Reason No. 2 Not To Cruise: Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Place to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It!
This is reason no. 2 in the series: Top 10 Reasons Not To Cruise
Imagine owning a business where one of your employees drugged and raped a patron. What would you do?
Would you interrogate the victim before calling the police? Would you tape record the victim without her permission? Would you demand that the victim prepare written statements before she could receive medical treatment? Would you scramble your defense lawyers to the scene to look for a way to build a case against the victim? Would you refuse to provide the name and address of your employee to the victim? Would you work with your employee's criminal defense lawyers, and meet the assailant in jail, in an effort to help him win an acquittal at the criminal trial?
Of course not, but this is exactly what happens on many cruise ships today.
Unlike airplanes with Federal Marshals, cruise ships have no police authorities aboard. The few security guards on the ships are loyal to their employer who pays their salary - not to the passenger.
When a crime occurs, the cruise lines first notify their risk managements departments and their defense lawyers. If the closed circuit television (CCTV) tapes exculpate the cruise line, the cruise line keeps the tapes. Otherwise, the CCTV images are invariably taped over, "lost" or the cruise line will claim that the CCTV system was not working. The cruise lines will protect their own employee's legal interests - not the passenger's rights.
In some criminal cases we have handled, the cruise lines did not bother to notify the FBI; in other cases, the cruise lines notified the FBI only after they destroyed evidence and sanitized the crime scene. The result is that criminals on cruise ships are rarely prosecuted.
In fact, some cruise lines have never had a crew member ever convicted of a sex crime or other felony.
Most crew members know that nothing will happen to them if they commit a crime on the ship. Because there is no criminal accountability, there is no deterrence to crimes on cruises ships. This is not my opinion, but the conclusions reached by security and sexual harassment experts who have studied the problem.
In 1999, Royal Caribbean hired two top notch firms to study the problem of sexual assaults on the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity fleet of cruise ships. The cruise line retained a consulting firm called "Sheridan, Swailes" to study the company's security systems. Royal Caribbean also retained a nationally recognized expert on sexual harassment issues, Dr. Kay Krohne, who previously was a commanding officer at the Naval Training Station in San Diego.
After conducting an extensive analysis of the Royal Caribbean / Celebrity fleet, these experts concluded that sexual misconduct occurred "frequently" during cruises. They attributed this problem to the fact that most crew members were not afraid of being arrested, much less convicted. Dr. Krohne reported that the worst thing that could happen to a crew member who committed a crime on a Royal Caribbean or Celebrity cruise ship was to be sent on a one way flight home.
The experts concluded that male cabin attendants and bartenders were the most likely crew members to commit a crime. The most likely location? The passengers cabin. The experts recommended a number of improvements, such as placing CCTV cameras in the passenger hallways, deactivating passenger cabin key cards used by crew members after working hours, and implementing steps to collect and preserve evidence to be used against the crew members at trial. Without having a system in place that will result in crew members being arrested, the experts concluded that the crimes would continue.
Unfortunately, when the executives at Royal Caribbean received the reports - they did not implement any of the recommended improvements. Instead, they chose to tell the U.S. public that crime on cruise ships was "rare." When a crime inevitably occurred, the cruise line then sent their defense lawyers to the next port to board the ship long before the FBI arrived.
The result is that by the time the FBI arrives or the cruise ship returns to a foreign port, the evidence is long gone.
In an article entitled "Crime Rocks The Boats," TIME Magazine addressed this problem. TIME reported on troubling cases involving two of our clients - Janet Kelly who was drugged and raped during a cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico, and Jennifer Hagel whose husband George Smith IV "disappeared" from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship during their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean. In both cases, the cruise lines scrambled their defense lawyers to the cruise ships and quickly began compromising the passengers' potential criminal and civil cases. TIME raised the question why "only 7% of the 135 federal investigations into sexual assault over the past five years were prosecuted. Why were 93% of the cases dropped?" TIME reported on the FBI's explanation, as follows:
"By the time we can get to [the victim and witnesses], a period of time has passed, people's memories change, they were intoxicated, or there is a lack of evidence because it was cleaned."
TIME addressed the problem of crimes on the high seas and the cruise industry's efforts to cover the problem up, and quoted me in the process:
". . . the only authorities most cruise-crime victims can turn to are the ship's security personnel, who have a strong incentive to protect the industry's fun-in-the-sun image. 'The cruise line controls the scene of the crime, controls the witnesses, controls the evidence,' says Miami attorney James Walker, who represented Kelly. 'It's all being filtered through the company's risk-management department.' Court documents seen by TIME back up that contention. In one case, a passenger who was examined on board for evidence of gang rape sued the cruise line after ship security, by allowing housekeeping to repeatedly steam-clean the carpet, failed to preserve the alleged crime scene. In another case, a passenger accused of sexual assault testified that a ship security officer coached him to state that "no sex was performed by anyone."
TIME also quoted another maritime lawyer in Miami that cruise lines " . . . are silently working against the victim. They're busy trying to make sure criminal cases don't see the light of day."
The LA Times also discussed the lack of prosecutions of cruise crimes in a blockbuster article entitled "Cruise Industry's Dark Waters - What Happens At Sea Stays There As Crimes On Liners Go Unresolved." The newspaper reported on the cruise industry's lack of candor to the U.S. Congress during hearings on cruise crimes and the cruise lines' under-reporting of such crimes. During one of the Congressional hearings which took place from 2005 - 2008, Congressman Christopher Shays questioned whether the cruise lines are keeping some crimes off the books:
"There's a huge incentive to downplay any incident, to sail on . . . Is going on a cruise the perfect way to commit the perfect crime?"
In the last two years, some cruise lines have changed their approach to handling shipboard crimes. Royal Caribbean, for example, stopped sending trial lawyers to the cruise ships, but other cruise lines still do so. Royal Caribbean now has a "Global Security" team, consisting of former FBI agents, which handles the investigations. But the FBI never had a good record investigating cruise crimes in the first place. Will this lead to a greater number of arrests and convictions - or is this just more of the same?
Recent incidents suggest that the problem continues.
In November of last year, an Italian chef, Angelo Faliva, "disappeared" from a Princess Cruises cruise ship after the ship left Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Faliva, like George Smith IV, was a healthy, happy, energetic and well-liked young man with a bright future ahead of him. But when he went overboard between Aruba and Columbia, the cruise line's crisis management team took center stage. Princess claimed that it was "puzzled" and didn't know what happened - a claim considered to be dubious given the hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the cruise ship.
The "mystery" of Mr. Faliva soon resembled the typical case of corporate malfeasance which has characterized the cruise industry. According to the Faliva family, Princess Cruises refuses to cooperate.
The case also illustrates the indifference exhibited by the flag state, in this case the country of Bermuda which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminals on Princess cruise ships which fly Bermuda flags. It took two weeks before Bermuda bothered to travel to the cruise ship. Like the Bahamas, Liberia, and Panama where the cruise lines register their cruise ships, Bermuda has done little to investigate the disappearance.
There seems to be a "quid pro quo" in place. In exchange for the hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars paid by the cruise lines in registration fees, flag states like Bermuda will conduct no real investigation. The cruise line is left to handle criminal incidents "internally." The worst that happens is the offending crew members receives a one way ticket home. The victim's family is left to deal with the cruise line's stonewalling and the flag state's indifference.
Earlier last year, Bermuda refused to arrest a bar employee, aboard the Coral Princess cruise ship, who admitted raping an unconscious woman after a crew party. Princess Cruises then flew the rapist from Seattle back to the Philippines with only a slap on his wrist.
Where is Princess Cruises' self-admitted rapist today? Is he working for another cruise line serving drinks to cruise passengers? Did Princess notify Royal Caribbean, NCL, or its parent corporation Carnival about the rapist so that they would not hire a known rapist?
In the case of Janet Kelly, the cruise line flew her rapist (also a bar employee) from the cruise ship in Los Angeles back to his home country (Jamaica) after he drugged and raped her. We learned that he then applied for a job with Princess Cruises which accepted him into its fleet of cruise ships. He then freely interacted with the Princess passengers, who were unaware of his criminal past.
The current system of flying rapist crew members back to their home countries with no criminal accountability - only to be re-hired by another cruise line - is exactly the problem which Dr. Kay Krohne warned about over a decade ago. It is a rotten and disgraceful practice. Sexual predators are emboldened by the cruise line's malfeasance. They will strike again.
Given the work of victim organizations, like the International Cruise Victims, there is an increasing international awareness that cruise lines like Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean frequently cover up crimes and work to make certain that mysterious "disappearances" remain just that - "mysteries."
Just the other week, the German magazine "Wunderwelt Wisen" discussed the string of disturbing cases of passengers James Scavonne (Carnival), Dianne Brimble (P and O Cruises), Merrian Carver (Celebrity Cruises), Christopher Caldwell (Carnival), and George Smith IV (Royal Caribbean), as well as the recent disappearance of Italian crew member Angelo Faliva (Princess Cruises).
Under the title "Dream Boats," the magazine analogized a tourist who boards a cruise ship as someone going on a holiday into a small town without a police station, concluding that:
"Dream ships are perfect for the perfect crime."
Tomorrow, we will discuss Reason No. 3 Not To Cruise: Carnival, Royal Caribbean And NCL Are Corporate Felons
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