering those lines’ dominance over the industry and the volume of passengers they carry. Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary, Celebrity Cruise Lines, did not report any criminal events.
These numbers are probably less than the actual number of criminal assaults. Many sexual assaults go unreported, and the cruise lines often have discretion to classify what is a sexual assault, and thus, may define an incident as non-criminal in order to avoid having to report it. Evidencing the prevalence of sexual assault on ships, there is even an online support site for those who were raped while on cruise ships.
Little is Done to Prosecute or Investigate Crimes on Cruise Ships
Just because an incident such as a sexual assault is reported to the FBI does not mean that anything can be or is ever done about it. The requirement is just one of reporting. The decision to actually prosecute or even investigate a potential crime or assault often involves complex international jurisdictional questions when the incidents happened in international waters, or when a cruise ship sails under a flag other than that of the U.S. The FBI cannot compel any country to do anything about an alleged crime that happens on a cruise ship.
There is little deterrent for these crimes either. Employees suspected or accused of assault are often just fired and sent home, where they likely will not face criminal prosecution.
It may be impossible for any prosecution to occur because of the lax investigative standards for crimes that happen on cruise ships. Cruise ship personnel may not have the tools, training, knowledge, or resources to investigate a crime or preserve the evidence of a crime scene.
Employees may be biased towards protecting fellow employees, or at least protecting the cruise line. They are not agents independently working for a separate law enforcement agency the way it is on land. One legislator has introduced legislation to provide “sea marshals” on ships, who would be independent law enforcement agencies, but that proposal has not yet passed.
Cruise Ships may Invite Problems
In many cases, cruise lines do not do thorough background checks of their employees. With passengers intoxicated, often poorly-trained onboard law enforcement, and access to passenger cabins, it is often easy for employees to commit crimes.
Teens can be particularly vulnerable. Whereas a parent may never allow a teen to wander the streets of an actual city on their own, parents often think little of allowing them to do so on a cruise ship. In 2015, one teen was raped by men who were inside a “teen club” on the ship. The men were kicked out, but followed the victim out of the club and attacked her.
When these crimes happen, cruise lines often will either try to shift the blame to the employee, or will try to hide behind exculpatory and hold harmless clauses contained in cruise ship tickets, which are binding contractual agreements.
Cruise lines also claim that criminal activity on ships is actually much less than on land, considering the ratio of passengers to crimes. They take the position that cruises are safer than ever.
Use Common Sense
Whether the crime rate is higher on ships or on land, passengers should be aware that they should not rely on law enforcement or security on a cruise ship the same way that they would on land. Do not even assume that there is surveillance or security personnel wherever you go on the ship.
While drinking can be part of the fun, make sure to do it responsibly, and always travel or walk about the ship with a friend. Do not make the mistake of ignoring commons sense safety precautions, such as locking your cabin door, or securing valuables that you would pay attention to if you were at home.
There are strict time limits for suing for injuries that are sustained on a cruise ship. If you have been injured or attacked while on a cruise, call Brill & Rinaldi for a free consultation to speak with attorneys that understand maritime laws.